Buried Treasure from 1856 America: Part One

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After 132 years in mud, the champagne still fizzed when uncorked. It tasted fine, as did the pickles preserved before Lincoln was president, and none of the 20th-century treasure hunters got sick from this antique food or drink. The French perfume bottles still held a sweet, floral fragrance. You can dab on a reproduction at the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, where I went with fellow attendees of the Women Writing the West Conference.

In 1856, when the steamship Arabia snagged on one of the many fallen trees near the banks of the Missouri River, the impact frightened its passengers, including women and children traveling to reunite with their husbands and fathers on the frontier. Children fell in the river. Although all the people were rescued, the steamship and its 200 tons of cargo sank into the river silt immediately.

The cargo, intended for stores at the edge of the frontier, is a gateway to the past. Most of the 200 tons was intact. More than two tons of metal tools and hardware were recovered.

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Skeleton keys, keyholes and white doorknobs in the foreground.

The website of the Arabia Steamboat Museum, www.1856.com, states that this is the largest single collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the world. While buried in the mud for 132 years, the temperature remained constant and there was no oxygen, factors which helped preserve the items. Proteins like leather did not decompose. More than 4,000 boots and shoes were recovered, and when the Arabia sank with them, it may have created a shortage of footwear, a hardship for frontier families.

Bed keys for tightening ropes that supported mattresses.
Bed keys for tightening ropes that supported mattresses.
Trays for Calling Cards
Trays for Calling Cards
About 20% were luxury items, like the Davenport Ironstone in the foreground.
About 20% were luxury items, like the Davenport Ironstone in the foreground.

From cognac to wedding bands to two pre-fabricated homes, the recovered cargo is a buried treasure of historic significance.

The 400 barrels of Kentucky bourbon on board were never recovered.  None were found when an 1897 effort sent a chamber under water, and none when the entire steamship was unearthed 90 years after that, by five local business owners.  They speculate that the men on the Eclipse, which salvaged an engine from the Arabia shortly after it sank, might have helped themselves to “Kentucky’s finest.”

Those five Kansas City business owners discovered this steamship and its cargo in 1987-88. Finding  the Arabia started as a hobby and became a quest.  I will post that story next Thursday.

Old-Time Cash Registers

These look so quaint now, but they work the same as the ones when I was a kid.  This was made about 1900.

This one has two drawers.
This one has two drawers.

Mechanical, not electronic. Push a button with the price and a metal tab comes up.

Tabs with prices:  65 cents, 85 cents.
Tabs with prices: 65 cents, 85 cents.

Looking at these now, I realize the cash registers I remember from the 1960s and 1970s were low-tech compared to today. They were like the one above but they could print a receipt. But they were plain, not with decorated brass sides, back and top.  No marble.

The cash register was first invented in the early 1880s to keep employees from stealing.  It kept track of the money. That’s also why there was the ding of a bell when the drawer rolled open, so the manager or owner would know the cash was exposed to the cashier or customer.

Cash Register in Hoofprints of the Past Museum in Kaycee, WY (800x600)

I remember the No Sale key and tab. When someone came in to the store and asked for change without buying anything, the cashier obliged by pressing No Sale, which made the cash drawer pop out.  This register has a wide, red tab that says Sale Not Yet Recorded.

I took these photos at  Hoofprints of the Past Museum in Kaycee, Wyoming. Talk about the real West.

Winning a World War from a Basement — Part 2

They contemplated enemy invasion every day and carried their gas masks at all times, recalled a worker in the underground Churchill War Rooms in London.

A broom closet in these Cabinet War Rooms was converted into the Transatlantic Telephone Room, where a phone, connected to a scrambler at another London location, could call the White House. It was the first hotline. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his generals spoke to President Franklin Roosevelt and American generals.

Transatlantic Telephone Room

You hear a recording from this hotline, Churchill and Roosevelt discussing an offer of surrender from one of the nations they were fighting. (Only one nation offered, and that was the problem.) I was fascinated to listen to their familiar voices reach a decision together and it made me think of the dark days of the war. What if they hadn’t had this secure phone connection?

Only the highest-ranking personnel, like generals, had a tiny bedroom/office instead of a bunk in the dock. Others lived at home.
Only the highest-ranking personnel, like generals, had a tiny bedroom/office instead of a bunk in the dock. Others lived at home.

Many men and women slept on bunks in the sub-basement, which they called the dock. The ceiling was so low that nobody could stand up straight as they walked, and it was brightly lit, with noisy ventilation, all night long.

A corridor has chests with large, flat drawers; I think they contained hundreds of maps. The Central Map Room, show below, is a highlight of the war rooms.

Map Room, Churchill War Rooms

The large map at the far end was used to track convoys, Allied fleets that carried ships full of men and materiel and were sometimes destroyed and sunk. Below, a detail of this map, showing the east coast of the U.S.

