A huge truck nearly ran me off the road, whizzing past only inches away. As the horn blare tapered off, I realized rubbernecking on this stretch of road is a full-contact sport. Late September found me on one of the most industrial roads in America, yet deep in the heart of the bayou.
Highway 1 winds south from the Mississippi River, tracing through Belle Rose, Thibodaux (don’t pronounce the ‘h’), Galliano, Golden Meadows, and finally to Grand Isle. The farther south you drive, land gives way to water. The world becomes water sprinkled with dry spots and cut channels. Bayou Lafourche Canal is one of the channels and parallels Highway 1. On dry patches, only inches above the tide, are construction yards, supply depots, welding shops, shipyards, and fenced lots full of giant prehistoric plumbing components. The road is a major artery of the oil business, although a new, raised version of the road flies well above the bayou like a giant concrete millipede.
En route to Patterson, Louisiana for an oral history interview, my schedule changed and I ended up with a day in-limbo. Reconfiguring quickly, it was a rare opportunity to explore the sponge-like coast of Louisiana. I armed myself with tips and tricks from friends who knew the area, and who knew where to eat. Visiting Louisiana, especially Cajun Country, without intending to feast is like a pencil without a lead. Pointless.
Years ago, I was invited on a trip to Patterson to meet the Felterman family. Related to the Versaggi family of St. Augustine, and a dynastic family of the commercial shrimping industry, the opportunity to meet, and record Felterman family history was more than tempting.
“You’re a fool Brendan, it’s the peak of crawfish season and we’re going to be in the middle of the action.” said Grace Paaso, my invitee and one of the Versaggi family keepers of the flame. Continue reading →
Last night we were pleased to present some updates on all of the exciting things happening at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum at our annual State of the Museum Membership Meeting. For those who were unable to attend the meeting, we have included a few highlights below from the night’s presenters, Executive Director Kathy A. Fleming and Division Director for Maritime Archaeology Chuck Meide.
As of last night’s meeting, we now have 3,994 member households — up from 1,267 last year.
Last year over 206,000 people visited the Museum including over 15,000 from St. Johns County and another 7,000 from Duval County.
The final phase of our capital campaign has begun, bringing us closer to our restoration goals that will help honor the World War II history of the Light Station.
We are just $200,000 shy of completing the campaign, with $2.4 million already raised to date.
The capital campaign has helped to cover critical restoration projects on the tower, Keepers’ House, and Fresnel lens as well as our newest exhibitions, At Home with the Harns and Wrecked!.
This year, the Museum will begin construction on the new Maritime Archaeology & Education Center at the Light Station. This new 2,500 sqft facility will provide much needed space for public education programs and maritime research, as well as new experiences for our visitors so that they can see archaeology up close!
Accompanying that effort will be the restoration of our 1936 Jeep garage (used as a Jeep maintenance facility during WWII for beach patrol) and the 1941 U.S. Coast Guard Barracks, in which five Coasties lived while they kept a 24-hour watch over the Lighthouse. The restoration project is expected to be completed in the late winter of 2017.
Donations to this campaign will help honor those who served to protect our nation while German spies landed on local beaches and U-boats patrolled American shores.
Gifts of $2,500 or more over five years ($500 a year) will entitle the donor to a prestigious spot on our donor wall in the new building, tying your family’s legacy to the Light Station forever.
We are so close to launching these huge milestone projects for the Museum, donations of all sizes WILL make a difference to completing this campaign.
Another successful field season for our team of Lighthouse archaeologists from the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) yielded more artifacts and an even greater need for the new Maritime Archaeology & Education Center.
LAMP completed 22 days of diving on the Anniversary Wreck, believed to date to the late 1700s.
In that time, LAMP archaeologists, students, and volunteers safely completed 22 dives for 276 hours, 40 minutes bottom time, which averages to 12.58 average hrs. bottom time/day.
