Unraveling a mystery of the deep

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SPOFFORD, N.H. — All good detective stories conclude with a surprise ending, and Thursday's lecture by certified master scuba diver Annette Spaulding about her recent finding of a suspected bomb in Spofford Lake was no exception. Spaulding's talk was presented by the Chesterfield Historical Society at the Asbury United Methodist Church in Chesterfield, New Hampshire.

Spaulding, a resident of Rockingham, Vermont, is an indefatigable underwater archeological sleuth, who gained wide recognition a few years ago when she rediscovered a Native American Petroglyph (prehistoric rock carving) at the mouth of the West River in Brattleboro after years of searching for it.

Recently, Spaulding has spent countless hours searching in Spofford Lake for the remains of the Steamship Allegretto, a boat that sank in the lake in the late 1800s. She has discovered its anchor which she has donated to the Chesterfield Historical Society.

But this time instead of finding more boat remains, she found what was suspected to be a bomb fin that according to the Society came from one of several bombs that had been dropped by the Navy in April of 1952 on the ice-covered lake. Two bombs were recovered at the time. Now it appeared that Spaulding had found a third.

She was invited to address the Society about her discovery of this bomb. She researched and prepared a multimedia talk "Steamboats & Bombs in Spofford Lake," complete with slides of vintage photos and underwater video clips that she had made.

On Wednesday, the day before her talk, she was able to have Sergeant Jeffrey D. Dade, the Bomb Squad Commander of the New Hampshire Sate Police, examine the bomb fin. After performing numerous tests with sophisticated equipment, he concluded that it was not a bomb but was probably part of an old steamship.

Thursday afternoon, she decided to reach out to Timothy Lynch, the president of the North American Steamboat Association, and emailed him a picture of the suspected bomb fin. He in turn contacted an expert on old steamboat parts. During her lecture, the expert emailed his conclusion, but she did not interrupt the flow of her presentation until near its end when she paused and read it aloud.

The expert concluded that "The object looks unmistakably like a cast iron 'Gudgeon' which provided metal bearings for the ends of a wooden shaft" like a water wheel in a mill or the end of a paddle wheel shaft on a steamboat.

The surprise ending, like in a detective story: it was not the third bomb but possibly another part of the Steamship Allegretto, the boat that Annette Spaulding has spent so much time looking for under the water at Spofford Lake.

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