Unusual Finds Along Chesapeake Bay

By Sharon Brubaker

Long, long ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and the skies were pierced with cries of enormous birds, something was happening geologically just below the water. Unusual formations in the silt and mud began to take shape that would, millions of years later, reveal themselves and wash up on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. These “formations,” resembling hollow rock balls, tubes, ocarinas, and more avant-garde shapes, are created from sand, clay, and iron oxide.DSC_0555.jpgWhen my family and I first moved to the shores of the upper Chesapeake and roamed the beaches in search of beach glass, we also began to find peculiar, round, metal-like objects.  We felt certain they were a type of ammunition for guns used during the Revolutionary War because George Washington had munitions created in the Principio Iron Works just a heron’s flight across the bay, near the port of Charlestown.

Being new to the area and excited to show our finds to our neighbors, our newly found friends chuckled and told us that the strange formations were called ‘pop rocks,” small hollow stones of which our neighbors would toss into beach fires and watch them explode. Another neighbor told us that the formations (are) derived from ‘Indian paint pots” and that Native American tribes used the iron oxide inside the stones to paint their faces. But it was not until we met another neighbor, and now long-time friend, Alice Lundgren, that the mystery was solved. The formations, in all their various shapes, are known as “concretions.”

DSC_0543.jpg

Alice has a collection of well over a thousand concretions ranging in size from a quarter of an inch to about twelve inches, all of which she has gathered from the bay. Alice was a true inspiration to my family and me, and we soon joined forces to not only hunt for sea glass, but to eagerly search for concretions. These unusual rock formations date back to the late Cretaceous and Eocene eras.  Even more fascinating than the “pop rocks” are tubular rocks. The tubular concretions are iron oxide formations that reflect a pipe-like structure.

When we go exploring along our nearby beach, Alice, a seasoned concretion seeker, has the ability to spot the stone tubes instantly, yet the rest of us are not so fortunate, as the finds appear camouflaged to the untrained eye. Some of the concretions boast unique shapes, such as small cups, snowmen, and acorns while the tubular concretions often resemble coral, branches, and even small musical pipes (although they do not carry a tune))! Similar to sea glass, each concretion seems to carry its own story and personality.

Having been formed millions of years ago from sedimentary rock, concretions have been significant and mystical to many cultures. Some cultures believe them to be holy stones while other cultures believe the stones bring luck, or perhaps represent the divine feminine. However, theories of modern science suggest the concretions are fossils or meteorites.

As beachcombers, we are treasure-hunters.  We are always seeking the next great find. The Shard of the Year Contest, which is one of the highlights of the North American Sea Glass Association’s annual Festival, would be ideal opportunity to view both natural and manmade treasures (this year’s North American Sea Glass Festival will be held in Wildwood, New Jersey on October 27 – 28).

*Many thanks to Alice Lundgren for sharing her collection of concretions, and to Meredith Keating and Brandon Boas for their photography.

 

 

Unlocking the Mysteries of Cape May diamonds

Gravel and Cape May diamonds
Gravel and Cape May diamonds

Visitors to Sunset Beach on the Delaware Bay, in West Cape May, New Jersey, have delighted in collecting Cape May Diamonds for many generations. Actually, the smoothly tumbled, translucent gems were first discovered centuries ago by the Kechemeche, a Native American tribe who believed the stones possessed supernatural powers.  The tribe is even known to have traded larger, flawless specimens with colonial settlers during the seventeenth century. Fast forwarding to the mid-twentieth century, the remnants became especially desirable to local jewelers who found that when polished, the stones resemble sparkling diamonds to the untrained eye. Soon thereafter, nearby shops began to market bracelets, rings, and earrings with the locally found wonders, and the creations quickly became coveted souvenirs for thousands of tourists who flock to Cape May each summer. However, many would argue that even more impressive than the uncanny resemblance of the polished stones to authentic diamonds is the mysterious history of the gems.

Sunset Beach - Sunken Ship
Sunset Beach – Sunken Ship

Those who uncover Cape May Diamonds for the first time often believe the remnants are derived from slag glass, or excess glass that was commonly discarded into the Delaware River during the heyday of glass-blowing factories, many of which operated along the river. However, the glistening finds are not associated with former glass factories and in fact, do not originate from any objects that were tossed into waterways by previous generations (as much of the sea glass that rolls ashore is derived from), nor are the “diamonds” remnants of shipwrecks (another, although less common method of which sea glass initially enters the waterways). Actually, the jewels are formed from crystal quartz rocks that fall from the upper echelons of the Pennsylvania Mountains and proceed to slowly meander down the river for thousands of years, during which time they are transformed into smooth shiny stones.

