Boat Piece Identified: It’s From the Santa Maria!! Really.
By Dr. Greg Little
Last month (July 2012) I wrote about finding an unusual piece of wood on a massive sandbar along the Mississippi River near the site of the Civil War battle called “The Battle of Island Number 10.” The wood appeared to be very old and had the appearance of a railing with regular holes formed for ropes. The last week of July brought an envelope from Brig. General Hale E. Hunter, III (ret.) with a newspaper article from “The Weekly Record” of New Madrid, Missouri. The Mississippi River is now at the lowest level in recorded history and there are lots of things exposed along the dry banks and massive sandbars that are usually well under rapidly flowing and muddy waters. Close to where we had found the old wood, the article related, was the remains of the Santa Maria. Of course it’s not THE Santa Maria, but it was supposedly an exact replica built in Barcelona, Spain. It was shipped to the US and displayed at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. It was then sold to St. Louis. At St. Louis the boat was wrecked and sunk in a storm, but it was raised and rebuilt only to be resold to Tampa, Florida. Then the story gets odd. According to the newspaper story the boat caught fire on the way down the Mississippi River and sank. But after reading other newspaper articles, which stated that the Santa Maria replica burned when it was in Tampa, it got confusing and contradictory. Something was odd. Still I wanted to see this thing.
Arriving in New Madrid on August 5 the first thing I was handed by Craig and Timmie Hunter was a copy of the latest “Weekly Record” issue—just 2 days old. Local historians had corrected the paper’s story and they ran a new and corrected article. The ship remains on the bank of the Mississippi River a bit north of New Madrid was in fact the Santa Maria. No, not THAT Santa Maria, and not even the OTHER one. It is still another replica of the Santa Maria. The paper reported it was built in 1976 at Snug Harbor, Florida and it sailed around the Great Lakes as a museum. On November 3, 1978 it left St. Louis for Memphis and caught fire north of New Madrid. “All 10 persons on board“ escaped and the ship burned down to the water line. The remains of the ship are on the Missouri side of the river.
We were taken to the ship by Craig Hunter by taking a fast ride up the river and the brief film above shows what is there. I “think” that the piece of wood we found is from this boat.