OCEAN CITY – The City Council decided that the finder should be the keeper of a 25-foot rare wooden artifact found in the waters off 43rd Street in September.
Chris Mills of Delmar was struck in the leg by what ended up to be at least part of the keel of a wooden merchant ship that dates back to the 1850’s on Sept. 1 and officially was granted ownership of the artifact by the council on Wednesday upon Public Works Director Hal Adkins’ recommendation.
“I’ve contacted several museums about this piece and no one is interested in it. It’s currently sitting in a storage yard in West Ocean City, and Mr. Mills would like to be granted ownership of it, and I recommend that we give it to him,” said Adkins.
The fact that no one wanted it didn’t seem to bother Mills as he emailed Adkins just four days after he and about 25 people on the beach that day wrestled the artifact to shore, asking to be allowed to acquire the piece.
“It took us about an hour and 45 minutes to get this thing ashore, and once I realized how big it was, I refused to let go of it, because if it would have hit someone bodysurfing that day, it would have killed someone,” said Mills.
The council unanimously agreed with Adkins’ recommendation to grant custody of the approximately 4,000-pound hunk of merchant ship to Mills.
“I’m just glad somebody wants it, and a piece like that doesn’t just get thrown away,” said Councilman Jim Hall.
Though no one is really sure where it came from or the exact age of the L-shaped piece, Susan Langley, state maritime archaeologist of the Maryland Historical Trust Office of Archaeology said that the wood, which was in “fairly pristine” condition based on its age, more than likely is dated back to the mid 1800’s or even post Civil War era.
““It could have been unearthed by a storm or some dredging activity and drifted down the coast. There’s a strong north-south drift off the coast in the mid-Atlantic region, so the rest of it, if it’s still preserved, could be off of Delaware or even further north. Lord knows where it came from, but it was buried until fairly recently,” said Langley.
Mills hopes to showcase the piece on the wall of a Delmar building that dates back to 1893 that he hopes to transform into a restaurant.
“This is a great day for me. I’m elated that it will be mine, and I can display it to the public. It will fit in well with the era of the building and the historic value of it is way more than whatever the monetary value is,” he said.