The Ship that Nearly Sank America

On September 3, 1857, the SS Central America left the port of Colón, Panama, en route to New York City. It never arrived. What happened to it? And how did this ship’s failure to reach its destination nearly ruin the United States of America?

The Lost Treasure of the SS Central America?

The SS Central America was a side-wheel steamship that sailed routes between Central America and the east coast of the United States. In 1857, fifteen tons of gold were prospected in California and shipped to Panama via the SS Sonora. Since the Panama Canal was not yet in existence, the enormous gold shipment was transported by train across the country and reloaded onto the Central America.

As the Central America sailed towards New York City, it initially encountered few difficulties. But all that changed on September 9. While sailing off the coast of North Carolina, the steamship found itself engulfed by a Category 2 hurricane. The crew, under the direction of Captain William Lewis Herndon, fought mightily to stave off disaster. But eventually, the hull cracked, sending the gold and over four hundred people to the bottom of the ocean.

The SS Central America and the Panic of 1857?

According to historian Bray Hammond, the ship’s gold represented more than 20% of Wall Street’s gold reserves at the time. As such, the news of the shipwreck caused major financial ramifications throughout the United States.

Early in 1857, agriculture and other industries began drawing against their bank deposits, putting increased pressure on banking gold reserves. The New York Office of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company failed. Other New York banks followed suit as they found themselves unable to pay employees or creditors. A delay in gold shipments from California only added to the bleak situation. And when the SS Central America sank, it ended the last hope of New York bankers to stave off a major financial crash. The Panic of 1857, as it is known today, was perhaps the worst economic depression of the 1800’s. Some historians even consider it a major factor behind the Civil War.

Salvaging the SS Central America?

On September 11, 1987, one hundred and thirty years after the sinking of the SS Central America, the Columbus-America Discovery Group located the wreck in 8,000 feet of water using an ROV. Led by engineer Tommy Thompson, the Group excavated gold in the amount of $100-$150 million dollars. This haul included an eighty-pound ingot, which at that time was determined to be the most expensive piece of currency in the entire world.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The sinking of the SS Central America was one of the greatest maritime disasters in history. It caused over four hundred deaths and caught off all hope of quickly ending the Panic of 1857. The Panic, in turn, helped bring the country one step closer to a full-blown Civil War. The Central America is not widely known today. But in my opinion, it deserves to be recognized as one of the most significant shipwrecks in American history.

Where is the Colossus of Rhodes?

The Colossus of Rhodes was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  At over 100 feet tall, it stood far higher than any other statue of its time.  Mysteriously, this behemoth disappeared over a thousand years ago and has been missing ever since.  So, what happened to it?

The Colossus of Rhodes?

Rhodes was a powerhouse of the ancient world.  After the death of Alexander the Great, it joined forces with Ptolemaic Egypt to control trade in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea.  Unhappy with the situation, King Antigonus I Monophthalmus of Cyprus ordered his son to invade Rhodes.  The invasion was turned back.  A subsequent siege also failed and the Cyprus army was forced to flee, leaving behind most of its equipment.  The leaders of Rhodes decided to celebrate the victory by constructing a mammoth statue dedicated to Helios, the god of the sun.

In 292 BC, the sculptor Chares began work on the statue.  He used iron tie bars as framework and giant plates of brass as skin.  The Colossus of Rhodes was completed in 280 BC (Chares is believed to have committed suicide shortly before it was finished).  It stood close to one hundred and ten feet tall and with the addition of at least one fifty foot high marble pedestal, it reached over one hundred and sixty feet into the sky.

There is some confusion regarding the location of the statue.  Medieval historians believed that it straddled the harbor with each foot resting on a giant pillar.  However, modern archaeologists and engineers consider this unrealistic, since it would’ve been structurally unsound and forced a long-term closure of the port.  Instead, they believe that the Colossus of Rhodes rested on a single pedestal or on a hill overlooking the area.

The Collapse of the Colossus of Rhodes?

In 226 BC, a giant earthquake struck Rhodes, wreaking havoc on the city.  And after just 56 years, the mighty Colossus of Rhodes broke at the knees.  Afterwards, the ruins lay on the ground for over 800 years, becoming a tourist attraction in their own right.  In 654 AD, a Muslim leader named Muawiyah I conquered Rhodes.  Supposedly, he sold the ruins to a Jewish merchant who broke them down and transported them back to his home via camel.  However, this may be nothing more than a metaphor.

