Monday, March 06, 2006


Archaeologist gives up effort to salvage ship fragment

By Rudd Henderson
March 04, 2006

Glenn Forest says he has not received the help from Dauphin Island or officials that he hoped

An amateur marine archaeologist said Friday he has given up his effort to save a 40-foot-long ship fragment that was uncovered by recent hurricanes, thrown by high tides and left buried under a damaged home on Dauphin Island's west end.

Two weeks ago, Glenn Forest stopped a construction crew from breaking up and removing what he said could be a portion of a 19th century shipwreck from beneath a Bienville Boulevard house.

Forest said Friday that volunteers have shown up this week to help in the excavation effort, but the town and officials with the Department of Marine Resources haven't agreed to help as he'd hoped.

"The project is officially dead," Forest said.

Town officials said they have concerns about creating legal liability for the town should they lend Forest the bulldozer and flatbed truck he needs to move the 5-ton structure. And Friday, Forest received word that he could not store the fragment in the place he'd hoped to.

Forest had hoped to store the wreckage on a 45-foot concrete slab behind the Department of Marine Resources building on the north side of the island. But Vernon Minton, marine resources director, said Friday that it can't be stored there because the department plans to soon build a storage shed on the slab.

Minton said he also feels that taking the wreckage would create a legal liability for the state.

"Once we take that wreck fragment onto the property, it becomes our property, we're responsible for maintaining its condition," Minton said. "Would most people want me spending their fishing license fees on this? I wouldn't think so."

Forest has long criticized the Alabama Historical Commission for not making efforts to preserve or even identify marine artifacts that wash up on state shores.

After a buried fragment -- possibly the same as the one battered by Katrina and Rita -- was uncovered by Hurricane Georges in 1998, an Alabama Historical Commission crew re-covered it with sand, saying the chance of excavating items of historical value from it was low and the chance of losing the fragment to deterioration under the sun's rays was high.

Commission Director Elizabeth Brown said Friday that "we don't have the resources to do things like this. Generally, when artifacts like this wash up, we just look at them, make note of where they are and leave them."

The commission's budget has been cut over the past two years from $6 million to $4.6 million, and that isn't enough to maintain the 12 sites it already operates, including Fort Morgan, she said. The Civil War Preservation Trust this week placed the fort among the nation's 10 most endangered Civil War sites.

Also, Brown said, such wrecks are not Alabama state property if they come ashore on private property, rather than behind the high tide line. The wreckage is now the property owner's responsibility, she said.

Alice Moore, who with her husband owns the rental house under which the wreck fragment rests, said she doesn't know what she'll do with the wreck. She can't leave it where it is because it's in the way -- she has to replace the 12-inch-wide piling the wreckage snapped in two during Hurricane Rita on Sept. 24, she said.

"I'll have to talk to Mr. Forest and my contractor before I do anything," she said.

Forest attended graduate schools in marine archaeology at East Carolina University and Texas A&M University, but did not receive a graduate degree at either, university officials said.

One of his instructors, Donny Hamilton, president of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University, has said Forest has the expertise to identify such shipwreck fragments.

Forest said the end of this project also ends his efforts to find the identity of another ship fragment on display in the parking lot of Fort Gaines on the island's east end. Forest initially thought the Fort Gaines fragment belonged to the British warship H.M.S. Hermes but said he now suspects both fragments are pieces of the 19th century clipper cargo ship Robert H. Dixey.

The Dixey sank near the mouth of Mobile Bay during a hurricane in 1860 after striking the sand bar now known as Dixey Bar. The 165-foot clipper ship was built in Boston in 1855.


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