Sutton Hoo

Eighty years ago this summer, one of Britain’s most important Anglo-Saxon archeological finds was discovered at a site in Suffolk called Sutton Hoo. Beneath an earthen mound, the remains of an 88′ long burial ship was found. Within this grave was found the largest horde of treasure ever discovered from early medieval Europe. Emblematic of this find is the Sutton Hoo helmet. With its exceptional survival and haunting appearance it has become an icon that now serves to represent this early medieval period. The original helmet and a replica that shows its former glory both reside in the British Museum. In a New Yorker article entitled, Revisiting Sutton Hoo, Britain’s Mythical Ship Burial, Sam Knight recounts the story of how the boat was first discovered and then how the helmet and many other artifacts eventually made their way to the museum.

A wealthy widow with an interesting name, Edith Pretty is central to this story. Eighty years ago, she owned the property called Sutton Hoo. In Old English Hoo means a spur of land. On her property were a series of mysterious mounds. Old maps marked them as Roman burial mounds, but local legend held that they contained treasure. A house guest of a spiritualist bent claims to have once seen a mounted warrior in their midst at night. Pretty hired Basil Brown, an amateur archeologist to explore the mounds. He began with some of the smaller mounds. Brown found a few broken artifacts, but nothing of note. He eventually tackled the largest hillock and soon discovered the outline of the ship. The soil’s acidic nature had eaten away at all of the wood, but left behind in the dirt was the hull’s impression and rows of metal rivets that once held the boat’s boards together. At the boat’s center was found a chest that contained treasure.

263 beautiful relics were eventually discovered. They came from far away, as far away as the likes of Constantinople and South Asia. The sophistication of their artwork indicates that the so-called Dark Ages may not have been as dark as supposed. It is believed that this burial mound was the grave of a King Raedwald of East Anglia, who died around 625 AD. Sutton Hoo shed new light on the age of Beowulf. Experts from the British Museum were called in. They pushed Brown aside and wanted to halt further excavation and first erect a protective roof, but a medium advised Pretty to continue. They discovered the site’s most important gold and silver artifacts.

Before further study could commence the question of ownership of this treasure had to be decided. If the treasure had been deliberately concealed, it would go to the Crown, or if it had simply been abandoned, then Pretty would own it. A local jury decided that the builders of this grave had wanted it to be known, but that it was later abandoned as pagan when Christianity eventually took hold. Pretty was awarded ownership. She promptly donated it all the British Museum. This story of discovery played out on the eve of World War II, eighty years ago. 

USS Niagara

The USS Niagara sailed by us today and I almost completely missed it. I only managed to photograph it, after it had already made the turn and was heading away. The first photo above is from today. The second one is from two years ago, when it also passed by. I had already missed the Denis Sullivan, a three master that I tracked to Whitefish Point, using a marine app. The app lists its destination as Kenosha, WI. As of writing, a third tall ship is still on its way, the Appledore V. We saw its sister ship, the Appledore II, earlier this year, when we were vacationing in Key West. Anyway, soon after the Niagara passed by, it sailed straight into a squall that was coming across Whitefish Bay, but it looks like it hunkered down and weathered the storm just fine.

I checked Wiki and apparently this Niagara is the same Niagara that fought in the War of 1812 battle of Lake Erie, over 200 years ago. In Canada that war is remembered as the War of American Aggression. In that battle, the American fleet led by Oliver Perry fought and defeated the British fleet. Perry’s original flagship became incapacitated and via a rowboat he transferred his command to the Niagara, which went on to defeat the British. In 1820 the Niagara was intentionally sunk off of Presque Isle. A century later it was resurfaced and refurbished. Subsequent refits have replaced so much of the original ship to pose the question, is this the original boat or is it a recreation? 

Nights in White Satin

Knights in Shining Armor

Last night, I watched Secrets of the Shining Knight, a PBS Nova show, where a modern day master armorer and his team recreate parts of a knight’s medieval armor and test its strength, while rediscovering centuries-old metalworking secrets. A knight in shining armor may sound like a character out of a storybook, but once upon a time, knighthood was serious business, and for countless medieval fighters, their armor was what stood between life and death. This show asks the questions, what was it really like to live beneath the metal? How was that shining armor crafted, and how strong was it? Could it withstand impacts from the lethal weapons of the day, like crossbows and early guns?

