'Medusa' story told … Dog license deadline April 30 … Time to license dog … Portsmouth romantic … Jordan retiring … Mills chairs board … McKenna stars


Wind-whipped waves during the  mid-March  weekend storm just north of Foss Beach were awe-inspiring to humans. They seem to have caught this seagull's attention as well. (Jim Cerny photo)

By Jim Cerny

Ship wreck stories are popular, and on March 11 at the Seacoast Science Center, Dr. Charles Mazel told the story of the famous wreck of the Medusa.

Mazel was the technical director for the expedition that in 1980 located the wreckage of the French frigate Medusa (Méduse) that went aground off the coast of Mauritania in 1816, on its way to Senegal. This might have been just another among the world's thousands of shipwrecks, no better known than Rye's own wrecks, such as the lumber schooner Lizzie Carr, now enshrined at the Seacoast Science Center. But the Medusa had political repercussions in France and, even more important, it became the subject of Théodore Géricault's masterpiece, The Raft of the Medusa, showing survivors on a raft.

Charles Mazel.

"Raft of the Medusa" by Géricault.

Mazel divides the story into three parts: (i) the history of the wreck, (ii) the history of the painting, and (iii) his personal experience on the expedition to find the remains.

The Medusa was a fast 40-gun frigate, leading a convoy of three other slower ships, taking a new governor to Senegal. The Medusa was similar in size, armament, and appearance to the USS Constitution. Mazel summed up by saying, "the whole story is the story of half measures," i.e., the captain was incompetent. A crucial navigation mistake caused them to go aground. Some escaped in the life boats, but 150 were left to survive on a makeshift raft. By the time the raft was rescued 13 days later, only 15 remained, having resorted to murder and cannibalism. And as Mazel says, "there is nothing like cannibalism to get in the history books."

The wreck and rescue were a sensation in France and caught the attention of Géricault, who was 27 and trying to establish his reputation. He spent 18 months on the project, 8 months on the final painting — which is a gigantic 16 x 24 feet and hangs today in the Louvre.

The expedition in 1980 to find the wreck was somewhat anticlimactic. The funding and equipment were minimal, with four sailboats as the working vessels. But they had several good estimates of the wreck's location and used a magnetometer to find the wreck in just one day! They recovered enough artifacts to confirm the wreck's identity but did not attempt a larger salvage effort.

This talk punctured a personal myth that I'd been carrying around. I was well aware of the painting and knew it was by "one of those French artists" — David, Delacroix, or Géricault — but I did not realize it represented a real event. I'd always taken it as a painting of romantic pathos, taking "medusa" metaphorically to mean something too horrible to look upon. Oops!

The following items are by members of the "Rye Reflections" staff


Forsythia branches were cut in late February, brought indoors and started blossoming within three days, providing an early taste of Spring. (Bob Dunn photo)


Girl Scouts at Rye Elementary School — including Daisies, Brownies and Juniors — gather with Principal Lane Richardson to celebrate the 98th birthday of the Girl Scouts organization on March 12. Click on image for a larger view. (Kim Reed photo)


In an effort to make Rye Reflections more reader-friendly we have added three new features, two of which are seen at the bottom of this article.

One is an email link, showing an envelope symbol followed by the word "email". This appears at the bottom of every story. If you click on it, it provides an email box that enables you to send a link of that story and comments to another person who you think might like to read it.

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Finally, on the Front Page, under the Feedback mailbox on the lower left side is a link called "Subscribe to Publication Notices". Even though we publish on the first Thursday of each month, some readers have told us that their lives are so busy that they would like a monthly reminder. We pledge that your email address will be kept secure if you wish to take advantage of this reminder service.

If you have other suggestions on how we can improve our Web site, please contact us through the Feedback Mailbox on the Front Page or by cornering one of us at the Farmers Market, the Post Office, the supermarket or wherever. Better still, come to one of our weekly meetings in the lower-level Community Room of the Rye Public Library at 1 p.m. every Thursday. You will be welcome.


Brush area at Rye Recycling Center had to be open every day except Sunday throughout most of March as homeowners cleared their yards over and over, raking up brush and small branches (piled high in background) and in some cases fallen trees. All will end up being mulched and paid for by a company with bigger equipment than the Town has.

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April, 2010