And a great number of men hauled on strong ropes which were tied round the brass Colossus which was in the city and pulled it down. And they weighed from it three thousand loads of Corinthian brass, and they sold it to a certain Jew from Emesa – Barhebraeus, 13th Century

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So where is the Colossus of Rhodes today? If we are to believe the stories, then the Colossus is gone, melted down and repurposed.  However, in 2008, German archaeologist Ursula Vedder proposed an alternative explanation.  She suggested that the Colossus of Rhodes had originally rested at the top of the Acropolis of Rhodes which sits on a hill overlooking the port.  There is a large rock base in the area, situated between a recently discovered stadium and racetrack.  If Vedder is correct, then the mystery of the lost Colossus may eventually be solved.  For all we know, the giant statue might be lying near these other ruins, buried deep in the sand, waiting for a team of explorers to unearth it.

The Lost Fleet of Captain Morgan?

Captain Henry Morgan was one of the most successful privateers of all time. In 1671, while conducting a shocking raid on Panama City, he lost five ships to the raging waters of the Caribbean.  Now, divers believe that they have located this lost fleet. Just who was Captain Morgan? And how did his raid single-handedly change the world?

Who was Captain Henry Morgan?

Henry Morgan was born in Wales in 1635. While early accounts of his life are conflicting, we do know that he was commanding his own ship by the age of 30. Soon after, he took on the role of privateer, or a government-sanctioned pirate, similar to the infamous Captain Kidd. Outfitted with letters of marque from Britain, he began a series of daring raids that rocked Spain’s tenuous grip on the New World.

Captain Henry Morgan invades Panama?

In late 1670, Captain Henry Morgan assembled a mighty fleet of thirty-six ships and some 2,000 men and turned his sights towards Panama City. At that time, Panama City was the richest city in the Americas, thanks to seemingly endless loads of Inca gold appropriated by the Spanish conquistadors. It was also considered invincible, thanks to heavy fortifications facing the Pacific Ocean and miles of thick jungle separating it from the Caribbean Sea. Undeterred, Henry Morgan sailed to the Chagres River and captured Castillo de San Lorenzo. In the process, he lost five vessels, including his flagship, which underwater archaeologists believe they have now located.

Afterwards, Captain Morgan divided his 1,400 remaining men and marched through the Panama Isthmus. He caught the Spanish defenders by surprise, outflanked their counterattack, and seized the city. He spent several weeks in Panama and eventually left with 175 mules loaded with gold, silver, and jewelry. The haul was relatively light due to the fact that a few treasure-laden Spanish vessels managed to flee the harbor. However, since Henry Morgan paid his men just ten pounds apiece for their help in the raid, many researchers speculate that he took the rest of the treasure for himself and hid it before returning to Jamaica.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

According to Stephan Talty’s excellent book, Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan’s Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws’ Bloody Reign, Captain Henry Morgan’s raid on Panama City led to more than a possible lost treasure. It also changed the course of history, helping to bring about the end of the Spanish Empire and the “Old World”, which had been driven by religion, laws, and birthrights. The British Empire and a “New World”, driven by money, free trade, and democracy, would rise in its wake. In that respect, Captain Morgan remains one of the least known, yet most influential people in modern history.

“Morgan had helped, in his own way, point a path toward the future. Some historians have even argued that without Morgan the Spanish would have been able to settle and defend Florida more vigorously and even extend their control along the Gulf Coast, creating an impregnable empire stretching to Texas. Without him, who knows what the map of the Caribbean and even of the United States might look like. He battled a divine empire on behalf of men interested in trade and gold and rational society (but certainly not freedom for every member, as the pirates had insisted on). The next great world empire, the British, would be a mercantile, not a religious, one. The world had turned Morgan’s way, and he’d nudged it along.” ~ Stephan Talty, Empire of Blue Water

Who is D.B. Cooper?

In 1971, Dan Cooper skyjacked a Boeing 727. After pocketing $200,000 in ransom money, he parachuted into the night, never to be seen again. Now, almost forty years later, the FBI has announced a breakthrough in the case. Is the truth behind D.B. Cooper finally at hand?

