What great fines from the Andrea Doria this summer! First the bridge bell founded the wreck site and now to Andrea Doria lifeboats found in Lafitte, Louisiana. I can’t wait to hear what’s next!
The following is a detailed account of one man searching for two of the largest Doria artifacts.
My Search for the Andrea Doria Lifeboats*
I am a graduate student at SUNY Maritime. I took an undergraduate American History class as a prerequisite to another graduate class. My teacher a gentleman named Professor Allen assigns a research paper to his students every semester. He is a huge fan of having students uncover hidden history.
He sets his students loose every semester on a variety of topics, some he keeps in the bag such as the Andrea Doria.
Last semester a student named Robert chose the Andrea Doria, specifically the lifeboats. He is from Flemington, NJ, and his town actually hosted the lifeboats for a few years. He remembered seeing photos of them in the local paper. So the research paper he was about to do had a local interest for him. The lifeboats represent an artifact from the Andrea Doria disaster. A requirement for each paper is to choose an artifact and trace its history from inception to present.
I was asked to assist Robert due to my age and experience. I am 41 years old, a veteran of the US Coast Guard for 8 years and the New York City Fire Department for 13 years. I was forced to retire from the FDNY due to lung illness from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I also worked as a private investigator for a year when I first left the military.
Robert had a line on where the lifeboats may be. He recalled that an Andrea Doria researcher and historian named David Bright who lived near Robert’s home in NJ owned the last two remaining boats. However Davis Bright lived and breathed everything Andrea Doria. Mr. Bright was killed in 2006 while diving on the wreck and his family had left the area. A Google search revealed that there was an EBay auction featuring one of the boats in 2007. We began to follow up on that lead.
I found an article from the local NJ newspaper from the area. It referenced that Mr. Bright’s widow was forced to auction the boats on EBay because she could not take them with her to her new home. The article included a name and phone number for any interested parties. I immediately called the number and spoke with a nice gentleman. He was asked by the family to store the boats and handle the details of the EBay sale. He stated that the boats went to a buyer in Louisiana who was going to restore the boats for a museum exhibit. He offered a phone number but it was disconnected. He was able to put us in touch with the actual truck driver that delivered the boats.
The driver had a pretty good memory of the event but could not remember the name of the buyer of the name of the town in Louisiana where the boats were delivered to. We spoke several times and each time he remembered a bit more. With internet tools like Google and Google Earth we were able to recreate his trip based on the descriptions of the areas he travelled through. The key piece was that he remembered the he ate at Outback Steakhouse roughly 40 miles from where the boats were delivered. Google led us to Outback at Marreo, Louisiana. From there we were able to deduce that he travelled south to Lafitte, Louisiana.
So we then start calling public officials, boat captains, fishing guides, anyone who might be on the water and notice two boats like this arrive. We got a hit when we spoke to one self described pirate (a descendant of Jean Lafitte) who recalled maybe seeing the boats lying around. Sure enough he called us back the next day stating he had located them, he even sent us digital pictures taken from his phone.
Upon examining the photos we were sure we had struck pay dirt. Confirmation came when as I was sitting in Professor Allen’s office a gentleman named Mark called. He was the actual owner. He had heard through the grapevine from our many phone calls that we were looking for these boats. He was out working on an oil rig and called us as soon as he came ashore.
Mark is an Andrea Doria historian, and completely cooperated with our research effort. He indeed had plans to restore the boats and offer them as a museum exhibit.
However funds and free time have been short since 2007 when he purchased them. Someday we all hope that these boats will be available to the public and maybe even made seaworthy again.
Remark from Pierette: Philip, your investigative skills could match those of Sherlock Holmes!