LAMP had a record number of students, 12, in the July 2016 Field School, along with another five student supervisors. We had volunteers and interns from as far away as the Netherlands and India, visiting from schools across the U.S. and the world, including Oxford University and the University of Montreal.
LAMP has discovered three historic shipwrecks since July 2015.
We are closely following events related to the discovery of a 16th-century French shipwreck off Cape Canaveral. This wreck is believed to be the Trinite, the flagship of Jean Ribault’s lost French Fleet of 1565. Chuck will be travelling to Paris, France, next week where French government archaeologists and state officials will be discussing the possible future investigation of this important shipwreck site.
This month we focus on two great guys and two great boats that helped us move forward this summer. Mike Potter and Kevin Carrigan are supporters who literally help our research stay afloat. If you haven’t seen us around town, or offshore, here’s the skinny on our boat ops from the summer of 2016.
Each summer, the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP), research arm of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, heads out to sea for a field season of shipwreck discovery. Our field laboratory floats on the Atlantic Ocean, packed with researchers, volunteer assistants, equipment. Each day it sets out in the soft amber light of a Florida summer sunrise. During this part of the year the St. Augustine inlet settles down into a somnolent state, rarely raising its head in anger. I guess even an inlet needs to take a break from shipwrecking. Only occasionally does a far-flung storm from well over the horizon raise and send us a sea that prohibits work, or sometimes an unseasonal trade wind that dipping into the Atlantic bight runs its invisible hand over the sea to rake up haystacks. But for the most part, our summers are defined by a rhythm of heading to sea at sunrise, mooring on a shipwreck site while the sun is well above the yardarm, and getting underway for home sometime in the late afternoon.
Our laboratory, for the past seven years, has been a steel trawler named Roper. Most of you reading this are familiar with Roper as she has become part of our research family, as much as 17 tons of steel and iron can. But, this year she played only home games, plodding the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay in the name of science. That left us without a research vessel – a commuter bus, pickup truck, office, wet lab, and dive platform all rolled into one. While Roper had important work to do, stopping fieldwork for lack of a research vessel meant losing more than a decade of momentum, allowing the beating heart of research to pause. As with most near-crises, friends of Museum came to the rescue.
With water streaming down the outside of the windows and lightning flashing outside, it was a dark and stormy night last November that found LAMP Director Chuck Meide and myself in a pizza joint in Cocoa, Florida. Our friend, Mike Potter convened a dinner to bring like-minded divers together. During the meeting we told Mike that Roper’s dance card was completely full in the Chesapeake for 2016 and that she wouldn’t be available for a Florida cruise. Without hesitation, Mike jumped at the opportunity to fix a problem, he volunteered his own boat. As a boat mechanic, he is used to looking at problem and seeing solutions. Sandra, Mike’s wife, sat by us quietly noting the conversation. She is full partner in their adventures. While she doesn’t dive, Sandra is the ‘sanity on the surface’ and has relentlessly supported Mike’s SCUBA mission, always ready to host out of town divers, never wincing at repair or equipment bills, ever-vigilant when the boat is out. She is Mike’s Mission Control.
A homeboy from Cocoa, Florida, Potter has always immersed himself in the sciences of the Cape, a place where rockets flew to the moon during his boyhood and the area code is still ‘321’. Like many people with a sense of adventure, Mike was called by the sea. Through the 80s and 90s, he grew into the diving community around the Cape and became a leader in new technology that allowed humans to explore deeper into Davy Jones’ locker. The diving club he was part of wasn’t your typical fish and reef folks, dives over 200’ were as common as breathing helium mixtures to prevent decompression sickness. Their dive sites were shipwrecks, scattered around the waters of Florida’s only Atlantic cape.
