It seems like I can’t get through my Sunday paper these days without coming across at least one shipwreck story. This is hardly unique: shipwrecks have been a constant presence in American newspapers for as long as there has been American newspapers. Still, after spending years reading about shipwrecks in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century newspapers, I can only laugh when I open up my Sunday paper and find a twenty first-century shipwreck narrative. To be academic about it — shipwrecks are one of those few enduring cultural references you can follow through the broad sweep of history. That’s why I study them.
This week’s shipwreck tale: a beachcomber discovered an 80-foot “fragment of history” buried in the sands of Cumberland Island, Georgia. Archaeologists have tentatively dated the fragment of wooden hull to the mid-1800s, fueling speculation that it could be a remnant of everything from a mundane trading vessel to a Confederate blockade runner. The exact location of the wreck has been kept secret. The discovery has been buried in sand to: “Leaving the wreckage exposed on the beach would only lead to further destruction from wind and rain, not to mention possible damage and pilfering by island visitors.”