Jerry Kuntz (Writer)

Exploring American History through Unique Individuals

Archive for the month “January, 2016”

Bridge Engineering Nerds

I’m not a bridge engineering nerd (yet), but I have been following the new Tappan Zee Bridge construction for one reason: the “I Lift NY” derrick-crane, which is officially the Left Coast Lifter.

Here’s what it looked like yesterday from the Nyack public viewing area:


The Left Coast Lifter is one of the largest, if not The Largest, floating derricks in the world. As such, it is the direct descendant of Bishop’s Patent Floating Derrick, which is mentioned prominently in my forthcoming book, The Heroic Age of Diving. I’m always impressed when engineers try to do something big that has never been done before, and that is what these two vessels have in common.

Here’s a video of it’s first lift job at the Tappan Zee site:


I recently learned that the Left Coast Lifter‘s first job out in San Francisco was not bridge construction, but salvage of a sunken tugboat. That puts it right in line with the intent of the Bishop derricks I mention in my book.

More on Maud Lee

Additional digitization and indexing of old newspapers has elicited a few new items on Maud Lee, the tragic Wild West show sharpshooter I wrote about in 2010’s A Pair of Shootists. One reason I find Maud (stage name: Lillian Cody) so compelling is that she saw such wonderful things during her career–and then spent her last four decades within the walls of an asylum.

One gap in the timeline I had for her was the performing season of 1897. In January, 1897, she was severely burned while preparing coal-ash resin target balls over a stove. It was the fault of a careless fellow performer horseplaying around with a bucket of water. I previously thought it might have taken her a full year to recover.

But no…here she is running a shooting gallery at the “Vanity Fair” midway of the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition:


The Tennessee Centennial Exposition was another one in a series of extravagant exhibitions, with unique buildings, lakes, and pathways built on a large campus. The main attraction of the Nashville show (in an effort to compete with the Eiffel Tower and the giant Ferris Wheel of the Chicago World’s Fair) was a giant see-saw with a 20-passenger car on each end; and a full-scale model of an Egyptian pyramid. The Exposition lasted six months, so that Maud could have spent the entire 1897 performing year there.

A Pair of Shootists makes it clear that Maud suffered often during her high-risk career. A newly unearthed clipping adds another example:


Maud’s career ended shortly afterwards; this indication of a head trauma may be telling, since her family blamed her later mental problems on a parachuting accident in the early 1890s. My text suggests she already suffered from schizophrenic episodes–does head trauma worsen schizophrenic tendencies?



SCUBA, circa 1855

While preparing book talks for my forthcoming title, The Heroic Age of Diving, I came across a long forgotten, failed attempt at self-contained underwater breathing apparatus–in 1855!


So far, no other experts I’ve checked with recognize Levy’s name. However, Levy was not the only one working on the concept in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Another Frenchman, Pierre Aimable De Saint Simon Sicard, patented an underwater rebreather design in 1849; and Theodore Schwann, a German professor living in Belgium invented a rebreather for miners in 1853.

But Levy’s device appears to be different in that he had an oxygen bladder rather than a tank. The lime and caustic soda carbon dioxide scrubber was fairly well-known by the 1850s.

The only other reference I’ve found relates the same story, with additional details, from the October 27, 1855 edition of Scientific American:


Had Levy been a bit more cautious in his testing, the history of diving might have changed dramatically.



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