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Keys shipwreck has Hollywood link
Author: (baracuda_smile), 07-07-2012
United States

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Keys shipwreck has Hollywood link


A Key West salvor believes an 1856 shipwreck of the merchant ship Isaac Allerton has ties to the Baldwin brothers of Hollywood fame, and his lawyer has sent a letter to movie star and "30 Rock" actor Alec Baldwin stating just that.


"I was doing the research and I must have Googled and Googled over and over until I finally traced it back to the Baldwins," said Ray Maloney, who has salvage rights to the shipwreck.


The captain of the ship was Roswell Baldwin, who was born in Stonington, Conn., in 1818, Maloney said. Recently, Maloney's Key West High School pal and attorney Robert Cintron wrote a letter to the entertainment company representing Alec Baldwin.


"If we have correctly traced the genealogy for Capt. Roswell Baldwin, we would welcome communications with Mr. Baldwin's representative to determine whether he and/or Mr. Baldwin might have any interest in learning more of the wreck of the Isaac Allerton, to include an actual underwater visit to the wreck that lies in about 25 feet of water approximately one mile off the lower Florida Keys," Cintron wrote. "We know that Mr. Baldwin has a busy schedule and likely receives all manner of requests, but we thought that the personal nature of this inquiry might be of interest to Mr. Baldwin and his family."


Maloney has exclusive salvage rights to the ship in federal court, not the Baldwin family, but he thought they might be interested in the legacy of their ancestor ship captain.


Maloney has been in contact with a cousin of the Baldwin brothers, and it appears some extended family are interested in coming down to have a closer view of the wreck. Whether or not Alec Baldwin or any of his brothers will come down remains to be seen, and that's fine with Maloney, he said.


"I just want to share the information and thought the family would be interested to know," he said.


For Maloney, the letter was also sent to complete the historical context of the ship. He wants to make sure his records are complete and correct, but he added he's certain he's got the right Baldwin family.


He was flanked by tourists Thursday as he stood inside the Key West Shipwreck Museum near an array of 19th century ink wells, knives, pots, plates, toothbrushes, oil lamps, scales, brass candlesticks, navigation instruments, 1852 gold coins, bottles, clay pipes, snuff bottles, cuff links -- even a pair of sunglasses.


All were among a slew of items Maloney has lifted from the wreck that has encapsulated the past 26 years of his life.


The 137-foot merchant ship sank off the coast of the Saddlebunch Keys during a hurricane in 1856. It rode anchor for hours before the lines were cut and it ran aground at Washer Woman Shoals, lost its rudder and sank in Hawks Channel.


Items lifted from the wreck are the centerpiece of the Old Town tourist attraction and a point of immense pride for the native Key Wester and salvor.


Maloney -- his ancestors once owned much of Stock Island, which is how the island's main thoroughfare got its name -- had been searching for the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha in 1985 when they came upon the Allerton.


For a historian like Maloney, the shipwreck was the score of a lifetime. Mel Fisher would go on to find the Atocha and all its gold and silver riches. Maloney went about his work on the Isaac Allerton and continues to dive on her remains to this day. Each salvaged item is a history lesson with its own story, he said.


Records indicate the merchant ship was on its way from Key West to New Orleans with a load of marble for the construction of the federal courthouse there, Cintron said. Most or all of the marble slabs were too heavy for the wreckers to salvage, and the water too deep without modern diving gear, but savvy Key West wreckers were able to scrap most things of value, such as coins.


The Key West wreckers made about $50,000 from the Isaac Allerton, making it one of the richest finds from those Key West wrecker glory days, Maloney said.


From 1820 until the late 1880s, Key West was one of the richest cities per capita in America. This wealth was mostly the result of ships wrecking on the reefs. More than 150 ships would sail past Key West daily during that era and wrecks were commonplace.


Some of the marble "captains," or the decorative crown moldings that topped columns common on federal government buildings, were worth $8,000 at the time of the shipwreck, a small fortune in those days.


Maloney keeps all the artifacts together, and entered into an agreement with Historic Tours of America, which operates the museum, to display the salvaged goods. Maloney has given away some of the items, like the glass bottles he recently sent to the Baldwin cousin.


"I would never want to split all this up and sell it separately," Maloney said. "It's a time capsule."