It was the last thing he would have imagined finding on a simple stroll along the shoreline.
But as layers of debris fell away, he knew this was far more important, and thrilling, than simply stumbling on lost coins or tiny bits of treasure that popped up in the dunes. He had to learn more.
Mike O’Donoghue smiled as he felt the cool waves lap at his feet and spritz of salty air tickle his nose.
It wasn’t his homeland of Ireland, but if he closed his eyes, the Florida seaside could sometimes come close enough. He had never had a problem with the area … until recently.
2020 had been a bitter pill to swallow in general. But the worst was when Hurricane Eta had swept through the Crescent Beach coastline and ravaged their shores.
Because of the pandemic, they couldn’t open their doors to those in need or even walk out to help with clean up. But things finally took a turn.
It might have been a simple thing but being allowed to go outside freely was like a pardon from a prison sentence.
The November afternoon wouldn’t escape Mike! He tossed on his beach shoes and sprinted for the dunes. It was amazing how much Mother Nature had repainted the landscape – and uncovered things.
Trees bend over, their backs broken. Sand shifted over rooves and across car hoods.
He took in everything around him, awed by the lingering destruction. It wasn’t far down the beach when he spotted something odd – something very out of place, even in the middle of the storm’s aftereffects.
His Irish upbringing wasn’t the same as schools in the States.
Being a country with endless shorelines, maritime history had been crammed into their heads since they could walk into a classroom – everything from fossils to fishing. So, when he saw strange spikes sticking out of the sand, his interest was immediately piqued.
They were like jagged bones sticking out of the body of some long-deceased desert monster.
It wasn’t broken crab traps or driftwood that constantly washed up on shore. It was a ship! And an old one. Mike dared to run his fingers alone one of the spikes. It felt rough and wet. There were also strange cuttings.
A few pulls of mushy sand revealed enough that Mike knew exactly what to do.
With a rush of excitement, he reached out to St. Augustine’s Lighthouse Archeological Maritime Program (LAMP). They were the folks to take the next step. But Mike would make sure he could watch things unfold.
Despite devastating funding cuts, the archaeological experts made sure they found a way out to Crescent Beach as soon as possible.
It wouldn’t take long for people to put two and two together and the vultures to swoop in for a profit. There was no time to lose. Their community was about to become part of history.
The wooden skeleton didn’t have a name, but during the 1800s the Florida shores had plenty of shipwrecks– and this was definitely one of them.
Having countless merchant vessels traverse the waves was as common back then as the transport trucks we see on the highways now. But where was this ship from?
The surface planks might have seemed inconsequential, but there was so much more buried under the silt.
It would also take hundred of manhours to dig up and reassemble into museum quality. This is where Mike and some lucky university interns came in handy.
Mike grinned as the enthusiastic students put their archeological training into some much-needed, practical use.
It wasn’t every day you got to be part of a historical dig. They were kind enough to let Mike lend a hand with simple tasks. The media also stepped in as soon as they got wind of the discovery.
Mike let his giddy smile shine for the camera. “It’s awesome! The fact that we’re going to uncover it, or that LAMP are going to uncover it, and hopefully that it can be shared with future generations, it’s part of our history.”
But Mike was still dumbfounded by one thing.
The community had dubbed him a “local hero” for finding the site. It was so strange!
He wasn’t Indian Jones or anything. He was just a guy walking on the beach that remembered a history lesson from grade school. But they authorities, experts, and locals had something else to say that would make him blush deeper.
Most people would have walked by, thinking nothing of the wooden spikes.
Others might have even tried to poach the skeleton for shady resale or tacky display in their own homes. Mike didn’t just do something about it, he made sure it was done fast. He was able to help preserve a little bit of history.