D.B. Cooper hijacks Flight 305 

On the afternoon of November 24, 1971, a man calling himself Dan Cooper purchased a one-way ticket on Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305, a thirty-minute trip from Portland, Oregon to Seattle Washington. After takeoff, he passed a note to a flight attendant named Florence Schaffner. Although he later took the note with him, she later recalled that it said, “I have a bomb in my briefcase. I will use it if necessary. I want you to sit next to me. You are being hijacked.” D.B. Cooper showed her the bomb, which she described as eight red sticks, wire, insulation, and a battery. Then, he proceeded to make his demands:

“I want $200,000 in unmarked 20-dollar bills. I want two back parachutes and two front parachutes. When we land, I want a fuel truck ready to refuel. No funny stuff or I’ll do the job.” ~ Dan Cooper

It seemed clear that D.B. Cooper intended to jump from the plane with a hostage. Donald Nyrop, the President of Northwest Orient, agreed to meet the demands. Upon landing in Seattle, the FBI provided Cooper with the money and four civilian parachutes. In exchange, Cooper released Florence, another flight attendant, and all thirty-six passengers. After refueling, the plane lifted into the air again, on course for Reno, Nevada.

D.B. Cooper Parachutes into History…and Mystery

After takeoff, D.B. Cooper ordered the remaining crew to gather in the cockpit. Around 8:00pm, the crew noticed a flashing warning light, indicating that a passenger staircase in the rear of the aircraft had been deployed. At 8:13pm, the plane jolted. Two hours later, the crew landed in Reno, with the airstair still open. Cooper was nowhere to be found.

Two of the parachutes remained onboard and it quickly became apparent that D.B. Cooper had jumped out of the airplane with the other two, most likely somewhere over Washington’s lower Cascade mountains. The FBI swarmed the plane, gathering additional evidence such as 66 partial fingerprints, a black clip-on tie, and a mother of pearl tie clip.

Using available data, the FBI determined his likely landing area and initiated a manhunt. They also distributed a list of serial numbers corresponding to the ransom money to law enforcement agencies, financial institutions, casinos, racetracks, and other places.  But the investigation failed to unearth any evidence.

What happened to D.B. Cooper?

In February 1980, eight-year old Brian Ingram found three packets of waterlogged bills on the banks of the Columbia River. The money, which totaled $5,800, matched the serial numbers of bills given to D.B. Cooper. The FBI relaunched its investigation. However, they failed to determine how the bills arrived at the location. To this day, the money as well as an instruction placard found in 1978 remain the only pieces of hard evidence found outside the aircraft that can be tied directly to D.B. Cooper.

No one is quite sure what happened to Cooper and the ransom money. Many people believe that he died during his parachute attempt. He wasn’t an experienced jumper, evidenced by the fact that he chose to take flight with a dummy chute used for training exercises that had been purposely planted by the FBI. Also, his jump took place at 10,000 feet in the middle of a raging storm complete with powerful winds, freezing rain, and below-zero temperatures. Under those conditions, he needed to land safely in extremely difficult terrain, something that would be challenging even for an experienced jumper.

Other people believe that he survived the jump and proceeded to live a long life. They point to literally dozens of serious and semi-serious suspects, each one backed by considerable circumstantial evidence. Perhaps the most popular suspect is Kenneth Christiansen. However, a lack of hard evidence makes it difficult to be sure.

Now, investigators hope to finally settle the debate. A few days ago, the FBI made a series of startling announcements pertaining to the D.B. Cooper investigation.

“We do actually have a new suspect we’re looking at…It comes from a credible lead who came to our attention recently via a law enforcement colleague…The credible lead is somebody whose possible connection to the hijacker is strong…And the suspect is not a name that’s come up before.” ~ Ayn Dietrich, FBI Spokeswoman

Ayn also mentioned that the FBI is attempting to compare fingerprints and DNA from the suspect to those found on items recovered from the airplane. She even went so far as to call the lead the “most promising one to date.”