What is particularly fascinating is that although the stones tumble in the river for thousands of years, they travel only a very short distance before washing up in the Sunset Bay area. This fact long puzzled admirers of Cape May Diamonds since according to the laws of nature, it is logical that the remnants would continue to float down the river for numerous miles, rather than end their journeys near Cape May, only a mere 200 miles from their starting point. The mystery is tied to an experimental WWI concrete fighter ship that was towed to the area in 1926 with the intention of sinking the ship to protect the entrance to the newly built Cape May Canal. Yet after sinking, the ship unexpectedly floated one to two miles towards shore before encountering a sand bar and miraculously became a permanent barrier to the Atlantic Ocean, thereby also taking credit for trapping the stones in the bay. To further the mystery, despite the close proximity of the remnants to the shoreline after becoming confined to the bay, they encounter another natural phenomena of which significantly prolongs their arrival ashore. Since the Sunset Bay stretches for seventeen miles, yet the belly of the bay is twenty-six miles across, there is a strong flow on both outgoing and incoming tides so the stones undergo extreme turbulence and require several years to propel to shore. Nevertheless, the especially smoothly tumbled coats boasted by Cape May Diamonds could be considered the silver lining of their long, arduous voyages.

Cape May Diamonds are discovered in an array of sizes, yet are generally quite small, about the size of a tiny pebble; however, it isn’t unusual for those who search frequently to amass several marble-sized specimens. The largest “diamond” ever discovered reportedly weighed in at just under a whopping eight ounces – almost a half a pound! Those who desire to venture to the area to search may want to keep in mind that the larger (and more coveted) specimens tend to be transported to shore during the wintertime when the currents are notably stronger. A final tip, as well as one that rarely receives the credit it deserves in the literature, is that the “diamonds” are known to occasionally escape across the bay to the Delaware Coastline for lucky beachcombers to find.

by Ellie Mercier

 

Side Note:  When visiting Sunset Beach, be sure to leave at least one night open to join us for the evening flag ceremony held daily in season (May through September). A tradition for over 40 years, all of the flags that are flown at Sunset Beach are veterans’ casket flags that families bring with them from their loved one’s funeral.  There is nothing as thought provoking than to watch the sun set over the Delaware Bay while taps plays and Old Glory is lowered for the evening. If you have not experienced this emotionally moving tradition, be sure to participant in this celebration of being an American.  And while you’re there, catch one of the most amazing sunsets you will ever see!

Mary McCarthy to host lecture during North American Sea Glass Festival in Ocean City, Maryland

Mary McCarthyMary McCarthy will host a lecture “Sea Glass Marbles From Around the Globe” during the 11th Annual North American Sea Glass Festival in Ocean City, Maryland on Saturday, August 27th.  Mary will share her knowledge and years of experience on sea glass collecting with you, particularly marbles along the shore of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.  Sea marbles wash up on beaches around the world. Why? Were they used as ballast for ships? Did they come from the insides of bottles at bars? Or were most simply used as children’s toys, ending up in the waves after many years on beaches at play? This lecture will explore the origins and history of the different types of marbles that wash up on shorelines, and include a display of sea marbles from over 20 countries and waterways from around the globe.

Mary McCarthy is a bestselling author and lifelong journalist. Currently Senior Editor forSpliceToday.com, her writing career includes Salon.com, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, editorial positions at regional magazines and newspaper humor columns.  She has blogged for Katie Couric and appeared on The Today Show.  She is an Adjunct Instructor for American University and an instructor for The Writer’s Center in Washington, D.C.

Mary started sea glass hunting when she moved to Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 2001. She often writes on sea glass related topics. She has spoken at the International Beachcombing Conference and Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center Sea Glass Conference, and joined NASGA this year as a commercial member. You can follow her sea glass finds in real time online at Instagram.com/marytmccarthy.

North American Sea Glass Festival, Ocean City, Maryland

Sea Glass Soiree  Friday, August 26, 2016   5pm – 9pm

Sea Glass Festival  Saturday, August 27, 2016  9am – 6pm

www.seaglassassociation.org

Richard LaMotte to host lecture during North American Sea Glass Festival in Ocean City, Maryland

Richard LaMotteRichard LaMotte will host a lecture “The Lure and Mysteries of Sea Glass” during the 11th Annual North American Sea Glass Festival in Ocean City, Maryland on Saturday, August 27th.  Richard  will share his knowledge and years  of experience on sea glass with you, accompanied by Celia Pearson’s beautiful images from his two books, Pure Sea Glass and The Lure of Sea Glass.  Richard plans to provide insight into the art of identifying unique shards and review the basic science of how sea glass is formed.  Learn why certain colors are so much harder to find than others and explore the history of sea glass.  Questions are encouraged as this lecture will serve to be a valuable exchange of information between Richard and anyone seeking to learn more about these vanishing gems.

The Lure of Sea Glass

A little bit about Richard and his latest book, The Lure of Sea Glass: Our Connection to Nature’s Gems.

Richard LaMotte, author of The Lure of Sea Glass: Our Connection to Nature’s Gems, is America’s leading authority on sea glass.  His new book, which focuses primarily on the emotional side of sea glass, was prompted by the many stories and anecdotes he has heard over the years from people who shared with him how much sea glass collecting has meant in their lives.

