On Wednesday August 8 a couple items in Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac caught my eye and ear - each had a faint numismatic connection.
Britain's "Great Train Robbery"
Britain's "Great Train Robbery" was carried out on this date in 1963. In the pre-dawn hours, a Royal Mail train bound from Glasgow to London was stopped by an unexpected red signal on the line. When the conductor stopped the train to investigate, 15 men in ski masks, armed with iron bars, boarded the train and relieved it of 124 sacks of bank notes worth well over £2 million.
The robbers made a getaway to their farmhouse lair about 30 miles away, where they counted and divided the money and even played Monopoly with it. They cleaned the place before they left, but didn't do a very thorough job, and police were able to recover the fingerprints of all of the robbers.
The Submarine H.L. Hunley
There is a small numismatic connection to this event, which we've discussed before in The E-Sylum:
On this date in 2000, the submarine H.L. Hunley was raised from the bottom of Charleston Harbor, where it had lain since February of 1864. The Hunley was about 40 feet long and four feet in diameter. It was made of cast and wrought iron, and it was propelled through the water by the means of a hand-cranked propeller. The sub was designed for a crew of eight: seven men to turn the propeller crank and one to steer. It had two small, watertight hatches and two ballast tanks, which could be filled with water or pumped dry, depending on whether the sub needed to dive or surface. As soon as it was successfully tested, the Confederate Army seized it for the war effort.
The sub — also called a "torpedo fish" — set out on its first and last mission of the Civil War in February 1864. The Union warship Housatonic was guarding the entrance to Charleston Harbor when the Hunley embedded a barbed torpedo in the Union ship's hull. The bomb detonated as the sub made its retreat, sinking the warship and making the Hunley the world's first successful combat submarine. The crew gave the "mission accomplished" signal to Confederate forces on the shore, and began to make their way back to port. But the Hunley never arrived.
Author Clive Cussler spearheaded the 15-year effort to find and recover the Hunley. A diver finally found the wreck in 1995, about 100 yards from the wreck of the Housatonic. The submarine was buried in silt, which had kept it preserved and hidden for more than a hundred years.
So what's the numismatic connection? The famous "lucky coin" carried by the sub's commander:
Lt. George Dixon, the sub's commander, carried with him a special $20 gold piece. "Early in the war, in Mobile, Ala., Queenie Bennett (Dixon’s fiancée) gave him a $20 gold piece. While at Shiloh, a Union bullet penetrated his trouser pocket and struck the coin. The impact left the gold piece shaped like a bell, with the bullet embedded in it. If it wasn’t for that coin, he probably would have died on the battlefield–and the Hunley might never have made history. He would carry that coin the rest of his life..."
To read an earlier E-Sylum article, see:
UPDATE ON THE HUNLEY, THE LUCKY COIN SUBMARINE
To read the Writer's Almanac for August 8, 2012, see:
In the Moment
Wayne Homren, Editor
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