The FBI will face significant hurdles if it wants to prove the identity of D.B. Cooper. Apparently, it is uncertain if the fingerprints recovered from the plane actually belonged to Cooper in the first place. Also, the FBI appears to have misplaced cigarette butts belonging to Cooper, which could dash any hopes for a DNA test.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Forty years have passed since Dan Cooper vanished into the night. His case is shrouded in mystery and mythology. Even his name remains a source of confusion to the general public. Due to a media miscommunication, he is commonly known as D.B. Cooper when in fact, he never used the initials D.B. at all.

Will this latest suspect and supporting evidence be enough to put the case to rest? I have to admit I’m skeptical. Over 1,000 people have been suspected of being D.B. Cooper. And every few years, a new piece of explosive evidence emerges only to be ruled out. There was that misidentified skull in 1981, that tattered parachute in 1988, and that other tattered parachute in 2008. But all the same, I’ll be following this story closely. The unmasking of D.B. Cooper would close America’s last unsolved skyjacking and finally, bring an answer to a case that has baffled hundreds of thousands of people for over forty years.

Who Framed Captain Kidd?

Captain William Kidd is one of the most notorious pirates in history. In 1701, he was executed in London after being found guilty of murder and five charges of piracy. Two hundred years later, documents emerged that called into question the official story. Was Captain Kidd framed? If so, why?

The Adventures of Captain Kidd

In 1698, King William III offered pardons to pirates who surrendered themselves to England. Only two men, the apparent worst of the worst, were denied such pardons. The first such pirate was “Long Ben” Avery, who eluded punishment and vanished. The second pirate was a man known as Captain William Kidd.

Kidd was a Scottish sailor turned British privateer. Privateers were essentially government-sponsored pirates. They were issued letters of marque and were only permitted to attack ships belonging to enemy nations. As such, Captain Kidd received a government license, some funding from prominent members of the Whig Party, and permission to keep a percentage of his profits. In turn, King William III gained another vessel to disrupt enemy trade as well as rights to ten percent of all of Kidd’s profits.

In September 1696, Kidd launched from London in the Adventure Galley and set course for Madagascar. Hopes for a successful voyage quickly crumbled and the ship’s crew suffered an outbreak of cholera, constant leaks, and few prizes. By October 30, 1697, part of the crew had deserted and the rest were openly talking about mutiny. On that day, Captain Kidd fought with gunner, William Moore. The argument ended when Kidd slammed a bucket into Moore’s head, fracturing the man’s skull. Moore died the next day.

Captain Kidd becomes a Pirate

A few months later, on January 30, 1698, Kidd finally captured the large prize that had eluded him and his crew. The Quedah Merchant was a four-hundred-ton Armenian ship, filled with satins, muslins, silks, sugar, opium, guns, silver, and gold. However, although the vessel was under French control, it was captained by an Englishman. After news of the Quedah Merchant reached England, Captain Kidd was declared a pirate.

After capturing at least four smaller ships, Kidd learned that he was being hunted. He sought support from Lord Bellomont, one of his investors and the newly appointed governor of Massachusetts. Bellomont offered him clemency. But when Kidd arrived in Boston, Bellomont had him arrested instead.

Kidd’s trial started on May 8, 1701 in England. He was accused of Moore’s murder and five counts of piracy. Kidd claimed that his attack on Moore was due to the man’s role in an attempted mutiny. He also claimed that four counts of piracy were done against his wishes by the mutineers.

The fifth count proved more troubling to explain. The Quedah Merchant was captained by an Englishman and carried strong connections to the England-based, East India Company. Also, Kidd did not take his spoils back to England as his contract required. Instead, he dispersed it amongst his crew and kept the rest for himself. Kidd fought back, alleging that his mutinous crew took the spoils. He also insisted that the Quedah Merchant was clearly a French ship and that he had the papers to prove it. However, these papers mysteriously disappeared prior to his trial. On May 23, 1701, Captain Kidd was executed via hanging.

Was Captain Kidd Framed?

While the charges were serious, many people continue to believe that Captain Kidd was framed or at the very least, sacrificed for the sake of politics. Its important to note that he didn’t dispute the killing of William Moore or the seizure of four of the ships. His defense for those crimes hinged on his statement that he was under constant attack by a band of mutineers. Regardless, his crimes weren’t exactly unusual given the times.

