Oh well, it was nice knowing you.
This is what we know about this mysterious artifact.
It was part of a ship. The timbers of the ship were made of white oak, and examination of the wood’s rings suggest that the timbers were harvested sometime around 1773, from somewhere near Philadelphia. The ship also contained some hickory, which grew only in eastern North America and Asia. From these facts scientists have deduced that the ship was almost certainly built in Philadelphia, which at the time was the most important shipbuilding city and center of commerce in colonial America. Moreover, the ship was probably made from the same source of wood that went into the construction of Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed.
The ship made commercial runs to the south. We know this because the vessel’s timbers had been damaged by holes burrowed into it by Lyrodus pedicellatus, a type of “shipworm” typically found in high-salinity, warm waters like those in the Caribbean.
The ship met its end at the southern tip of Manhattan. Oysters attached to the timbers suggest that it floated in New York harbor for some time before it went to the bottom.
It was found in 2010, during the excavation for the foundation of a new building. Workers had already found lots of items at the site that suggested they were digging through an old landfill: animal bones, ceramic dishes, bottles and dozens of shoes. Most of this useless stuff was cast aside, but when the backhoe struck a 32-foot oak beam, construction stopped while scientists carefully removed the timber and took pieces of it to the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory for preservation, and to Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory for analysis.
And that’s how we know that an 18th-century American commercial vessel ended up in the basement of the most noteworthy commercial buildings in the world, the original World Trade Center.
The ship survived less than 30 years. The center lasted for 28 years.
But now, with the excavation and construction of the Freedom Tower, both of these symbols have risen again.
Ships sink. Skyscrapers fall.
But strength endures.
So there was this guy from New Hampshire.
He moved to Seattle. Then, during the Yukon Gold Rush, he went north in search of riches. In 1897, his exploits were featured in an article in the New York Sun that included his comment that he had named a prominent mountain “Mt. McKinley,” because in the upcoming presidential election the Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan was in favor of a silver standard, but the Republican nominee William McKinley – the Governor of Ohio – favored gold. When McKinley was elected the 25th president, the name stuck. And that’s how the highest peak in North America was named by a man from New Hampshire for a man from Ohio, who had nothing to do with said mountain, never saw it, and had no apparent interest in it whatsoever.
Most folks in Alaska have always disliked the name, and commonly refer to the mountain by the name used for thousands of years by the native Koyukon Athabascan people, “Denali,” which means, “The High One.” But all efforts to rename it have been blocked for the past century by the Ohio delegation in Washington DC. Until last week. President Obama, supported by Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, officially changed the name back to Denali. Proponents of the change cheered that it signaled respect for native traditions in America; opponents snidely remarked that Obama’s nickname from his partying days in college was probably, “the high one,” and so this arrogant president was actually renaming Mt. McKinley in honor of himself.
All of which raises a larger geo-historo-etymo-logical question: are there any other mountains out there that might benefit from a retro-indigeno-name-o?
How about the mountain upon which the successor to President McKinley was sitting when he learned that McKinley had been assassinated? Yep, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was on the shoulder of New York’s highest peak when a runner arrived to inform him he was the new president! Now I ask you, should that seminal American story refer to that mountain as merely “Mt. Marcy” (named for the Governor of New York), or the much more evocative native name, “Tahawus,” which means “Cloud Splitter.” Think of the possibilities: Teddy atop Tahawus, the Big Stick on Cloud Splitter. Bully!
How many of you crunchy Californians have climbed Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the continental US, which is named for a geologist? Wouldn’t it be groovier to ascend “Tumanguya,” which means “Very Old Man” in Paiute? Gnarly!
When you visit the Rocky Mountains, do you want to climb “Pike’s Peak,” (named for an explorer with the ridiculous first name Zebulon who never made it to the summit) when instead you can say you climbed “Tava” (“Sun Mountain” in native Ute), or even better, “”Heey-otoyoo” (“Long Mountain” in Arapaho)? Far out!
And finally, let’s go back to where we started, New Hampshire, and to Mount Washington, the highest peak in the White Mountains. It was once thought to be the highest peak in the East. But it has since been proven to be shorter than its counterpart, Mt. Mitchell, in the Black Mountains of North Carolina.
Oh come now! The father of our country memorialized by a mountain shorter than one named in honor of a professor from UNC?
Sorry, that’s an insult. It’s time to take “Washington” off that mountain and honor it with a better name. A native name that means, “Home of the Great Spirit.” That’s wicked cool.