Where would I be without my NPR every morning and afternoon? (I promise to support my local station–WWNO–as soon as I’m able to for as long as I can.) While making breakfast this morning I caught this short story about the Oriental Nicety, nee Exxon Valdez. It seems the 200,000-ton oil tanker (lately an ore carrier) is headed to the scrap yard 23 years after decimating the Alaskan coastline. It reportedly fetched $16 million.
Exxon Valdez is one of the “touchstone wrecks” of our modern world. It’s up there with Titanic and Edmund Fitzgerald. (Despite all the hullabaloo about the Costa Concordia, I suspect it will soon slip off the radar and be more-or-less forgotten by most people. It’ll be a something akin to the Andrea Doria within a few years–a well-known shipwreck, but hardly one that stirs the imagination like Titanic or the Fitzgerald.)
That we have so few touchstone wrecks today says as much about the nature of contemporary shipwrecks and oceanic navigation as it does about our society’s relationship with the sea, seafaring and disasters. How times have changed! During the nineteenth century there were literally dozens of touchstone wrecks–the New Era, Central America, Sultana, City of Columbus, and Atlantic just to name a few. They served as a common reference for disparate people in the Anglo-American world. And they suggest not only how differently Americans related to the sea, seafaring and disasters, but how they thought about themselves and their country’s place in it as well. (Interested? There are some books and articles worth checking about that delve into this more–I’ll dig them out and pass them on if anyone’s interested.)
In any case, I wonder how many scraps of the Valdez will find their way onto the mantles of scrapyard workers? I know I wouldn’t be able to resist taking a rivet or two.