Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Under Pressure: Decompression Chambers

I have to admit, decompression sickness and hyperbaric medicine are two things I know very little about. They are both complex subjects, so I'm very thankful - and grateful - for the doctors who are able to utilize pressurized chambers and oxygen, a gas that we all breathe every single day, to save lives.

Decompression sickness (DCS) is a very serious issue for our sport. Originally coined 'caissons' disease' in the 19th century, it was first discovered in bridge construction workers who experienced joint pain upon returning from working in pressurized enclosures (caissons) at the bottom of rivers and lakes. Today it is commonly referred to as "the bends."

Here at the History of Diving Museum, we have two decompression chambers. The one below is located just outside our building and dates to the 1960's. It features a very simple cylindrical design and two view ports to observe the patient.

It is considered roomy compared to the collapsible chamber located inside our "Abyss" exhibit. This is an extremely rare chamber made by the German company, Drager. Its telescopic quality allows it to fit inside a small box and expand quickly for emergency situations aboard a ship. It also features two view ports for observation.

If you are interested in learning more about how hyperbaric chambers are used to treat the bends and other ailments, join us at the Museum on Wednesday, December 21st at 7pm. Dennis Holstein, Program Director for Hyperbaric Medicine and Would Care Departments at Mariners Hospital, will present a free program, "Hyperbaric Medicine: It's Not Just for Divers."

Manager of Collections and Administration
All photos courtesy of the History of Diving Museum

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Exhibit Talk: Transforming the South Florida Room

Our team has been hard at work on transforming one of our most popular exhibits, The South Florida Room, so I wanted to give an update on the amazing progress that has been made in the past few months.

Some of my favorite helmets in our collection can be found in the South Florida Room. The exhibit centers on the Divinhood - the world's first commercially produced open bottom helmet which unquestionably changed diving history. The story of William Miller and William Dunn's Divinhood is a great one - but it is our collection of homemade helmets (inspired by the open bottom concept the Divinhood introduced) that seem to be some of the most popular and memorable artifacts, both for our staff as well as our visitors.

Above is one of our more famous - or infamous - helmets. Dubbed "The Rum Runner," this homemade helmet was used in the 1920's in smuggling operations during Prohibition. Contraband whiskey dropped in the Detroit River by Canadians was spotted through the breastplate window.

The concept of the open bottom helmet was so simple and useful, that craftsmen in garages started using household items to build their own version of the Divinhood. What they produced were many oddly shaped helmets, each truly one-of-a-kind.

Our curator of exhibits, Tim Hemsoth, is finishing this newly constructed wall as I type and it's looking really fabulous. As you can see from the "Before" and "After" photos, Tim has created a "forest" of helmets from floor to ceiling, backlit with a blue spotlight. Enjoy the photos and below and let us know what you think!



As a result of redesigning the floor plan in the South Florida Room, we'll also be making some changes to our Underwater Photography exhibit and the Treasure Room in the near future. Below you can see we've taken a wall down to open up the entrance to the Treasure Room and create a better traffic flow.

Hope you've enjoyed seeing all the updates. Stay tuned for more!

Manager of Collections and Administration

All photos courtesy of the History of Diving Museum

Friday, November 4, 2011

Henry Fleuss: An Early SCUBA Pioneer

Henry Fleuss (1851-1933) was a diving engineer for Siebe, Gorman & Co. of London. He is widely recognized as a pioneer in the field of diving and some even credit him as the first SCUBA diver. You didn't think it was Jacques Cousteau, did you?

Though he is credited with many other inventions including the Fleuss vacuum pump and a steam car, it is widely accepted that his most important was for the first self-contained breathing apparatus (SCUBA) using pure compressed oxygen. Originally designed in 1876, he was granted a patent for the apparatus in 1878 which freed the diver from having to rely on breathing surface-supplied air.

The apparatus consisted of a rubber mask, a breathing bag, a copper tank to hold the oxygen, and a scrubber. The closed-circuit system was designed to reuse the oxygen by removing the carbon dioxide using a rope yarn soaked in a solution of caustic potash. Originally used to rescue mine workers, Fleuss was lauded for this early SCUBA apparatus.

Its revolutionary and brilliant design became an invaluable piece of equipment for military operations during WWII. The Fleuss rebreather came to be preferred over all other available diving apparatus because it offered the diver total concealment (no air bubbles!).

Although the Fleuss rebreather limited the diver's working depth due to the threat of oxygen toxicity, it was truly revolutionary and is without a doubt a very important part of diving history.

Visit the Museum to learn more about early rebreathers and the evolution of other early SCUBA equipment!

