Man depicted in photo not sub's commander

Friday, October 12, 2001

of The Post and Courier staff


     Years after the death of Queenie Bennett, her family found an old picture of a man no one recognized tucked away in an old photo album.
     It seemed too fantastic to be true, but historians suggested the young man staring out of that haunting photograph matched descriptions of Bennett's long-lost love, Lt. George E. Dixon, commander of the H. L. Hunley.
     Turns out it was too fantastic to be true.
     Hunley Commission Chairman Glenn McConnell said Thursday that it's not Dixon in that photo, a conclusion reached after six months of research by a team of scientists that examined the original.
     There were a number of clues, all of them so subtle that it took research from experts in a number of fields to flush them out.
     But ultimately, the photo screams post-war: the man's tie, the lapels on his coat, his boots - even the furniture and the draperies in the room - all indicate the tintype photograph was taken after 1870 - six years after the Hunley sank - and perhaps even as late as 1890.
     "All those items together - it just isn't possible," Jonathan Leader, a state archaeologist with the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology who did research on the photo, said Thursday.
     The search began after Rick Hatcher, the historian at Fort Sumter, noted that the clothes on the man in the photo didn't seem to match the era.
     The Smithsonian Institution concurred. From there, scientists visited Sally Necessary in Virginia, who provided access to the original print.
     They found no markings, no hint of date or city of origin on the photo. But the clues they found in the whole photo - probably taken in a photographer's studio - made the conclusion iron-clad.
     "If it was just one or two things, it might could be explained, but all this together says it can't be Dixon," McConnell said. "Our work on facial reconstruction is more important now than ever."
     Using the skulls of the crewmen recovered from the Hunley's hull last spring, scientists plan to bring in experts in facial reconstruction to create renderings showing what the final crew of the world's first attack submarine looked like. They say the process is 98 percent accurate.
     They thought they would have a good model to work from with the Dixon photo, but now that's not the case. McConnell seemed nonplussed by the discovery.
     "In the last six years, we've had to change logos, images and exhibits as we learn more about this submarine," McConnell said.
     In other news, the excavation of the Hunley's interior is continuing and this week, scientists uncovered the gears connecting the handcranks to the propeller shaft in the after part of the crew compartment.
     Bob Neyland, the Hunley project manager, said it appears that a chain connects the two gears - sort of a like a bicycle. There also appears to be some sort of flywheel around the two gears.
     Archaeologists are working to uncover the submarine's controls near the forward and after bulkheads, and to dig beneath the crew bench.
     This week, they are concentrating efforts on the submarine's aft section of the crew compartment.


Used with permission of The Post and Courier and Charleston.Net


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