Hunley wallet being opened

Contents may tell a sailor's story

Of The Post and Courier Staff

Of the many artifacts found aboard the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, archaeologists say a 3-by-5-inch leather wallet may hold the most clues of a sailor's personal life.

"There are endless possibilities on what kind of information this wallet may hold," said Paul Mardikian, senior conservator on the Hunley project. "It is just too difficult to imagine that someone would carry a wallet with nothing in it."

On Monday, archaeologists began opening the wallet that belonged to a crewman on board. They said they expect to find anything from money to a picture of a loved one or other reminders from home.

Monday's announcement coincided with the 139th anniversary of the disappearance of the Hunley off Charleston in a battle that marked the world's first successful submarine attack.

Mardikian has worked with wallets recovered from the Titanic that held documents, currency and business cards with legible writing on them.

Leather is durable, even for extended periods under water, Mardikian said.

The wallet was found near a crewmember's shoulder bone, which means he possibly carried it in his jacket pocket.

Any information the wallet holds will add to personal details being collected about each member of the crew. "This is an incredible opportunity to put facts into the identity of this man," said Hunley Commission Chairman Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston.

One of the Hunley team's goals is to learn as much as possible about each crew member's history before the men are laid to rest at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, possibly later this year. They will be buried alongside 13 other Hunley sailors who were killed during two test missions in Charleston Harbor in 1863.

"It is timely to begin such important work on the week of the Hunley's anniversary as we pause to remember the crewmen and the impact their sacrifice had on naval history," added Warren Lasch, chairman of Friends of the Hunley.

On the night of Feb. 17, 1864, the hand-cranked Hunley and her eight-man crew left Sullivan's Island and rammed a black powder charge into the Union blockade ship Housatonic. The ship sank in less than five minutes, but the Hunley never returned. It was uncovered about four miles offshore in May 1995 by a dive team funded by best-selling author Clive Cussler.

In 2000, the vessel was raised and moved to a coldwater storage tank at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston.


Schuyler Kropf covers state and local politics. Contact him at or 937-5551.



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