Family gets once in a lifetime chance to save history

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Last fall, the Slominski and Lawton families of Garner, North Carolina were vacationing in a remote area of Cape Lookout National Seashore when they noticed small objects bobbing in the surf.  They collected a few of the items, and for roughly thirty minutes many more examples of the same item continued to float by.  Not knowing what they were, they limited their collecting to about fifteen pieces.  The items gathered were delicate glass tubes with a thin tube at the top containing a graduated paper scale, with a larger air-filled chamber at the middle, and a small bulb at the bottom filled with little lead pellets held in place by a cotton plug.

During the recovery, one of the fragile items fractured and from it they recovered a paper scale with the words “Sea Water G. Tagliabue New York.” Despite seeing what they described as a “hundreds” of the items in the surf, when they walked down the beach to see how many had washed ashore they couldn’t find anything—no complete pieces, no broken glass, no loose paper scales…nothing.  It was as if the bobbing items had simply vanished into thin air.   Read more

Cook’s not so romantic Valentine’s Day

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Le Capne. Jacques Cook Membre de la Societe Royale de Londres, circa 1775

As I mentioned in my last post, Valentine’s Day wasn’t always hearts and flowers, sometimes it was a day of blood and guts.  On this day in 1779 the Hawaiians killed one of the world’s most important explorers, Captain James Cook.

Cook started out as a surveyor in the Royal Navy in 1768 and after being commissioned a lieutenant led an expedition that took scientists to Tahiti to document the transit of Venus (during the voyage they also explored the coast of New Zealand and Australia). Beginning in 1772, Cook commanded a major mission to the South Pacific and over the next three years explored the Antarctic region, charted the New Hebrides, and discovered New Caledonia.  In January 1778, he made his first visit to the Hawaiian Islands possibly the first European to ever visit the islands.   Read more

Valentine’s Day…not always hearts and flowers

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Valentine’s Day isn’t always a day of hearts and flowers. Captain James Cook was killed by the Hawaiians on Valentine’s Day.  February 14th also happens to be the anniversary of one of my favorite naval battles—the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. The battle was fought during the French Revolutionary Wars at a time when it seemed like everyone on the planet hated the English. It happened in 1797 when a fleet of 15 British ships battled 25 Spanish ships that were escorting a convoy to Cádiz, Spain.

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Charles B. Tobey’s Watch Stand

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The Sailor Made exhibition finally opened this past weekend. We had so many wonderful objects to choose from and such a small space to fill that we sometimes had to make some really difficult choices about what to include and what to cut from the display.  In one instance, the choice wasn’t too difficult because the piece, a watch stand made by whaleman Charles B. Tobey of Nantucket, is probably the most significant piece of scrimshaw in the collection.

The English settlers in Nantucket were involved in whaling by about 1640, although they were probably not the first nor the most successful.  In 1712, after being caught in a storm and blown far offshore, whaler Christopher Hussey discovered a new species of deep-sea whale—the sperm—which produced oil of unsurpassable quality and in great quantity.  By 1715, Nantucket had six large sloops cruising deep waters and by 1775 Nantucket had 150 whaleships at sea. As these whalers spread throughout the Atlantic they learned of vast herds of sperm whales in the Pacific and Indian oceans.  In 1791, the first six of many Nantucket whalers rounded Cape Horn for the Pacific hunting grounds.   Read more

“Hooked” by history Tlingit style!

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Tlingit halibut hook made of two different wood types. The barbed arm may be yellow cedar and it appears to have wear that indicates the hook was actively used (scratches, cuts and abraded surfaces indicate damage caused by fish teeth). The upper arm might be Yew or Alder.  The two pieces are lashed together with what appears to be Spruce root. The buoy line also appears to be Spruce root.

While working on researching one of the objects in the upcoming Sailor Made exhibition I stumbled across some interesting history—but its discovery also presented a bit of a dilemma for us. The piece is a Pacific Northwest Coast Tlingit halibut hook.  I don’t know if most of you have ever seen a fishhook like this, but it really is super cool (especially for those of us who are closet anthropologists!).

Most native-made fishhooks are a beautiful combination of form and function designed to attract a specific species of fish. While they might appear decorative because of the materials used, for the cultures that used them it was really all about functionality. This just isn’t the case with Tlingit halibut hooks. While their V-shaped hooks were perfectly designed to catch halibut, they also featured symbolism intended to secure supernatural assistance to ensure their catch, protect the fisherman at sea and guarantee his safe return to the village.   Read more