Clipped From The Santa Fe Reporter
RAISINB THE PAST Continued from page 16 Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, had not only planned to have the Lusitania sunk but had given the orders that eventually led to her destruction. He also hoped to prove that more than 30 years later, as prime minister of England, Churchill had ordered the wreck destroyed in an attempt to obscure any remaining evidence of his Machiavellian plot to sink it. The Delta lifted gently off the deck of the Lusitania and motored over the wreckage toward the stern. At the bottom of the sloping deck, Bemis could see piles of decaying debris and the ghostly remains of the ship's superstructure — including the rusted shards of former smokestacks — spread out flat on the ocean floor. He also peered into the gaping crack amidships where the liner had split in two after thebowhad smashed into the sand. Fish swam in and out of open hatches and doorways, freely accessing the silent passageways and staterooms of the ship's once-grand interior. The Delta glided over and down the steeply tilted side near the stern of the Lusitania and came to rest on the bottom. Nearby, Bemis sp'otted' the remains of the ship's rudder, completely torn off and lying in the sand. It was still turned to port as Captain Turner had left it in May 1915. Then something else caught his eye. At first glance it looked like a pi ece of leather lying on the sea floor. But as Bemis squinted and stared through his rimless glasses, he realized it was the remains of a shoe — a shoe once worn by a child of 7 or 8. Beside it was its mate. The first lay upright; the second upside down. The little pair had rested undisturbed in the sand for more than 78 years. After nearly two hours of exploring, Ijames turned a valve on the control panel, releasing a small amount of gas into the flotation tanks. The Delta lifted off the ocean floor, and Bemis watched the Lusitania fade from view. Nearly a year later, Bemis sat in the cluttered study of his adobe home in Santa Fe, reading the April 1994 edition of the National Geographic. He was just finishing up Robert Ballard's article on the Lusitania expe- • dition. As he gazed at the murky un- derseaphotos, he recalled highlights of his own sojourn beneath the sea. He also read with interest Ballard's new theory that the second explosion had been caused by a spark that had ignited a cloud of coal dust inside the Lusitania's bunkers. He thought it doubtful at best. Then he read Ballard's final sentence. "With our high-tech tools, we searched for the 'smoking gun' that might solve her riddles. But the truth about the sinking of the Lusitania remains as murky as the dark Celtic Sea." . '-•_ How true, Bemis thought with a smile. How true. In a year or two, he vowed, he would; come back and try to answer those riddles himself. He would also have one hell of a good time doing it. T wenty-eijght years after buying the Lusitania, Bemis is finally in a position to prove his convictions. Using state-of-the-art salvage technology, he plans to explore the forward hold of the ship, where he expects to find definitive evidence of the big guns. Second, he hopes to recover some of the American DuPont crates marked "Bacon" and "Butter, " which he is convinced ac- tually contained high explosives for the war effort in Europe. He also hopes to investigate claims that the wreckhouses$150million worth of paintings — including works by Rubens and Monet—sealed in lead containers on the ocean bottom. As Bemis himself puts it, "There has been no expedition to my knowledge that has seriously attempted to do any of these things." Though Bemis acquired the rest of the Lusitania from his business- partners during the 1970s and '80s, it took years for the British, Ameri-. ; can and Irish courts to acknowledge his ownership. He fought for it mainly because he wanted to prevent unauthorized diving and salvage. "I want to protect my property from being pillaged so I can firi'd out what's down there before it's gone," he says. British, Irish arid American courts all have declared that Bemis is the undisputed owner of the Lusitania. However, several weeks ago the U.S. Federal Court in Virginia ruled that he doesn't own the cargo or personal effects. If he finds a passenger's diamond brooch, he'll have to give the original owner's heirs a chance to claim it. The same is true of the precious paintings reputed to be on board, which originally were destined for the Irish Museum. This doesn't bother Bemis in the least. "IfIfind them, I'll be happy to turn them over," he says. Bemis admits that he's excited about owning a major piece of history, but not for the reasons most people might think. "To me, the excitement comes in the enormous challenges of resolving the controversy of why the ship sank so fast," h'e says. "A Ipt of people want to rewrite history to suit their political objectives; I want to rewrite it based on well-researched facts." At the moment, his'torical research is the least of Bemis' concerns. Right now, almost all his energies are going into doorbelling, shaking hands and giving speeches . and interviews in an effort to defeat state Rep. Max Coll on Nov. 5. Even so, at his desk in his cluttered office, he periodically takes time out to call Washington, San Francisco, London or Dublin in an effort to further his long-awaited Lusitania expedition. • "Time is short," he says. "Once the election is over, I've got to get this thing nailed down. Then I'm going diving. "• MYSTERY SHIP: This photo of the Lusitania hangs in GreggBemis' home.