On Monday,> June 28,two lucky New Jersey divers discovered the historic Andrea Doria bell while exploring the “Grande Dame of the Sea.” Ernest Rookey, of Jackson, and Carl Bayer, of Hillsborough, were part of an expedition team diving on the wreck when they made the find 240 feet below the ocean’s surface. Both men were diving the Andrea Doria for the first time as last minute fill-ins on the expedition after two other crew members dropped out.
“All we hoped for was to get a little trinket to take home to remember our dive,” Rookey said. “I’m still stunned, the bell was totally unexpected. There’s just no way else to describe how we feel.”
The bell, which weighs about 75lbs and stands two feet tall, is one of the few artifacts which has the ship’s name engraved on it.
The Andrea Doria is one of the most luring wrecks, being reachable without submersibles, yet presenting extreme challenges: currents, fishing nets, collapsed decks, sharks, and poor visibility.
Expedition team leader, Joel Silverstein, commented with pride, “These were well-skilled divers who were in the right place at the right time,” “The Andrea Doria is one of the toughest, hardest dives you can do. Getting to it alone is challenging.”
The famous shipwreck, dubbed The Mount Everest of the Deep, once had another title: the floating art museum. Lying in 250 feet of water, partially buried in the ocean floor, it now has a new designation: the sunken gallery.
Divers are usually lured to the wreck by “china fever”; they hope to retrieve china, crystal or silverware from the Italian luxury liner which was rammed by the Swedish liner Stockholm nearly 54 years ago, 55 miles from Nantucket. Anything beyond that is considered significant.
Deep-sea diver John Moyer, who has salvage rights to the Andrea Doria, expressed his congratulations. “Congratulations to the two very lucky divers for a great find. This is the bridge bell that was mounted on the bulkhead directly above the center bridge window and not the ANDREA DORIA’s larger main bell that was in the bow. Several years ago, Steve Gatto and I discussed searching for the bridge bell, but there were other items on the wreck that we were more interested in. In fact, I intentionally did not include the bridge bell in my 1993 Admiralty Arrest because I had no plans to look for it. The section of the bridge that held the bell probably collapsed in the early 1970’s. It’s fortunate that the divers recovered the bell now because as the wreck continues to decay, it could have been covered with debris and never found.
Personally, I’m elated to see–and hear the melodic ringing–of a significant artifact from the Andrea Doria site! Being a survivor (and author of the event), it brings me a sense of satisfaction knowing that all is not lost from the disaster.
How peculiar that items once precious for their function, are now priceless art for their deterioration. That is the beauty of marine archealogy: a nostalgic journey to time capsules of civilization which express man’s search for identity.
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