There’s not much of the earth that remains incognito—no source of the Nile left to find, no highest peak to climb for the first time, no pole that hasn’t been reached. But there are still discoveries to be made. A handful of Delawareans have dedicated their lives to some of the most interesting.
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Gillespie contends Earhart set up camp on the island and for several days transmitted messages, which other investigators noted. He has a piece of aircraft aluminum and remnants of a shoe he says support his conclusions that she was on Nikumaroro.
The work of these Delawareans is noteworthy. Membership in The Explorers Club is formal recognition of their feats. With dwindling terra incognita, the club is now focused on cultural and scientific research, similar to the work of our Delawareans.
But there’s another side to the club. “The Explorers Club is different from most others,” says John Levinson of Rockland, a retired surgeon who was the organization’s president from 1985 to 1987. “It’s organized from the bottom up, not from the top down. Many of the members are not primarily interested in the club’s activities. Instead, they tend to be preoccupied with promoting themselves and their own accomplishments.”
It’s logical that Explorer Club members might have some idiosyncrasies. Hess has proven a commitment to advancing cultural heritage by searching for Revolutionary War shipwrecks, and he has helped out the club by serving in several positions. But there might be more to his interest.
Several wrecks have recently yielded lucrative bounties. In 1985, an American salver found a 17th-century Spanish galleon in the Florida Keys with a cargo valued at about $400 million. In the end, after extensive litigation with preservationists, the salver was awarded the treasure.
The laws governing ownership of shipwrecks and their treasures are unclear. As an attorney, Hess has been involved in cases that pit those who believe such treasures belong in a museum against those who say they belong on a mantel or auction block. He believes both purposes can be served. Salvers should preserve the sites of shipwrecks, but they have a right to the profit from their efforts. And those profits can fund additional underwater exploration, which ultimately benefits the public.
Gillespie represents another type of explorer. He has been totally focused on finding lost World War II and earlier aircraft since 1985. His foundation generates only modest support for his work and his family, but he has not wavered from his eclectic interest. The Earhart mystery is very much alive in his mind, and he devotes much of his time to it. He enjoys the critical thinking that goes into reconciling the thousands of details and conflicting information about the case. Though the Earhart family has moved on, working to preserve Amelia’s accomplishments and her legacy as a gutsy pioneer, Gillespie still struggles to figure out where she is.
In contrast to Hess and Gillespie, Capone is a straightforward explorer. Underwater archeological exploration is an interesting adjunct to his professional and personal life. The task of finding the Alligator Junior has piqued his interest. He says it will be a challenge to see if his skills and his technology are up to uncovering the submarine’s hiding place.