Sunday, February 05, 2006

Author explores mysteries of the Hunley


The Post and Courier
By Brian Hicks
February 01, 2006

Cornwell visits conservation lab while researching book in Lowcountry
She was amazed by the watch, the pipes, the tools - all the things they left behind - but crime novelist Patricia Cornwell did not consider these remnants of the Hunley and her crew mere artifacts.

To her, it all looked a lot like evidence.

"One of my favorite things is an old crime scene," Cornwell said Tuesday as she toured the Warren Lasch Conservation Center. "You want the dead to speak to you. It may be hard to get it out of these things, but if any team can do it, this one can."

The best-selling author of the Dr. Kary Scarpetta mystery series is researching a book in the Lowcountry and on Tuesday dropped by the Hunley lab. She has been visiting Charleston native Jamie Downs in Savannah, where he serves as Georgia's Coast Regional Medical Examiner.

Downs, who did some of the forensic work on the Hunley crew, escorted Cornwell to the, well, scene of the crime.

"It's interesting to watch her work," Downs said. "The reason her books are so good is the detail. She walks around with a notebook, taking notes as she asks us why we do this or what that is for."

Cornwell spent a few hours with archaeologist Maria Jacobsen and conservator Paul Mardikian and still had not gotten enough of the story. It was a tale right up her alley. Confessing a preference for 19th century research, Cornwell - who famously made her own investigation of the Jack the Ripper killings - said she was surprised at the depth of the story at the Hunley.

She said the Hunley project served a dual purpose, not only preserving history, but also developing the technology that allows science to answer lingering questions.

"It's not about the North or South, it's about people," she said. "I think this preservation and conservation is important work, and if they are not allowed to finish, it would be a tragedy."



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