Friday, February 22, 2008


Photos, stories help identify the wreck


The World
By Elise Hamner
February 22, 2008

Archaeologists credit high-resolution photos as the key to solving the identity mystery of the George L. Olson shipwreck on Coos Bay’s North Spit.

“This post is the same. The porthole locations are the same, even though in the wreck they were squared off,” said Steve Samuels, the cultural resource coordinator at the local U.S. Bureau of Land Management office.

The historical photos show the vessel with round portholes, but Samuels said the holes in those days were framed square behind the planking. Likely time and erosion took away the circular cut of the planking to reveal the squares holes behind.

“The thing that got me and convinced me ... these iron fasteners are offset at the bottom. It just has to be,” Samuels said Wednesday.

He was looking at a photo illustration comparing a bow photo of the then-Ryder Hanify to the now-wreck of the Olson. The holes from the through-hull iron fasteners still show in the bow. Other matches include the hawsepipes, where the anchor chains slid through circular iron housings out of the bow and into the water. Those now are exposed above sand out on the spit.

Chain plates also remain on the shipwreck and those match the ones in the bow photo from 1917.

“They spent so much energy building this. It was really massive,” Samuels said.

Photos weren’t the only decider for historians.

“We want to thank people calling us and telling their stories,” said Megan Harper, BLM’s public affairs specialist. “It really helped us narrow it down.”

And they aren’t done. Samuels still wants to hear from other residents who might have memories of the Olson to fill in the details of its final months before it was towed out to sea and the tow line cut.

The shipwreck also is significant in another sense, Samuels said.

Few researchers in Oregon have any experience with marine archaeology. In the coming weeks, they will be at the site documenting more about the shipwreck and trying to decide what to do with it. There’s still 20 to 25 of keel buried in the sand. More of the ship’s sides also have been exposed in the sand bank, ensuring Samuels and the research crew will have work for weeks to come.


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