Detail of Convoy Map, Churchill War Rooms

Each pinhole was the location of a convoy. This is part of the map above, used every day of the war.

Telephones with a green receiver have a scramble button for classified conversations.
Telephones with a green receiver have a scramble button for classified conversations.

The officers who worked in the Central Map Room gathered data and delivered daily reports on every front to an office above ground. This room was staffed 24/7 until the lights were turned off the day after the war ended in Asia, and the room is the same today.

I hope you enjoyed these two posts about London’s Churchill War Rooms, also called Cabinet War Rooms. I sure enjoyed my visit, and I wished I’d left time for the attached Churchill Museum.

 

 

 

Winning a World War from a Basement — Part 1

Those were desperate times, and you feel that in Britain’s World War II command center, the underground Churchill War Rooms (Cabinet War Rooms).

Cupboard is labeled "10 Downing Street."  Red sign reads "Prime Minister."
Cupboard is labeled “10 Downing Street.” Red sign reads “Prime Minister.”

This converted basement, blocks from Parliament and 10 Downing Street, sheltered and hid the most crucial work of the British military and government from 1939 until the war’s end in 1945. It’s now a don’t-miss sight in London.

 

Winston Churchill met with his War Cabinet in this underground room.
Winston Churchill met with his War Cabinet in this underground room.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his staff, the War Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff often worked in this reinforced London basement, and they took refuge here when the bombs fell on the city. Some workers lived here, men and women who worked with codes, typed, tracked convoys on maps and guarded this headquarters. They carried their gas masks as they moved from room to room, and the women who worked at the switchboard had special gas masks so they could continue routing phone calls.

A sign indicates weather above ground. Some workers spent so many days underground they risked their health.
A sign indicates weather above ground. Some workers spent so many days underground they risked their health.

The basement was fortified by covering it with reinforced concrete, but a direct hit from a large bomb could have destroyed it. Although the concrete was poured in full view of passersby, the site of this nerve center remained a secret, which was critical for the whole country. Nobody who knew its location could mention it.

Next Thursday, I’ll post more about this site and describe two rooms vital to winning the war.

The Ravens at the Tower of London

Here’s another video by Historic Royal Palaces, about the ravens and why they’re important.

Tower of London

The Crown Jewels, which I wrote about last time, are kept on display in the Tower of London. To see them, you pass through a doorway with open “doors” that look incredibly secure, like a bank vault, and I guess the rooms themselves are a very large walk-in vault. Yeoman Warders, nicknamed Beefeaters, keep an eye on you and the glass-encased jewels.

The Yeoman Warders give tours and look great in vacation photos, but they have other, more serious, responsibilities. All have had a distinguished military career that meets certain requirements necessary to become a Yeoman Warder.  Living in flats in the tower complex with their spouses and children, their duties are security and visitor safety in addition to shifts giving tours. One of the Yeoman Warders is a woman.

Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London. Photo by Arpingstone.
Guards, such as these at Buckingham Palace, also protect the Crown Jewels at the Tower.
Guards, such as these at Buckingham Palace, also protect the Crown Jewels at the Tower.

The White Tower was built by William the Conqueror and was completed by the year 1100.

DSCN1043 (1024x768)The photos above and below show the walled complex, much of it medieval, in the heart of a 21st century city with many modern buildings.

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What fun to suddenly come upon something you've never seen, yet it's familiar. Me at the Tower Bridge.
What fun to suddenly come upon something you’ve never seen, yet it’s familiar. Me at the Tower Bridge.

Here’s a link to a YouTube video by Historic Royal Palaces, about the Line of Kings (click on those words), showing royal armor and more on display at the Tower, and how and why this exhibit has changed over the centuries.

The Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom

I recently visited London for the first time and was awed by the Crown Jewels:  the actual crown, scepter and orb used in coronations, the crown the queen wears when opening Parliament, and other crowns.

Click on this link to the royal family’s website to see them.  The largest photo is of the Imperial State Crown, with a large diamond, the Cullinan II, in the lower front. Click on thumbnails (small photos) to enlarge each photo and read the caption, if you like.

Queen Elizabeth II was 25 at her coronation, and in the portrait you can see in the above link, she holds the Sovereign’s Orb and the staff-like  Sovereign’s Sceptre.

The sceptre (scepter in American English) holds the Cullinan I diamond — it’s the large diamond you see in the close-up of the top of the scepter, and there is also a close-up of the diamond alone.  (It comes out so it can be worn as jewelry.) At 530 carats, it is the largest top-quality cut diamond in the world. It’s also called the First Star of Africa.

The Cullinan Diamond was discovered a century ago in a mine in South Africa, and it weighed one and one-third pounds. It has been cut into smaller pieces, the largest being the Cullinan I and the Cullinan II, also called the Second Star of Africa, which you saw in the Imperial State Crown.

You can read more about the Crown Jewels on the royal family’s website, and also how Oliver Cromwell got rid of many early Crown Jewels after he did away with King Charles I.