Worthwhile Google Alerts: "Old Shipwreck"
The damage that was done and the treasures that prevail
About a year and a half ago, I set up a bunch of Google Alerts. Some of them were for professional purposes — my name, topics I was interested in covering, organizations I wanted to work for — but most of them were just phrases I thought would generate entertaining results.
Now, every Monday, I get a bunch of emails from Google with links to news stories about animal mayors, items found in toilets, and more. Last weekend I went through my alert list and trashed the ones that weren’t paying dividends. “Animal mayor,” for instance, usually gives me news stories about mayors doing something for/to local animal shelters, NOT animals who are mayors (disappointing). I thought “found in toilet” would validate my fear of finding snakes in a toilet, but the upsetting truth is that the main things people find in public toilets are drugs and dead babies.
The best news alerts are the ones that offer a little peek into a wonderful, unexpected fact of life on planet Earth. For example: “old shipwreck.” It turns out there are a lot of old shipwrecks. Like, a lot a lot. People are discovering them all the time.
Old is the key word in the phrase “old shipwreck.” It keeps you from getting sent stories about recent, depressing shipwrecks and instead gives you mysterious, poetic shipwrecks. There are the Great Lakes shipwrecks, of course, ships who met the same fate as the infamous SS Edmund Fitzgerald, but Lake Superior isn’t the only lake who won’t give up her dead. A hundred and ten years ago, the Pere Marquette 18 went down in Lake Michigan and wasn’t seen again until this summer. 32 people were rescued from the ship, but none of them could say what caused it to sink. All the officers, the people who probably had that answer, went down with it.
There’s also Nazi shipwrecks potentially weighed down by looted Soviet treasure, like the steamship Karlsruhe, located in June and revealed to the public this month. “The German civilian steamship Karlsruhe is not to be confused with the German cruiser Karlsruhe, sunk by a British torpedo in 1940 and discovered in early September off the coast of Norway,” according to journalist Kiona N. Smith in Ars Technica. Too many Nazi shipwrecks! They ran out of names.
People are always turning up shipwrecks full of treasure. A man was arrested last month in Cambodia after taking hundreds of centuries-old earthenware jars from an un-surveyed shipwreck in the Gulf of Thailand. The same thing happened in the same area five years ago because the ocean floor is absolutely lousy with waterlogged antiquities, like the 14 tons of silver coins looted from the wreck of the Nuestra Señora de Las Mercedes off the coast of Portugal.
Those are just some of the no-longer-sea-faring ships. America’s rivers are full of sunken wrecks, like the Golden Eagle, a wood-hulled ship that sank in 1947. Pieces of that hull may have been recovered on the banks of the Mississippi River in September. Or the mysterious 100-foot gambling boat, believed to be named Hard Cash, that resurfaced in a bayou near Mobile, Alabama after Hurricane Sally washed away the mud it was buried under.
There’s something so romantic and so Americana about a gambling boat burning down and disappearing into the bayou, forgotten, only to be returned decades later by storm. The photographer who discovered it posted this on Facebook:
“When my nephew references back to Hurricane Sally, he won’t remember the power outage. He won’t remember the wind and the rain, but he’ll definitely remember when all the water left the river and revealed a ship that’s been hidden for a long time.”
My Intro to American Lit textbook is SHAKING. Their Eyes Were Watching God whom? The eyes of T.J. Eckleburg WISH they were Hard Cash.
Writers who take themselves much more seriously than I do have been meditating on the idea of shipwrecks for a very long time. The oldest known shipwreck, which sank in the Black Sea 2,400 years ago, is the same type of ship depicted in ancient fanart of Homer’s Odyssey and the only one of its kind preserved this long. Robinson Crusoe is a shipwreck story, and so is Lord of the Flies, and so are all versions of The Little Mermaid, even if we don’t always think of them in that light.
Shipwrecks even show up as casual, off-screen plot devices in Shakespeare’s plays and in 20th-century kid-lit like Pippi Longstocking. Shipwrecks are so much, such a thing that is and happens, that writers writing 400 years apart could off-handedly mention being lost at sea in a shipwreck and trust that readers/audience members would pick what they were putting down.
That tracks, honestly. We’ve been littering the ocean with pieces of ship and dead bodies and silver coins for thousands of years with no plans to stop, so of course there’s so much down there waiting to be rediscovered.
I love old shipwrecks. Let’s go find some.