The exploration of the wreck of the steamship Pulaski has ramped up for the summer dive season and propitious weather conditions have allowed teams to dive for longer periods. They have already recovered more than 150 gold and silver coins and assorted artifacts like thimbles, nails, ceramics and keys. One find, however, stands out for both material and historical value and because it’s like something from an Agatha Christie novel. It’s a solid gold pocket watch stopped at 11:05, five minutes after the boiler exploded and the ship began its rapid descent under the waves.
The watch was found inside a concretion about the size of a grapefruit. An intricate gold chain was visible, threaded through the chunk of hardened sand, rock, shells and marine debris. Only one small curve of the watch emerged from the edge of the concretion. It wasn’t clear until the concretion was removed that it was a gold watch and its fob, still attached as they had been in the pocket of the wealthy gentleman passenger who lost them in the disaster.
“We were shocked,” said Max Spiegel of Certified Collectables Group, which is handling preservation of Pulaski artifacts.
“It’s very unusual to see an artifact with that sort of impression of a historic moment, when a ship sank. Think about how fragile the watch’s hands are, yet they survived in that exact position. It’s one of the most exciting finds we’ve handled, and we’ve done a half dozen shipwrecks.”
Eye witnesses reported that the starboard boiler exploded at around 11:00 PM, but the reports from survivors could be contradictory, not surprising given the chaos of the explosion and sinking. Finding the stopped watch confirms the timeline.
The pocket watch is still in the process of being conserved. It is richly engraved and there are many of those details have yet to be revealed.