Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ships: Over By The Shoes

The project that is the World Trade Center rebuild is still going strong. Nothing happens overnight, I understand, but this seems to be taking quite awhile. Last week, though, some good news made me glad that the project is going slowly. Haste, after all, destroys history.

This article in the NY Times (July 14) and this one from the Associated Press (via Yahoo!, July 16) tell the tale of a piece of American seafaring rediscovered. To the great surprise of even the archaeologists who are assisting in the WTC construction, part of a wooden sailing ship was found where a parking garage will be. I say part because it seems that the ship was deliberately cut across the beam, possibly in half, before also deliberately being put where it is now.

The ship's beam timbers were spotted by archaeologist Molly McDonald after a bulldozer (the horror of all who dig with dental tools for little pieces of history) disrupted the soil on top of them. McDonald works for AKRF, a firm working with the Port Authority to document any historical finds overturned during construction. Thank goodness they have someone on site. As the fascinating slide show that accompanies the NYT article shows (both pictures in this post come from same), it would be hard to discern wood from steel in the muddy ooze 20 feet below street level.

The ship, probably built some time in the 1700s, was evidently junked in the early 1800s, cut up and sunk. The exact purpose is as yet unclear but historians speculate that it was probably either to anchor a wharf or literally extend the Manhattan shoreline into the Hudson River. Marine historian Norman Brower of Mystic Seaport in Connecticut posits that, based on evidence of sea life boring into the timbers, the ship may have cruised in Caribbean waters during her salad days.

The ship's timbers have already begun to deteriorate now that they are no longer encased in their anaerobic blanket of silt and mud. Efforts to move the ship quickly, as well as measure, photograph and excavate, are currently underway.

An interesting aside, or at least to me, is what was found near the ship. Besides an intact anchor there were, as McDonald says in the article:
"...pieces of shoes all over." The article states she "...had no idea how they got there." One thing I know for sure: sailors hate shoes almost as much as they hate to see their ship junked. Something to think about as we wait for more news on this intriguing find.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Maybe the shoes were part of the ship's cargo (or ballast) since they were found in and around the wreckage of the hull? I thought that the whole shoe thing was kind of strange too when I read the original article, Pirate Queen.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! Lots of speculation can go on, of course, but at this point it doesn't make logical sense. You'd think they would remove cargo prior to junking a ship and leather shoes are too light to reasonably be called "ballast" even in bulk. I'm betting they never satisfactorily figure it out. Another one of those "...what were our ancestors think?" moments, I guess.