Manager of Collections and Administration

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Jake's Journey: Closer to Home

Meet our friend Jake. Some of you may have had the chance to see him on display at First State Bank in Key Largo where he has been on loan for the past two years. Jake has served as an outreach tool for the History of Diving Museum by helping to spread the word about our institution while making many new friends.

After his assignment in Key Largo was up, we were very happy to receive news that Hampton Inn and Suites in Islamorada was interested in 'adopting' Jake to become part of their family. When they assured us that Jake would have plenty of play dates with friends from around the world every day of the week, we knew it was a perfect fit! We are so happy to announce Jake's return to Upper Matecumbe Key. He is now on display just inside the lobby - ready to greet guests and again serve as an ambassador for the Museum.

'Jake', a full-dressed diver on loan from the History of Diving Museum, is now on temporary display at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Islamorada, Florida.

After about a month in his new home, we can report that Jake is very happy and feeling settled. We are so happy to have him closer to home!

The next time you are passing by, visit Jake and make sure he's behaving himself.

Manager of Collections and Administration

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Diver and His Helmet: A Happy Reunion

It was a routine business call that brought Jon Hazelbaker to Upstate New York last week, but the series of events that took place were anything but ordinary.

In 1986, commercial diver Jon Hazelbaker was working on a big diving project in Corinth, New York for the International Paper Company. After about three months, the job was almost complete. However, he was called back for a few more days to work on another part of the power plant. After packing up his gear - helmet and everything - Hazelbaker headed back into Albany and checked in to a hotel around 1 o'clock in the morning. The next day started early around 6am. and as he was checking out of the hotel, he discovered that his truck had been broken into. His helmet was gone.

This discovery was completely disheartening, not only because of its obvious monetary value, but because Hazelbaker had accumulated literally thousands of hours working time in it; it was a helmet that he had used and lovingly abused for 16 years.

Devastated, he took out ads in local newspapers and trade magazine with a photo of the helmet (pictured above) and offering a reward for its return. He even sent out letters and photos to local dive shops and other commercial dive firm competitors.

Flash forward 25 years to 2011 when Hazelbaker was assigned by ADCI to perform a safety audit for commercial diving firm Seaway Diving & Salvage - a routine practice in the industry. While scheduling his visit to Waterford, New York, Hazelbaker recited the story of his stolen helmet to the owner of Seaway, Tim Joslyn. After a few minutes, Joslyn said, "I think we have that picture still here." He quickly located the original photo from 1986 in a file and told Hazelbaker that he knew where that helmet was. The previous owner, Kevin Lengyel, had kept the photo around all those years. Overwhelmed with joy, he exclaimed over the phone, "Tim, that is my hat!"

After taking care of business at Seaway, Hazelbaker took Joslyn's advice and soon found himself en route to a dive shop in Clifton Park, New York - ready to get his hat back. Upon arrival, Hazelbaker was asked to identify the helmet in detail, and of course he was able to recall each and every fitting and dent in the helmet, many unique to this particular hat. After a little while, he was finally reunited with his old helmet, almost 25 years to the day when it was stolen.

Commercial diver Jon Hazelbaker reunited with his helmet in Upstate New York.

Hazelbaker gives credit to the owners of Seaway for this happy reunion; to Kevin, who kept the picture around so long, and to Tim who is responsible for putting all the pieces together.

If you have any happy stories like this one, we would love to hear about them!

Manager of Collections and Administration

Capt. Jon Hazelbaker is a commercial diving consultant and Board Member at the History of Diving Museum.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Remembering an Aquanaut: Dewey D. Smith

As we gear up for our next event, I can't help but to be reminded of a certain helmet in our permanent collection. Next week's program, "Space Exploration and the Aquarius Underwater Habitat" will be presented by a team of Aquanauts and talk about their latest mission with NASA.

NOAA Aquarius Reef Base, colloquially known as Aquarius, is an underwater laboratory located in 63 feet of water approximately 3 1/2 miles offshore of Key Largo in the Florida Keys and is often used by marine biologists studying the reefs. For the past 10 years, NASA has used the underwater habitat for its NEEMO missions to study the effects of extreme environments.

On May 5, 2009, NOAA, Aquarius, and the diving community lost a friend and true hero. Dewey D. Smith was a habitat technician for Aquarius who passed away at the age of 36 as a result of a diving accident. He had worked as a diver with Aquarius for two years and previously served in the US Navy as a Medical Corpsman for five years.