The photo is of the armory in the Tower of London, from our trip of a couple of years ago. Today’s highlight was dinner. Anne made Chicken Tartarin, which was yummy. After dinner Anne acted as impresario and squired her folks through a slide show of her mother’s European vacation, from the fifties.

On Te Voit

On Te Voit, Ken Meaux

On the day before we set off on our bicycles for Cycle Zydeco, we explored Lafayette, LA. First, we went downtown, where the setup for the town’s zydeco music festival was well underway. We also found the Acadian Cultural Center, a national monument, on the outskirts of town. In its museum, which celebrated the history of Cajun culture were artifacts from colonial times to the present. I particularly enjoyed the etymology of the word Cajun. 

  • L’Acadie – French colony in eastern Canada, now Nova Scotia
  • Acadien – Resident of Acadie. Exiled by the British, many eventually resettled in southern Louisiana.
  • Cadien – Simplified pronunciation of Acadien. Often applied to other Louisiana French cultures as well.
  • Cajun – English language pronunciation. Used for any descendant of Louisiana’s French-speaking melting pot.

Acadian Cultural Center

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In other news, I fixed the Prius! It wasn’t exactly a monumental endeavor, but I am rather proud of my achievement. On our trip to Florida, the rear passenger window was smashed in a break-in. We got the window fixed on the road, but later, we discovered that you couldn’t open that door from the inside. It wasn’t the child safety locks. I had contemplated taking the Prius into the dealer to get it fixed, but I knew that would be expensive. What got me started was cleaning the car. Comparing both rear interior door handles, the tension on the one that didn’t work was noticeably less than the one that worked. I went on YouTube U and struck gold on the very first video. It explained how to take the door’s interior trim off. It also explained how to disconnect the interior door handle from the door latch. It uses an arrangement similar to bicycle cables. When I watched that part, I was convinced that that was the problem. Sure enough, I was right. It ended up being only a fifteen minute job that cost me nothing.

Known Unknowns

Along the Natchez Trace, in northern Mississippi, stones mark the graves of thirteen Civil War Confederate soldiers. Their names are unknown. Even when they died is not clear. They could have been wounded at the nearby battle of Shiloh in 1862. They could have died while serving under General Nathan Forest, when he passed by here in 1864. Or they could have been guarding the Tupelo headquarters of J.B. Hood’s Army of the Tennessee at the end of the war. Their names might have been recorded on the original markers, but they have long been lost. In 1940 a Mississippi senator had headstones placed, but they were soon stolen. The park service placed the current replacement stones. The markers face the Trace, so that travelers might read and remember. People have decorated the graves with little Confederate flags and plastic flowers. All of the stones have pennies placed on top of them. One of them had a Panda Express fortune on it that read, “You are going to have a very comfortable life.”

Natchez Trace

Melrose NHP mansion

We got on the road earlier today than yesterday. Spent the morning touring the Melrose, an antebellum Natchez mansion that is now a national park property. At 30, its builder was one of the riches men in America, a real king of cotton. Lunched downtown Natchez at the Cotton Alley Café, before heading off to the Natchez Trace. Four businessmen at the adjoining table were enjoying a power lunch. They were all connected to the Mississippi electrical grid business.

We eventually made it onto the Trace, 444 miles at ~50 MPH. It took us only a little longer to drive all the way south to Louisiana. We were hoping to score a campsite and there were plenty that were available. They were all too [g]natty for us though. Our miracle potion of vanilla extract did not live up to its hype. The bugs always asked for chocolate or strawberry first, but settled for vanilla. We bailed and snagged a hotel in Jackson, MS.

We got a late start on the Trace, but made Mile 100. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but there is lots to see, beyond the gorgeous scenery. So far, the road was repaved just last year. Combine pavement like butter, with no traffic and the pretty countryside and I could drive all day. Tomorrow though, I’ll share the wealth with Anne, she deserves her shot too.

Windsor Ruins

Speaking about not wanting to miss your shot, Aaron Burr was tried for treason out here. Sorry Hamilton fans, but he was acquitted. We detoured off the Trace to see the Windsor Ruins. The 23 pictured columns are all that is left of what was once the largest antebellum mansion. Its owner-builder died the week after it was finished, all on the eve of the Civil War, kind of prophetic, don’t ya think?