As for the Quedah Merchant, Kidd based his defense on a “French pass,” which was a piece of paper indicating that the ship was controlled by France. Kidd reported that he took the pass from the vessel’s captain and sent it to Lord Bellomont, his old business parter. Bellomont wrote a letter to Kidd which seemed to confirm the pass’s existence. However, it vanished prior to trial. Over two hundred years later, in 1911, a writer named Ralph Paine made an astonishing discovery. While searching London’s Public Record Office, he found the missing French pass. Its existence caused many to question if it had been hidden on purpose, in order to throw doubt on Kidd’s story.

Several groups stood to gain from his execution. He was initially backed by prominent members of the Whig Party. After news of the Quedah Merchant went public, the Whigs found themselves under heavy attack from the Tories. Wishing to avoid an embarrassing situation, the Whigs were eager to abandon Kidd. They went so far as to declare that he’d turned rogue after they’d outfitted him and his ship.

Another group who stood to benefit from Captain Kidd’s death was the East India Company. Kidd’s capture of the Quedah Merchant angered the India emperor, who threatened to close down trade routes. The East India Company, eager to placate the emperor and discourage future piracy, had strong motive to make an example out of Kidd.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Captain Kidd was a privateer who either turned pirate or was forced to do so by a mutinous crew. He never gained much success and if it hadn’t been for his sensational trial and his subsequent attempt to barter his life for a vast, hidden treasure, he would’ve been easily forgotten.

So, was he framed? Not exactly. After all, he committed at least some of the crimes of which he was accused. However, other pirates got away with far worse. It seems clear that both the Whigs and the East India Company had strong reasons to see him hang. This caused his supporters to abandon him and most likely led Lord Bellomont to file away the French pass rather than present it at his trial. While Kidd wasn’t framed, he was a victim…a victim of politics.

The Lost Treasure of Charles Dickens’s Shipwreck

On October 25, 1859, the Royal Charter crashed into rocks off the coast of Wales during a horrendous hurricane. With over 450 lives lost, it remains one of the biggest maritime disasters in history. Charles Dickens himself visited the site and wrote about it in his short-story collection, The Uncommercial Traveller. The other day, divers shocked the world when they announced the discovery of treasure while searching the shipwreck.  How much did they find? And is there more?

The Royal Charter Disaster

In late 1859, a steam clipper by the name of Royal Charter set sail from Melbourne, Australia to Liverpool, England in what should’ve been a sixty day journey. Historians estimate that it carried 371 passengers, 112 crew members, and other employees. As the ship rounded Anglesey, a force 12 hurricane struck the area.

Powerful wind slammed into the ship. Massive waves crested against its side. The crew attempted to anchor but the chains snapped. As the gusts drove the Royal Charter towards shore, the crew cut the masts and revved the steam engines. But it was to no avail. After crashing into rocks, gigantic waves, driven by one hundred mile winds, battered the Royal Charter into pieces. Twenty-one passengers and eighteen crew members, all men, survived. The rest, an estimated 459 people, perished in the destruction.

Charles Dickens & The Royal Charter

At the height of his fame, the author Charles Dickens visited the site and reported on the tragedy. His words, initially published in his magazine All the Year Round, helped memorialize the horrible disaster.

So tremendous had the force of the sea been when it broke the ship, that it had beaten one great ingot of gold, deep into a strong and heavy piece of her solid iron-work: in which also several loose sovereigns that the ingot had swept in before it, had been found, as firmly embedded as though the iron had been liquid when they were forced there. – Charles Dickens

Lost Treasure on the Royal Charter?

Recently, a team of divers led by Vincent Thurkettle announced the discovery of over two hundred artifacts as well as substantial amounts of gold dust, nuggets, and coins. It turns out that some of the passengers who sailed on the Royal Charter‘s last voyage were gold miners. At the time of the storm, they carried over 79,000 ounces of gold. Today, this treasure is estimated to be worth about $125 million dollars.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The Royal Charter‘s story is a sad one. Ordinary people as well as miners who’d struck it rich were on the verge of returning home after a long, two-month voyage. But with just a few hours to go, a vicious, merciless storm ended most of their lives and forever changed those of the survivors. However, it wasn’t all for naught. The destruction of the clipper led to the first gail warning system, improved weather forecasting, and the development of other safety measures.

