Last Updated on Monday, 22 October 2012 07:30
Gov. Bev Perdue talks to Bob Lowery of Morehead City following a Queen Anne’s Revenge press conference held Friday at the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort. (Cheryl Burke photo)
BEAUFORT, NC — When an appeal for donations to fund continued archaeology work on the Queen Anne’s Revenge shipwreck project went out Friday, Eric and Rita Bigham of Chapel Hill knew they had to respond.
Immediately following a press conference held at the N.C. Maritime Museum, where N.C. Department of Cultural Resources Secretary Linda Carlisle gave the appeal, the Bighams, who have a boat in Beaufort, agreed to donate the remaining $32,500 to complete a matching grant to receive $450,000 for the project.
Mr. Bigham, a retired chemist, said, “We’ve been supporting the museum and have been involved with Friends of the Museum a long time. We decided this was our chance to step up and play a bigger part in this project.”
Mrs. Bigham, a retired schoolteacher, said she wanted to support the education outreach efforts of the project as well.
The press conference, at which N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue also spoke, was held to announce the fundraising effort and recognize those who have supported the project.
But Ms. Carlisle was caught off guard by the unexpected donation.
“We are incredibly grateful and I’m really overwhelmed,” said Ms. Carlisle, who thanked the Bighams after the press conference. “We did not expect this.”
Gov. Perdue, too, thanked the couple.
“This is an incredibly generous gesture to support the project,” she said.
During the conference, Gov. Perdue voiced her support for continued research on Blackbeard’s flagship.
“This isn’t just about Beaufort, this is about the state of North Carolina,” she said.
She pointed out that the project contributed to the history, science, economy and education of the state. She highlighted the education aspect by introducing an advanced marine biology class from East Carteret High School that attended the conference.
East Carteret junior Kari Willis said she was excited about attending the conference and the QAR project.
“I’m pretty excited this is happening in our county,” she said. “I’m excited about new artifacts that are going to be brought in and displayed.”
Gov. Perdue also took time to visit with state underwater archeologists and view some of the many artifacts that have been retrieved from the shipwreck site.
“It’s great to see continued archeological work uncover historic artifacts at the Queen Anne’s Revenge shipwreck site,” said Gov. Perdue. “The educational opportunities are plentiful and it further adds to our thriving tourism industry.”
Wendy Welsh, QAR field director who works for the N.C. Underwater Archaeology Branch, which is under the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, said she was grateful that the governor took time to visit with them.
“It’s amazing and so wonderful to have her support and to have her here to see this process,” said Ms. Welsh. “It’s very flattering that she took time out of her schedule.”
Interest in the study at the shipwreck site just near Beaufort in Beaufort Inlet and the visitors who flock to see recovered cannons and other artifacts, along with ongoing state budget constraints, prompted Secretary Carlisle this year to undertake the special fundraising project that involved matching a $225,000 grant by Grady White Boats. Thanks to the Bighams, that match is now complete.
“These financial contributions are crucial if we are to meet our goal of complete underwater archaeological excavation by 2014,” said Ms. Carlisle. “More than 34,000 additional artifacts remain at risk under the sea, including 12 cannons, two anchors and 4,000 concretions. Time is critical.”
Ms. Carlisle continued, “We are particularly grateful to ‘Flagship Sponsor’ Grady White Boats as their contribution will support artifact recovery and conservation.”
She also thanked Bucky and Wendi Oliver, owners of Front Street Village, whose financial commitment will be used toward educational outreach and exhibits.
State Archaeologist Steve Claggett said more than 50 percent of the site has now been excavated thanks to the hard work of archaeologists, who are about to end their fall dive season.
“We will eventually transform Blackbeard’s flagship into a world class exhibit for the entire world to enjoy,” he said.
N.C. Maritime Museum Director Joseph Schwarzer thanked all those who have assisted to create the Queen Anne’s Revenge exhibit hall at the museum. He emphasized the worldwide significance of the project.
“I’ve been involved in nautical archaeology for the better of 40 years. It’s rare to take something from legend to history, and that’s what we’ve done,” he said.
To underscore the economic benefit of the project, he said the first week the QAR exhibit opened, 5,000 visitors came to the museum. Over the first month 50,000 visitors came to the museum.
Beaufort Mayor Richard Stanley also emphasized the economic benefit to the community.
“It provides an important resource for our coastal heritage,” he said.
In June 1718, the Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground in Beaufort Inlet. The shipwreck was located in 1996 by Intersal, Inc. of Boca Raton, Fla., by Operations Director Mike Daniel through research provided by Intersal President Phil Masters.
Since 1997 the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources’ Underwater Archaeology Branch has led research at the wreck site. The fall dive expedition will conclude later this month and updates are available on the project’s website, qaronline.org.
Courtesy Carteret County News-Times
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