THE RECOVERY AND DRYING OF TEXTILES FROM A DEEP OCEAN HISTORIC SHIPWRECK
KATHRYN A. JAKES, & JOHN C. MITCHELL
In 1857, the steamship Central America sank off the coast of the Carolinas due to damage suffered in a hurricane. Four hundred twenty five passengers died in the catastrophe; 153 survived. The ship had been traveling from the Isthmus of Panama to New York carrying passengers and a shipment of gold for the New York banks. Newspapers carried stories of the survivors for many weeks; the history of the accident has been detailed in Story of an American Tragedy(Conrad 1988; see also Conrad 1991). Using sophisticated side-scan sonar technology and probability mapping of the location of the Central America, the Columbus-America Discovery Group located the ship in 1987 and has continued to study the wreckage and the surrounding area each year (Herdendorf 1991). As the site surrounding the wreckage was explored, items were found strewn across the ocean floor. A trunk was examined underwater in 1988. As a jet of water was blown on the latch to see what was written there, the trunk fell open. Each half was covered with a fabric flap or baffle as suitcases are today. These baffles held the clothing within the trunk even when the trunk was opened underwater. The trunk lay in this configuration until September 1990, when it was retrieved. The trunk halves were placed in Plexiglas tanks, lifted with the deep-sea diving submersible vessel called Nemo, and taken to Columbus, Ohio, in October. Examination of a few items of clothing from the trunk showed them to be contiguous and recognizable (Lore 1990; Ringle 1990).