Today, the remains of the Royal Charter lay under ten to fifteen feet of water, a solemn reminder of nature’s fury. It is believed that about twenty percent of the ship’s gold remains with the wreck. If so, then close to twenty-five million dollars of treasure, buried under a thin layer of sand, still waits to be recovered.

Where is Cleopatra’s Tomb?

Cleopatra VII is of the most significant women in history.  She ruled or co-ruled Egypt for over twenty years.  Her great beauty, enrapturing personality, and affairs with the likes of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony have become the stuff of legend.  On August 12, 30 BC, she supposedly committed suicide by inducing the bite of an asp (although one modern theory holds that she was deliberately poisoned).  For centuries, explorers have searched for Cleopatra’s tomb.  So, where is it?

Cleopatra’s Tomb?

Amazingly, after more than two millennia, Cleopatra’s tomb (which is believed to also hold Mark Antony) might be on the verge of being unearthed.  The expedition to find Cleopatra’s tomb is led by Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, and Dr. Kathleen Martinez who hails from the Dominican Republic.  They began initial work several years ago, focusing primarily on the temple of Taposiris Magna, which lies west of Alexandria.

Several circumstantial details point to the temple as a possible burial location.  It’s surrounded by a cemetery, which appears to hold people of some means.  This indicates the presence of an important nearby tomb, possibly one belonging to royalty.  Also, the expedition unearthed a separate temple dedicated to Isis, the deity from which Cleopatra claimed to be reincarnated.  Other clues, such as coins depicting Alexander the Great, provide evidence that the tombs in the area are of the right time period.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Last month, the expedition completed a radar survey of the temple, which pinpointed three deep shafts.  They believe that one of these shafts might serve as the final resting place for Cleopatra and Mark Antony.  While the existence of Cleopatra’s tomb has yet to be confirmed, these three shafts represent the most promising lead in centuries.  If by some chance, the burial is discovered intact, it could prove to be one of the greatest treasure troves of all time…not just in terms of gold and artifacts but in terms of knowledge as well.

Is Fort Knox Empty?

A few weeks ago, CNBC announced that Ron Paul, the esteemed congressman from Texas, hoped to audit the supply and purity of the thousands of tons of gold stored in Fort Knox.  Of course, Paul’s wish makes one minor assumption…that there’s actually still gold in Fort Knox.

The Origin of Fort Knox?

The strange tale of Fort Knox, also known as the United States Bullion Depository, begins in 1933.  On April 5 of that year, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6102 which, in effect, forced American citizens to turn in “all gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates” to the Federal Reserve.  The federal government built Fort Knox in 1936 in order to store its newfound treasure.

Citizens received $20.67 for each troy ounce of gold they turned over to the government.  Subsequently, President Roosevelt offered other nations the opportunity to buy or sell gold at $35.00 per ounce, an inflationary measure designed to end the rising Great Depression.  It didn’t work.  However, with most other assets undergoing deflation, the higher gold price attracted massive amounts of sellers from around the world.  As such, by 1949 Fort Knox held nearly 70% of the entire world’s known gold supply.

The End of the Gold Standard?

During the 1950’s, the tide began to swing the other way.  The U.S. continued to transact gold at $35 per ounce.  However, due to the declining value of the U.S. dollar, other nations were now buyers rather than sellers.  The sell-off lasted until August 15, 1971 when President Richard Nixon “closed the gold window.”  By ending the last remaining links between the U.S. dollar and gold, he also ended the need for a bullion depository.  Thus, Fort Knox became little more than a glorified, high-security warehouse.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, that brings us to the main question.  What, if anything, is still in the facility?  According to official records, Fort Knox holds 4,578 metric tons of gold bullion, or roughly 2.5% of the entire world’s known gold supply.  At the present spot price, that works out to $225 billion dollars.

However, that amount comes with an asterisk.  You see, no visitors have actually been inside the facility since September 1974.  And an official audit has not been performed since January 1953.  Even worse, that audit was flawed in numerous ways.  It lasted only seven days and tested just a small fraction of the gold.  With so much wealth and secrecy rolled into one location, it’s not surprising that Fort Knox has given rise to a flood of conspiracy theories.  The most popular theory is that the vault is empty or perhaps, filled with fake gold bars.

