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The “Ship of Gold” Treasure Is Now Available in 2018 - Part 2

“Ship of Gold” Stories Behind Some of the Buried Gold as Told by the Survivors

I thought I would share some of the dramatic stories of the survivors of the SS Central America’s 1857 sinking, as it relates to the gold which they and others held on board that ship – and the harrowing decisions they had to make as the ship was sinking.

Official and “Secret” Gold
(from pages 156-159 of “Ship of Gold”)

“Her gold shipment was documented: With gold valued at $20 an ounce in 1857, the publicly reported commercial shipment totaled between $1.21 and $1.6 million. Although many of the Central America’s records, including her cargo manifest, had been destroyed in the great San Francisco fire of 1906, some accounts estimated that the gold carried by the passengers at least equaled the commercial shipment. And the Department of the Army recently had confirmed a story approaching myth that had circulated for years: that the Central America carried an official secret shipment of gold destined to shore up the faltering northern industrial economy. The letter, dated April 2, 1971, acknowledged that the information about the shipment had been declassified, and it verified that secreted in her hold the Central America had also carried 600 50-pound bar boxes, or another thirty thousand pounds of gold.”

“It was the worst disaster in American shipping and several pundits of the day attributed the Panic of 1857 largely to the loss of gold shipment aboard the steamer.  Passengers and crew on the SS Central America hailed from all 31 states in the young union and many foreign countries. The telegraph only recently had sprouted up and down the East Coast, so that news of the arrival of the first survivors in Savannah shot straight up the wires all the way to Boston and over to New Orleans…. For the first time, reporters relied heavily on the accounts of women. For weeks, dozens of newspapers ran vivid front-page accounts in the survivors’ own words, the articles sometimes filling the page and several more pages inside. As survivors returned to their hometowns and as official bodies inquired into the sinking, the story lived for months in over 200 newspapers.” 

Bob Evans, the Chief Scientist for the discovery and recovery of the SS Central America gold has been involved in this search for over 35 years. Back in 1983, Bob searched all local and national libraries for microfiche records from September 1857.  “Two or three days a week, several hours a day, Bob sat on the main floor of the William Oxley Thompson Library at Ohio State, amid the bare concrete columns and the file cabinets filled with rolls of microfilm, his head in a reader, his blue eyes scanning the white on black film of articles from the front pages of old newspapers. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated, the New York News, the New York Times, the New York Journal of Commerce. When he saw something pertinent, he made a copy and took it home, where he studied it and pulled information to place on the matrix….”

What the Women Survivors Told Reporters in 1857
(from pages 55-68 of “Ship of Gold”)

 “Many of the women traveled with a great deal of money they had not registered with the purser. All of them were now advised not to carry more than two $20 gold pieces with them. Two women retrieved a satchel from their stateroom and upon returning to the cabin, opened the satchel, and weeping, shook $11,000 in gold onto the floor. Through tears, they said that anyone who wanted the money could take what they pleased. ‘That money is all we made in California,’ they added. ‘We were returning home to enjoy it.’” (page 55)

“Before boarding in San Francisco, Thomas Badger had given his wife $16,500 in $20 gold pieces, which she had sewed up in toweling, in three parcels, and laid flat in a trunk. The trunk sat in their stateroom, now in water up to Jane Badger’s knees as she picked her way among the ‘rubbish which strewed the cabin.’ She found the trunk, unlocked it, took out the gold, placed it in a carpetbag, threw a crepe shawl on top, locked the bag, then had to leave it sitting on the lower berth: It was too heavy, she couldn’t lift it.” (page 59)

Some men tried to jump into lifeboats intended only for women and children: “Joseph Bassford, holding a knife and trying to fasten around his waist a money belt containing two thousand dollars in gold, saw that the boat had been cut loose, so he stuffed the whole belt into the side pocket of his coat, leaped from the steamer deck, and landed in the boat. But somehow in his haste to make the boat, he dislodged the money belt and the belt hit the gray water as hard as he hit the boat, and it sank instantly.” (page 68)

Gold Abandoned in Haste as the SS Central America Sank,
September 12, 1857
(memoirs of survivor Oliver Manlove, as summarized
in pages 124-125 of “Ship of Gold”)

“In the same part of the ship with the poet Oliver Manlove were two brothers named Horn, who had gone to California in 1850. Working together and working hard they had unearthed $6,000 worth of gold, which they had kept in a large carpet sack that one or the other had guarded throughout the trip. ‘I found Anson Horn weeping,’ wrote Manlove. ‘He said that his time had come, that he should never see his home again, which he had longed to see, praying and hoping for it. I tried to encourage him, but he fully believed that his fate was sealed, that all of our fates were sealed.’”

