Thursday, December 13, 2012

When Marvels Appear

On a cold winter day, with a stiff northwest wind blowing the Chesapeake Bay south toward the Atlantic, 11-year-old twins Cole and Wyatt Greene stumbled on a strange sight as they explored the exposed mudflats of Herring Bay. Buried in the mud appeared to be the remains of an old ship. A really big ship.

The two boys announced their find to their mother. Back they ran with an iPhone and tape measure to record the shipwreck. It measured a whopping 129 feet by 25 feet. Nearby, another wreck 20 feet long lay broken in the mud.

Diane Greene was impressed with her sons’ discovery and phoned the news into the Maryland Historical Trust.

Intrigued, the home-schooling Greenes embarked on their own voyage to uncover the mystery of Herring Bay’s phantom ship.

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The Sinking of the Levin J. Marvel
On August 8, 1955, the Levin J. Marvel, a ship whose seaworthiness had been questioned by the Coast Guard, left Annapolis on a six-day pleasure cruise with 23 passengers and four crew.

Meanwhile, 500 miles east of Palm Beach, Hurricane Connie was barreling up the East Coast.

By the time the Marvel reached Cambridge two days later, storm warnings were up with winds gusting to 73 miles per hour.

But the next day the hurricane warning was lifted. With the wind blowing about 35, Captain John H. Meckling decided to make a break for Annapolis. Twelve hours later, near the Bloody Point Light, gale force winds forced the ram-schooner to sail southwest.

With the hurricane bearing down, the Marvel anchored near Fairhaven in Herring Bay. There the storm overwhelmed the ship’s bilge pumps and it rolled. Passengers and crew abandoned ship. Fourteen of the passengers, including a 13-year-old boy, drowned.

Soon after the Marvel’s sinking, the Coast Guard plotted the ship’s location on nautical charts and marked it with a lighted buoy.

In 1956, the Army Corps of Engineers determined that the ship was lying in 16 feet of water and had broken into several pieces. As it was not considered an “unreasonable menace,” the buoy light was removed and the Levin J. Marvel slowly drifted into oblivion.

However, its sinking helped pass the Federal Boating Act of 1958.

Ghost of the Marvel?
The Greenes’ research led them to the doorstep of John Ward of the Deale Area Historical Society. Ward has devoted decades to researching the Marvel. The boys’ video looked like a shipwreck, he agreed. But not the Marvel, he thought, because its location at Rose Haven was too far away from the last reported location of the wreck.

So what did Wyatt and Cole Greene find that frozen February day?
That’s still a mystery.

Come spring, Maryland’s Maritime Archaeology Program plans a dive to determine definitively whether the boys’ find could be part of the Marvel’s remains. In addition, the recon will support the site’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

Marvel or not, the Greenes’ “prompt and appropriate action” has earned them the Maryland Maritime Archaeology Program’s Volunteers of the Year Award for 2012.

“I am just so impressed by the boys,” says Maryland State Underwater Archaeologist Susan Langley, who is project leader for the Marvel investigation.

“They seized the moment and had the initiative to determine what would be needed and took measurements, photographs and video, then undertook research online to see if they could determine what they had found and made the effort to ensure it was reported to the correct authorities.”

The twins also have an invitation to join the dive — if they get diving certification — or monitor the action from above as snorkelers.

The only other National Register submerged site in Maryland is U-1105, a World War II experimental German submarine captured and eventually scuttled by the Navy off Piney Point in the Potomac River.

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