barge

The search for the Guggenheim treasure

NYC harbour


By Christopher Solomon - Smithsonian


Among the old-timers casting for stripers along the Arthur Kill between Staten Island and New Jersey talk tends to return to a few well-thumbed topics.

The most intriguing of these is the tale of the silver ingot that once snagged in the eel trident of the old Indian fisherman named Blood. From there, conversation invariably turns to the Lost Guggenheim Treasure.

On the still, moonlit night of September 26, 1903, a tug urged the barge Harold out of what’s today the South Street Seaport and south past the Statue of Liberty.

The Harold’s load that night was nearly 7,700 silver-and-lead bars. They were destined for the glowing Asarco smelters of Perth Amboy, New Jersey. The silver, and the smelters, belonged to the Guggenheim family, which had made its fortune in mining and smelting.

The cargo never arrived, at least in one batch. Somewhere in the Arthur Kill tidal strait the Harold tipped, sending most of the silver bars to the bottom.

The barge’s deckhands—“dumbest skunks I ever had to do with,” the salvage company’s owner later told the New York Times—didn’t notice until docking at dawn.

A secret salvage effort recovered about 85 percent of the bars, but that still left up to 1,400 “pigs” unfound. Today they could be worth $20 million.

One morning last fall, Ken Hayes set out to find himself some sunken treasure—that is, if no one got to Hayes, or to the treasure, first.

Hayes is president and founder of Aqua Survey, a Flemington, N.J., company that usually grabs sediment from the bottom of waterways for clients like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In recent years Aqua Survey also has gained a reputation for looking for less mundane things someone has lost underwater: Spanish doubloons off Key West. Fighter planes in the Bermuda Triangle. UFOs off Catalina Island.


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