Personally, I doubt that Paul’s efforts will prove successful, at least in the near-term.  But one can always hope.  If he does manage to crack the facility’s cloak of secrecy, we will finally know the answer to one of the greatest mysteries of American history.  Does Fort Knox truly hold 4,578 metric tons of gold?  More?  Less?  Or is it just an empty warehouse?  And if it’s empty, more questions arise.  Questions that could prove just as difficult to answer.  Questions such as…

Who took the gold?  And what did they do with it?

The Lost Treasure of the Atocha

A few days ago, Mel Fisher’s Treasure announced the discovery of a $500,000 emerald ring, two silver spoons, and other artifacts.  It is the latest haul from the 1622 shipwreck of the Spanish Galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha.  And it could lead to one of the greatest lost treasures of all time.

The Lost Atocha?

The Atocha is one of a fleet of Spanish Galleons that sank off the Florida Keys during a hurricane in 1622.  It lay untouched for over three centuries.  Then, on July 20, 1985, Mel Fisher discovered the wreck and in the process, uncovered one of the largest treasures of all time.  All told, the “Atocha Motherlode” was estimated at $450 million (in 1985!).  And amazingly, that’s only half of it.

A whole other treasure still lies out there, waiting to be discovered.  You see, the Atocha broke apart during the hurricane, causing the stern castle to separate from the rest of the ship.  Centuries of currents and storms drove them even further apart.  According to Sean Fisher, the ship’s manifest indicates that the stern castle could contain at least “100,000 coins, 400 silver bars, and personal jewelry.”  And that doesn’t include any treasures that were deliberately left off the manifest by clergy and nobility who wanted to avoid taxes.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Mel Fisher, who searched for the Atocha for sixteen years, was well-known for his motto, “Today’s the Day.”  If Sean Fisher and his fellow divers have anything to say about it, “Today” could soon turn out to be a lifetime instead.

HT: Thanks to the Guerrilla Dad for providing the idea behind this article!

Controversial Treasure Unearthed in Kerala

Yesterday, the BBC reported that a gigantic treasure, worth in excess of $500 million, is being unearthed in Kerala, a state in southern India.  The treasure, accumulated centuries ago, was stored in six secret underground vaults beneath the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple.

The Sree Padmanabhaswamy Treasure?

The Kallaras, or granite chambers, were sealed up in the 1860s to protect the treasure from the British Raj.  Two of these chambers have remained unopened since that time.  The other four were last opened in the 1950s.

The Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple itself was constructed in the 1500s by the kingdom of Travancore.  The Travancore Maharajahs dedicated themselves, the temple, and its wealth to Padmanabhaswamy, “an aspect of the Hindu God Vishnu in eternal sleep.”  Since that time, their descendants have controlled the temple along with the treasure.  However, a recent court case allowed the state government to seize control of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple and its wealth, supposedly to protect the treasure from theft.

Despite numerous Hindu protests and court appeals from the family, India’s Supreme Court ordered the vaults to be opened.  It also appointed a seven-person committee to inventory and assess the treasure.  According to the Business Standard, the recovered treasure includes:

  • Three sets of golden crowns of the kings of Travancore
  • Kulasekhrara Perumal crown
  • Precious stones including pearls, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires
  • Heaps of gold shaped like paddy
  • Around 1,000 Sarappoli chains, the longest of which is eighteen feet long.  Four of these weigh around 2kg each. Total weight of these is more than a quintal
  • Long ropes of gold like the traditional coir rope of Kerala
  • Diamonds
  • Hundreds of golden coins kept in bags and wooden boxes
  • Pendants and a large number of golden batons
  • Around 100,000 gold and silver coins
  • Golden waistbands studded with diamonds, each weighing 2kg
  • Gold and silver bars weighing 1-2kg each
  • Gold and silver utensils, crowns, golden umbrellas and pots

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

What a haul!  It’s exciting to see these treasures, some of which date back centuries, come to light.  But I’m deeply troubled about the way in which it happened.  Essentially, the Supreme Court declared that private property belonging to a religious temple was a national treasure and then used that as an excuse to seize possession of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple.

I sincerely hope that the treasure of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple adds to our understanding of the kingdom of Travancore.  Still, I wish that Kerala’s government and the Supreme Court had gone about this in a far different manner.