An American Story (Part 17)

Curses!  I actually said that in my head when Vann proclaimed this last fact.  It had seemed as though all of the possible side turns in this story and already been taken.  I did notice that Vann had perked back up, much more awake now and leaning forward.  I waved him on and he seemed to realize what I was thinking.

“I really wasn’t holding out on you.  We just hadn’t managed to get to this part of the story yet.”

I settled for waving him on again.

“Our historian collected it all, tagged it all, and made some good notes.  Then he boxed it all up and returned with the boat to Duluth after they hauled Castle off the sand bar and scuttled her in the deeper water.  He lived by himself in a room on one of the upper floors of the Duluth Opera house and that is where he kept all of the items.  In the short time that he had, in addition to the other research I already told you about, he also sent a few of the items in Tom’s collection off to friends he knew, or places of scientific study, people he thought might be able to assist in figuring out more about the pieces.”

duluth opera house courtesy duluth public library 5-3

duluth opera house courtesy duluth public library 5-3

I knew Vann wanted me to ask so I stayed silent.  He winked and continued.

“There were four items that his records say were sent.  The iron poles or bars, the ones with the strange writing on them, the Argand lamp, the uniform jacket and the zoetrope, which is the only item that had not been returned by the time of the fire.  The lamp, which was sent to a friend who actually collected lighting devices, came back with information that it had been made in England and was one of the earliest of models, probably being made around 1786.  There was unfortunately no way to tell when it came to the U.S. or how it managed to arrive in the Two Harbors area.  It did have an engraving on it, three letters, CSA, although there was nothing more to learn about that either.”

“Did Tom know about that engraving?”

“No idea.  It’s not mentioned but then there are missing parts to his records so he may have.   Interestingly, there is a slight connection between Argand lamps and light houses, although not directly to Split Rock.  Just a little history to study if you get a chance, a sideways  journey if you know what I mean.”

I gave a short laugh.  “Yes, I know what you mean.”

“So, that’s it for the lamp.”

Vann smiled at me and stood up, bending over to stretch out his back.  We both lapsed into silence with me swinging my arms around and then sitting down to take off my shoes and rub my toes again.  Vann finished up with his stretching and then sat back down also, zipping up his jacket as he did so.  His ability to get a little bit warmer just made my feet hurt more.  After a few swipes at his nose and a short coughing fit he continued.

“The iron poles, interestingly enough, came back with a statement from the university they had been sent to saying the writing was unknown.  However, from some of the descriptions I read of them, and a rough sketch in the historian’s notes, I think that those poles were struck with runes, possibly what would be called Viking runes, but more properly Younger Futhark.  Each pole had only one mark on it, and two of them I would say were the runes for sun and wealth.”

younger futhark runes - long branch and short twig versions 5-3

younger futhark runes – long branch and short twig versions 5-3

“This doesn’t lead to some conspiracy theory about the Vikings discovering America first does it?”

Vann rolled his eyes.  “That’s not such a conspiracy theory anymore, although I’m not saying anything about that anyway.  You know, there is some good evidence for Viking outposts on Baffin Island and in Newfoundland.”

“That’s a long damn way from Minnesota.”

“I’ll grant you that point.  But the drawings, not great ones I’ll admit, do look like those runes.”

“And the uniform?”

“Hang on, before we get to that one.  Even though the zoetrope did not have any additional info as it never came back, I did a little research of my own and found out a few odd facts.  The actual invention of the device happened in England in about 1835, although they gave it a different name.  It wasn’t called a zoetrope until around the 1860’s when it was manufactured in the U.S. by Milton Bradley and some other companies.  This particular one was traceable, mostly because of a few markings on the bottom of its spindle that the historian noted. It was a model made by Milton Bradley in 1868 and sold mostly on the east coast.  It didn’t have any useable strips left as the one which Tom mentioned having was ruined when it got wet on the boat.”

“Isn’t 1868 a little bit odd for when that thing was made.  I mean, Tom was already living on that land and I don’t see how it managed to get into his pit.  Did anyone ever clear that up?”

“Nobody knew about it.  Like I said, that item wasn’t returned before the fire.”

I obviously knew that already.  Maybe the cold was making my mind work more slowly.  “So, the uniform?”

soldier of 104th new brunswick regiment 5-3

soldier of 104th new brunswick regiment 5-3

“The best one yet.  It had the man’s name on the inside, and some diligent research, this time by the historian himself, determined it was indeed the uniform of an enlisted man in the British Army, in this case a member of the 104th New Brunswick Regiment during the War of 1812.   There is some info on this soldier’s family in the record up there also.”

“That is pretty interesting.  Was some part of that war fought in Minnesota, or I guess the area that would become Minnesota?”

Vann paused and replied with evident delight.  “No.”  Another pause and then he followed with “Ze-bam!”

…to be continued

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