By Martie Thompson
Mandarin Middle School history teacher Khaki Hager has teamed with Dr. Keith Holland to bring attention to the fact that not even 1 percent of the artifacts of the “Maple Leaf” have been raised from the murky depths. Holland, a Jacksonville dentist, formed a team of divers in the 1980s to re-discover the wreckage of the 1864 Civil War U.S. Army Transport ship “Maple Leaf” in the St. Johns River. The 6,500 artifacts that were brought up by his team in the 1980s and 1990s are currently at the Mandarin Museum, MOSH, in traveling exhibits, and in Tallahassee.
Hager said, “Dr. Holland is on a mission to raise public awareness — once again. He hopes to expose ‘Maple Leaf’ to a new generation that appears to know nothing about her, even though ‘Maple Leaf’ was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1994 by the National Park Service. It should be recognized as a major part of Jacksonville’s history.”
On April 19, Hager, Holland, and four “Maple Leaf” divers (who had not seen the artifacts since 1995), representatives of two school districts (Duval and Putnam), representatives from three state legislators’ offices, and a Mandarin Museum staff member visited Tallahassee to view “Maple Leaf” artifacts in protective storage with the State of Florida (Division of Historical Resources).
“We rented a 15-passenger van for the trip,” Hager said. “We were greeted by Marie Prentice, senior archaeologist for the State of Florida, and Timothy A. Parsons, head of the State of Florida Historic Preservation.”
Hager said her favorite part of the day was watching the field trip come together after months of planning. She also enjoyed everyone’s reactions as they viewed the artifacts, in almost pristine condition and so well preserved by the river’s anaerobic environment.
“For me, the most fascinating artifact was the violin,” Hager said. “I couldn’t help wonder if someone was playing it when the ship hit the Confederate mine on the night of April 1, 1864.”
Hager said the next steps are to continue grassroots public awareness efforts. Holland will be speaking to school groups, civic organizations, and historical societies, as well as seeking support from Congressman John Rutherford’s office, local politicians, and local dignitaries.
“We both realize this will be a long process, but one day, perhaps the remaining 800,000 pounds of Civil War cultural and personal artifacts may be brought out of the river for all to enjoy,” she said.
Photos courtesy Khaki Hager
The entire group at the State of Florida Division of Historical Resources in Tallahassee.