His passing truly left a huge void in the Aquarius family. In honor of Smith's life and legacy, the Aquarius Reef Base donated a Superlite 17 helmet to the Museum. The Superlite 17 is a modern helmet with a fiberglass shell and built-in demand regulator and is the helmet most frequently worn by the Aquanauts. Initially on special display in our Research Library, we are happy to announce that it is now on permanent display in our Commercial Diving exhibit (yellow helmet pictured below).

Every time the Aquanauts come to the Museum for a presentation, you can be sure to find each one paying a visit to the commercial diving exhibit where they remember their friend. We are proud to display this helmet and and honored to present it in memory of Dewey. He will surely be present in all of our thoughts on Wednesday.

Manager of Collections and Administration

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Literacy Month: A New Chapter for HDM

Did you know that September is National Literacy Month? There have been special events happening at libraries, parks, and museums all over the country, and although we haven't had one here just yet (we're planning something special in February!), it has certainly been an exciting month for us at the History of Diving Museum.

We hope that you have already heard about the development of our Research Library, but if not, here's your chance to catch up! Over the past year we have been working on building the Bauer Diving History Research Library, a special collection library and archive to house thousands of books and archival materials related to the history of diving. Funded in part through a grant provided by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, it is a project that the entire staff has put many hours into and we are excited to see it almost complete. The Bauer Diving History Research Library is named after the museum's founders, Drs. Joe and Sally Bauer.

So what's so exciting about this month??? BOOKS! We have finally begun to fill our bookshelves and let me tell you that after staring at empty bookcases for months and months as we finished construction and technical upgrades (think 70" flat screen TV), it feels so amazing to walk in the space and see the shelves so full and happy. We still have a long way to go as we finish moving books from our Collections Storage into the Library as well as processing the Bauer Collection, but the progress feels great!

The majority of materials come from the Bauer Collection - amassed by Drs. Joe and Sally Bauer over approximately four decades. Their collection contains thousands of rare books as well as photographs, patent drawings, posters, articles, and so much more that will be made available to the public through the very first research library of its kind - dedicated entirely to the history of diving and man's longstanding quest to explore under the sea.

The opening and dedication of the Bauer Library will be held in February and we'll be sure let you know all the details.

Stay tuned to the blog for more!

-Erin, Manager of Collections and Administration

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Divinhood: Practical and Profitable

"A diving apparatus so simple anyone can use it."

That was the slogan for the Miami-based Miller-Dunn Company who designed and produced the Divinhood helmet in the early part of the 20th century. A summary of the significance of this helmet can be found in an earlier blog entry here.

As you may know by now, we love the Divinhood. But before the Style 2 gained fame as the centerpiece for the History of Diving Museum's logo, it was lauded at the time by many for its simplicity, affordability, and practicality. Today I wanted to share with you some contemporaneous quotes from those who used the Divinhood and shared their success stories with Miller and Dunn themselves.

"We want to thank you for building it and congratulate ourselves for buying it."
- W. H. Ebsary, January 12, 1926

"I would not be without it."
- E. F. McDonald, Jr., September 29, 1927

"This is to inform you that since the receipt of the Divinhood we purchased from you two weeks ago, we have recovered over $500.00 worth of merchandise that had gone overboard in Biscayne Bay and could not be found by skin divers. It has already paid for itself."
- John. T. Bennett, July 1st, 1925

"I sat down on a convenient rock, shut my eyes and recited to myself, 'I am not at home, nor near any city or people; I am far out in the Pacific near a desert island, sitting on the bottom of the ocean; I am deep down in the water in a place where no human being has ever been before; it is one of the greatest moments of my whole life; thousands of people would pay large sums, would forego much for five minutes of this!' "
- William Beebe, New York Zoological Society, December 25th, 1925

William Beebe in the Miller-Dunn Style 2 Divinhood

All quotes taken from American Dive Catalog Collection by Ray Mathieson.

-Erin, Manager of Collections and Administration

Thursday, July 14, 2011

'Not So Basic' Cable

Every week at the History of Diving Museum seems to be a treasure hunt of sorts, as I am constantly uncovering new and exciting objects in the collections. This week was no exception, with the booty coming in the form of a small but significant artifact: an original piece of the transatlantic telegraph cable!

The transatlantic telegraph cable was the first cable to allow telegraphic communications across the Atlantic Ocean between Europe and North America. It was a monumental achievement at the time, reducing message delivery time from days or weeks to mere minutes. A lasting connection was not achieved until 1866, but the first official message was sent on August 16, 1858, from Queen Victoria to President James Buchanan:

"To the President of the United States, Washington: The Queen desires to congratulate the President upon the successful completion of this great international work."

