Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
Rediscovering the Robert J. Walker

THE WRECK SITE'S FIRST DISCOVERY

The wreck site recently identified as the USCSS Robert J. Walker has been “known” since the Second World War as an obstruction, as an targeted “poss. WWI freighter” (AWOIS 2480) and finally as a fisherman’s hang-up that was known and transmitted to local wreck divers in the early 1970s, when it became known as the “$25 wreck” and diving on the site commenced.  NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey documented the site in 2004 and obtained information about the wreck’s basic characteristics and orientation during an overall charting of the area.  This survey determined that the wreck was approximately 40 meters or 134 feet in length and appeared to be an articulated hull with a separated bow and stern oriented to a central mass which appeared to be engine(s) and boiler(s).  The identity of the wreck was not known at that time.  The wreck continues to be designated as an obstruction on the most recent navigation charts.


The wreck site in 2004
The wreck site in 2004 (NOAA/OCS)

According to interviews with local divers conducted by East Carolina University graduate student and archaeologist Steinmetz, the following observations were made by divers over the last four decades:

  • The wreck lies 85' deep, in a mud/silt hole offshore of a 60' shoal.
  • The wreck was characterized by metal frames and an iron plated hull.
  • It had side-mounted paddlewheels.
  • There is a large "toppled" engine, "laying on its side."
  • The bow is "separated" from wreck by 100 feet. As for the wreck, it "feels like it is not all there."
  • Divers had recovered "Mason's" ironstone china and a single cannonball. Patented in Great Britain in 1813 by Charles James Mason, ironstone was a popular style quickly introduced to the United States as a trade item. Mason sold his patent in 1851 to Francis Morley, who replaced Mason's name on the patented ironstone thence manufactured (Blacker 1911:193).
  • Among the artifacts recovered were rectangular bronze or brass portholes.


One of the portholes recovered from the wreck site.
One of the portholes recovered from the wreck site. (Joyce Steinmetz)

The rectangular portholes were of particular note; two are known to have been recovered, and they are unusual as most portholes and their deadlights are circular. As it turned out, the rectangular portholes are clearly shown in an 1850s painting of Robert J. Walker. This one type of artifact in particular was a "smoking gun" that helped to identify the wreck in 2013. The portholes were found by local dive charter operator and legendary wreck diver Captain Edward "Eddie" Boyle, owner and skipper of the original Atlantic City dive boat I, who has donated them to NOAA. They will soon go on public display at the New Jersey Maritime Museum.

New Jersey has an active corps of wreck divers, many of whom invest considerable personal sums to outfit dive expeditions to locate and identify the many wrecks off the shore. Some collect artifacts, others do not. A number of these divers have donated their finds to the New Jersey Maritime Museum, a non-profit educational institution located in Beach Haven, New Jersey. Others retain their finds in personal collections. Without the attention paid to this wreck by New Jersey wreck divers, its presence and ultimate identification as Robert J. Walker would not have occurred.

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