On a routine 240’ dive one summer, Mike explored the silent remains of Cities Service Empire, a 465’ tanker torpedoed in the Battle of the Atlantic. The twisted steel of the wreck rested at such a depth that artifact looters had yet to work it over. Portholes, ceramics, everything seemed to lie in and on the wreck; the place was almost untouched. Mike and his friends had occasionally brought up artifacts from the wreck as souvenirs, medals for having penetrated the deep and come back alive. During the dive, Mike thought of his father, who served in the Naval Armed Guard during WWII when Empire was sunk. He thought of the fifteen men who lost their lives in a burning sea, a backwater of the war that Nicholas Monserrat described as
“a private war. If you were in it, you knew all about it. You knew how to keep watch on filthy nights, and how to go without sleep, how to bury the dead, and how to die without wasting anyone’s time.”
Mike knew that a twist of fate could have put his father on this ship and ranked him among the perished. The wreckage Mike and his friends were diving became grail to this quiet battle, a dark and cerulean crypt patrolled eternally by barracuda. Beginning his ascent to the surface, Mike was a diver reborn -a defender of the Empire - and a man who takes shipwreck protection as seriously as his faith. Today Mike has led efforts to protect the wreck from disturbance and cautions any diver to “have reverence when you go there. If you don’t have the respect and the reverence, stay home.”
Empire Defender – A lot of story.
Freetime was built in 1978 by Stuart Angler as part of 10 commercial hulls marketed to snapper fishermen and charter outfits. Based on a northeastern-style lobster boat, she was built with a round but shallow bottom and a very fine entry. For years, Freetime explored the waters of Key Largo as one of Dive World’s fleet of charter boats. Her owner, Capt. Corky, was instrumental in bringing the ex-Coast Guard cutters Bibb and Duane to the Keys. Sometime in the late 90s Freetime ended up in Tarpon Springs where she went un-loved and ended up sinking in a marina. Continue reading →
As many of you may know, some big changes are in the works for the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum in the coming months!
First and foremost, we are preparing to start construction on our new Maritime Archaeology and Education Center. As archaeologists, part of our role in the planning for the new buildings was to perform an archaeological survey of the area that was to be disturbed during the construction process. This type of survey, often referred to as Cultural Resource Management surveys, or CRM, are required by law before any sort of construction or similar project take place. This meant that Kira Sund, one of our regular volunteer archaeologists, and I traded our scuba gear and shipwreck sites for a bit of terrestrial archaeology here on the Lighthouse grounds. Read on to see Kira’s take on our Lighthouse archaeology experience!
Lighthouse Shovel Testing
By Kira Sund
When people visualize archaeology, they typically imagine lost ruins in the deep jungle or ancient cursed tombs. What they don’t usually picture are teams working next to roads or in construction sites digging small sample holes to survey the area. Yet this is one of the most common forms of archaeology; the shovel test, a method used to determine whether there is even archaeological material to be found, and what to do if any is found. It might not seem glamorous (it frequently isn’t), but without these tests many sites would not be found. This kind of testing is frequently performed before construction projects commence; seeing what might be there before it would be built over or demolished.
As the Lighthouse looks to expand with new archaeological and maintenance buildings, this same testing is required. The location of the proposed building was marked, and a pair of archaeologists worked a grid pattern to dig a series of twelve pits one meter (3.3 feet) deep each. Each shovel full is dumped into a screen so it can be sifted for artifacts. There is always a little thrill when something turns up in the screen, even when it is just a shard of glass bottle or a fragment of mortar; anything found might provide an insight into who or what was there before. Continue reading →
The 2016 Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) Field School in Underwater Archaeology is in full swing with a great new group of students!
This is LAMP’s 10th Annual Field School, and is a big year for us, both because of the milestone season, and because we are hosting our largest group of students to date. Over the past two and a half weeks, our 12 students have completed various training exercises around the lighthouse and surrounding area. These include the usual blackout mask obstacle course, used to prepare them for St. Augustine’s low visibility diving….
…to training dives in Alexander Springs, where we had the practice basic underwater archaeological methods in clear water, before asking them to perform these same tasks in the aforementioned low visibility. Continue reading →