Keenly aware of the magnitude of this accomplishment, the President responded:

"May the Atlantic Telegraph, under the blessing of Heaven, prove to be a bond of perpetual peace and friendship between the kindred nations, and an instrument designed by Divine Providence to diffuse religion, civilization, liberty and law throughout the world."

The transatlantic cable was also one of the many underwater landmarks spied by Captain Nemo and the crew of the Nautilus in Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Considering that the History of Diving Museum has an entire exhibit dedicated to Verne's classic undersea adventure, the cable fragment's addition to the museum's collections was a "no-brainer," especially given its historical significance. This particular piece is from a "leftover" segment of the cable that was brought back up from the bottom of the ocean after Cyrus W. Field "overshot his mark" while laying it in 1858. Charles Tiffany (Tiffany & Co.) saw it as a money-making opportunity, buying the leftover cable and cutting it into four-inch lengths that he sold for fifty cents each. A "copyrighted facsimile certificate of Cyrus W. Field, Esq." accompanied each piece, guaranteeing its authenticity.

This exciting and historic artifact is an example of one of the many "behind the scenes" treasures at the History of Diving Museum. You'll have the opportunity to explore even more of them firsthand at our 6th anniversary celebration on September 3, 2011, where we will be displaying objects from our collection not normally seen on exhibit. We hope you can make it!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Diving in Style

This week I'm taking the opportunity to air out some of the museum's dirty laundry...literally. As I poked around the collections in search of missing items, I stumbled across two fantastic denim diving outfits that originally belonged to Wesley and Constance Mueller. The Muellers were pioneers in the world of underwater photography, beginning in 1934 when there were no commercially produced underwater cameras or housings. Not to be deterred, they fashioned their own equipment, complete with matching denim diving outfits. They sewed lead into their jackets and pants so that they "wouldn't ride up in the current (McKenney 1981)." They even sewed their initials into the garments, presumably so that they wouldn't mix them up. Of course, the Muellers weren't out to make a fashion statement on the bottom of the ocean. In fact, Wesley and Constance rarely saw anyone besides each other on their adventures. They wore the heavy denim to protect themselves from posionous coral and any underwater creatures with sharp and potentially harmful extremities. Still, they must have known how "cool" they looked.

Wesley and Constance Mueller diving in their denim suits (Bahamas, 1938).

The Muellers' denim suits, now housed in collections at the History of Diving Museum.

That got me thinking about the role of fashion in the history of diving and how it has affected the evolution of divewear. I immediately thought of Art McKee (subject of several previous blog entries) and his preference for a Speedo and Converse sneakers (his original "Chucks" are on display at the History of Diving Museum, see photo). They certainly kept him comfortable during his dives, an important factor in diving safety. But what about those of us who aren't pioneers in the field of diving? What do we like to wear beneath the waves? Well, the answer to that question has changed over the years, as evidenced by these magazine advertisements from old issues of Skin Diver (in the library at HDM).

Advertisements from 1970 Skin Diver magazines.

Advertisements from 1977 Skin Diver magazines.

Advertisements from 1984 Skin Diver magazines.

Of course, the Muellers and Art McKee didn't have the luxury of wearing wetsuits in the early days, as they weren't "officially" invented until 1952 by Hugh Bradner (Taylor 2008). Over the years, as recreational diving became more popular and less expensive, style became an increasingly important component in marketing wetsuits. Let's face it, everyone wants to look good, especially when they are wearing a skin-hugging neoprene suit. The advertisements above clearly illustrate this, with color and designs increasing significantly over time, until ultimately exploding in a blinding flash of color and hair in the 1980's. Not everyone prefers a wetsuit (see Jacqueline Bisset in her famous diving outfit from the 1977 film The Deep), but their functionality remains the most important factor in their success, keeping divers and other watersport enthuisiasts warm, bouyant and scrape-free.

So the question now becomes: what do you like to wear when you dive? Do you have a favorite or funny diving outfit? We want to hear about it! Comment on our blog below or post a picture of your favorite diving outfit to our new Flickr pool! To get the sharing started, here are photos of Erin and I modeling the very latest in wetsuit fashion. Ok, maybe not the very latest...but it certainly beats 1984!

Austin Bell and Erin Wolfe wetsuit modeling at the Marine Mammal Conservancy in Key Largo.

McKenney, Jack (1981). Wes and Connie Mueller: Pioneers in Underwater Cinematography. In Skin Diver, October 1981, Vol. 30, No. 10, pp. 44-46.

Taylor, Michael (2008). Hugh Bradner, UC's inventor of wetsuit, dies. In San Francisco Chronicle (May 11, 2008). Accessed July 8, 2011. Web link.