News & Opinion | June 21, 2018 10:34 am

Divers Make Eerie Discovery at Site of 1838 Shipwreck

The dramatic sinking of the Pulaski has been called the "Titanic of its time."

pulaski
An illustration of the Steamship Pulaski disaster, an 1838 boiler explosion. (Wikipedia)

Divers recovering artifacts from the steamship Pulaski’s wreckage have made a strange discovery that gives credence to the eyewitness accounts of the night the ship sank in 1838. The dramatic sinking, called the “Titanic of its time” occurred 180 years ago this month as ship sailed from Savannah, Georgia, to Baltimore, Maryland..Witnesses had said the ship’s boilers exploded around 11 p.m. on the night of June 14, 1838 and when it sunk, it took some of the nation’s richest people to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. During the recent exploration of the shipwreck site off the North Carolina coast, divers found a mysterious “grapefruit-sized” encrustation that turned out to be a heavily decorated solid gold pocket watch affixed with a gold chain. The watch’s hands are frozen at 11:05 p.m.

“We were shocked,” said Max Spiegel of Certified Collectables Group, which is handling preservation of Pulaski artifacts, to the Charlotte Observer. “It’s very unusual to see an artifact with that sort of impression of a historic moment, when a ship sank. Think about how fragile the watch’s hands are, yet they survived in that exact position. It’s one of the most exciting finds we’ve handled, and we’ve done a half-dozen shipwrecks.”

Nearly half of the 200 passengers on board the Pulaski ultimately died when, according to witnesses, the starboard boiler exploded, throwing many overboard, hitting others with flying debris, and scalding some to death. Some survivors floated for up to four days on the flotsam of the wreck before being rescued. The shipwreck’s location was only discovered this year.