“Now they had to decide whether to take the gold or leave it behind. Most of the passengers were returning miners who had accumulated at least a few thousand dollars in gold, which they carried with them in treasure belts, carpetbags, and purses. But gold was dense. A red house brick weighed about four pounds; a gold brick of the same size weighed nearly fifty. Even in smaller amounts, gold could sink a weak swimmer or quickly exhaust a strong one. Yet some of the men had suffered great hardship since the summer of 1849 to accumulate the contents of that treasure belt or that carpetbag.”

“As if to dramatize the hysteria of such a dilemma, one man ripped open a bag containing $20,000 in gold dust and sprayed it about the cabin as though he were a pixie and the gold were nothing more than tiny grains of sand. Others unhitched treasure belts, upended purses, and snapped open carpetbags, flinging the shiny coins and dust across the floor. ‘Hundreds of thousands of dollars were thus thrown away,’ said a passenger.”

Thomas Badger “had a satchel filled with 825 twenty-dollar double eagle gold pieces fresh from the San Francisco Mint; he retrieved these from his stateroom and, according to a witness, ‘flung them unto the floor’ of the captain’s cabin, telling the men to help themselves. But no one did. Purses filled with gold lay untouched. Amid the shouting and confusion, some men stood topside in a resigned daze and tossed gold coins at the wind.”

These are some of the coins that we are now inspecting and placing on sale for you to enjoy!

To help you understand the background of the exciting new availability of the gold lost at sea over 160 years ago on the SS Central America, here are more selections from the book “Ship of Gold.”  I want to relate the first reactions of the recovery team led by Tommy Thompson and Chief Scientist Bob Evans when they first saw the “garden of gold” from the SS Central America 7,000 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean in 1988….

Reactions to the First View of the Gold on the Floor of the Ocean
(from Pages 450-455 of “The Ship of Gold”)

“It was just … it was just … covered with gold! I couldn’t believe it! I couldn’t believe it! That was the most thrilling…. We had it right on a pile, nice low pictures, nice and clear. I mean everything was perfect, man. It was incredible! But I looked at it, and I looked up, and, Naaah, this can’t be. I thought, That’s gotta be a bunch of brass laying there. So I looked again! Holy! And I just started looking at the other shots, and I … mean … it … was … PILES! I’m not kidding you, it is awesome! It is absolutely awesome! Stacks of coins and bars of gold of every size and shape are just sitting there!”
– John Doering, the first man to see the first photograph of the sunken treasure (page 450)

“The bottom was carpeted with gold. Gold everywhere, like a garden. The more you looked, the more you saw gold growing out of everything, embedded in all the wood and beams. It was amazing – bars stacked on the bottom like brownies, bars stacked like loaves of bread, bars that appear to have slid into the corner of a room. Some of the bars formed a bridge, all gold bars spanning one area of treasure over here and another area over here, water underneath, and the decks collapsed through on both sides. Then there was a beam with coins stacked on it, just covering it. You couldn’t see the top of the beam, it had so many coins on it.”
– Tommy Thompson’s reaction to the first view of the SS Central America gold (page 452)

 “There’s the lure,” said Bob [Evans]. “That’s what brought us here” … “the crew could see the precise grooves etched around the edges of the coins, which now appeared huge on the monitors. One had its back turned, and when Moore adjusted the camera across the top they could read, ‘United States of America.’ At the center was an eagle shield and the rays of the sun, and they could count thirteen stars in a tight oval above the eagle. Curving upward like a smile along the bottom appeared ‘Twenty D.,’ and right above the ‘n’ in ‘Twenty’ was a tiny ‘s,’ the mark of the San Francisco Mint.  ‘Look at that eagle shield on the back,’ said Bob, ‘the luster on it.’…. There stood a coin upright, face front, just as pure and lustrous as the day it left the San Francisco Mint. It was emblazoned with the bust of Lady Liberty, lovely in profile, her hair crossed with a tiara and cascading in ringlets down her neck, thirteen stars surrounding her, and her ringlets stopping just short of the date ‘1857.’ In a pocket thirty feet across, the ocean floor lay covered with these coins. Doering figures he had now seen more gold in one place at one time than any other treasure hunter in history, and that included Cortes and Pizzaro.” (pages 454-455)