Since the publication of his first book, LaMotte has hosted or attended hundreds of events for sea glass collectors all over the nation.  At these events, sea glass aficionados have had an opportunity to view others’ collections and learn more about the sea glass phenomenon.  He is a former president of the North American Sea Glass Association, which annually holds a national festival for sea glass collectors and those interested in learning more about the subject.

The new book is a sequel to his classic, Pure Sea Glass: Discovering Nature’s Vanishing Gems, which was published in 2004.  That book, which has become the definitive book on the subject, helped spark the increasingly popular pastime of collecting treasures from the sea.  It earned first place in non-fiction from the Writer’s Digest 13th Annual International Self-Published Book Awards.  Since 2004, his company, Sea Glass Publishing, L.L.C., also has produced calendars, note cards, identification cards and other products featuring photographs and information about sea glass.

LaMotte and his family have collected more than 40,000 pieces of sea glass, much of it from the Chesapeake Bay, near their home in Chestertown, Maryland.

LaMotte has been interviewed in leading newspapers including The Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the New York Times and the Boston Globe.  His work also has been featured in magazines including Coastal Living, Parade and Delaware Beach Life.

North American Sea Glass Festival, Ocean City, Maryland

Sea Glass Soiree  Friday, August 26, 2016   5pm – 9pm

Sea Glass Festival  Saturday, August 27, 2016  9am – 6pm

www.seaglassassociation.org

 

Meet NASGA’s 2015 Sea Glass Festival Lecturer, Bill Winkler

The North American Sea Glass Association’s 10th Annual Sea Glass Festival in Ocean City, Maryland will be held August 29-30th, 2015 and will feature three lectures on Saturday.  Each of the lectures will offer attendees a unique look into the historical significance of objects found along the region’s DelMarVa shorelines, and we’ll also have a lecture on Greek Sea Glass.

winklerLGBill Winkler, with the Delaware Marine Archeological Society, will offer his knowledge of the local historical significance of sea glass and treasures, which can be found along the Delaware and Maryland beaches.

Bill has either spent time at the beach or lived by it almost his entire life. In the early 1950s his family vacationed in Dewey, Delaware, where they rented a cottage on Dickinson Street. That’s where his love for the ocean started. Since then, that love has taken him from coast to coast, provided Bill with a career and even a glimpse of a time when schooners either mastered the sea or were swallowed whole by it.

In ninth grade, a guidance counselor asked what career Bill wanted to pursue. He chose marine biology. He figured it would give him a chance to be by the ocean. That meant not being indoors—something Bill didn’t want to do if it would feel like the confinement of school.  Bill received his biology degree from the University of Hawaii in 1970, then continued in graduate school through 1973. He eventually left his studies to work for the airlines. My career included working for Island Air, Aloha and Western Airlines. By the time he left the islands, Bill had lived surrounded by the Pacific for a decade.

After Bill returned to the mainland, he migrated to the East Coast, where he made Pompano Beach, Florida, his home. Bill spent 17 years there fishing, surfing, scuba diving, treasure hunting for Mel Fisher and loving the beach life.

Yet Bill returned to Sussex County, just miles from where he had vacationed as a kid. Though Bill was a skilled diver, he had spent years working along Florida’s submerged barrier reef system, there was little demand for his services. So Bill ended up in the retail business with TreasureQuest Shoppe on Route 26, where he sells nautical decor and specializes in metal detectors, for treasure hunting.

Shipwrecks of Delmarva - art work by Robert Pratt, cartographer & research of the shipwreck locations with names & dates of sinking by Don Shomette. Of the 10,000 to 12,000 wrecks believed to lie on the sea floor, this is a one of a kind comprehensive representation.
Shipwrecks of Delmarva – art work by Robert Pratt, cartographer & research of the shipwreck locations with names & dates of sinking by Don Shomette.  Of the 10,000 to 12,000 wrecks believed to lie on the sea floor, this is a one of a kind comprehensive representation.

After years of selling metal detectors to people who discovered shipwreck artifacts on the beach, Bill and several friends founded the Delaware Marine Archaeological Society in 1997.

In 2002 the society completed the first maritime archeological survey in Delaware at no cost to the state. They focused on one 255-foot unidentified ship that was in the surf zone at Beach Plum Island. The fact that this boat remains anonymous is amazing, considering that it is one of the largest schooners built during its time. After years of work, we put together a 3-inch-thick report titled the “Beach Plum Island Project,” which details the architecture of the schooner. It includes VHS video, more than 300 photographs and plenty of drawings. Since the report was finished, much of the ship has been broken apart and scattered by waves, but at least part of her history has been documented.

Working in and out of the sea has taken Bill from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but now Bill finds himself on the same sandy shores he loved as a kid.  Bill finds himself at home along the Delaware beaches; although he still has the urge to seek adventure on an uninhabited island somewhere out in warmer waters.

Bill Winkler will feature a lecture, “The Historical Significance of Sea Glass & Treasures found along Delaware’s Coast” on Saturday at 11am during the North American Sea Glass Festival in Ocean City, Maryland on August, 29th – 30th.