Hunley captain surfaces on eBay, sort of

Purported photo turns out to be fake

Monday, November 20, 2006

 

BY BRIAN HICKS


 

For years, people have been looking everywhere for George Dixon, with no luck - and then, all of a sudden, he shows up on eBay.

Excuse the Hunley scientists if they smell, well, pluff mud.

Last week, a Missouri man on eBay tried to auction off a 19th-century photograph of a sailor that he contended was the long-lost captain of the Hunley, a Civil War submarine. Dixon's name was on the back of the picture, the seller said, and he had even spoken with a great-granddaughter.

And for this elusive piece of ephemera, all he wanted was $2,500.

Turns out he has been in touch with the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, apparently hoping to get Hunley archaeologists to authenticate his picture.

He didn't like what he heard.

"I corresponded with him mainly because I wanted a look at the photograph," archaeologist Maria Jacobsen said "Photographs of Civil War seamen are extremely rare."

Jacobsen never for a minute thought this guy had uncovered Dixon. He made a few mistakes, she pointed out. A couple of real whoppers, actually.

James Hunter, another Hunley archaeologist, dated the uniform to a specific period, 1866-1869, two years after Dixon's death.

Plus, it is a U.S. Navy uniform, which was a big problem since Dixon was in the Confederate Army.

Oh yeah, Dixon also had no children, let alone any great-grandchildren.

The seller, who didn't respond to e-mails from The Post and Courier, conceded nothing before ending his auction early. Besides the bad news from the Hunley lab, the guy has for months been the target of the Northern Virginia Relic Hunters Association and Mike Clarke, a member of an eBay fake-busters forum.

They offer evidence that the man bought the photo on eBay just a month earlier, and at that time it was listed as having "no markings" on it.

"It's unethical," Clarke said. "Some poor fool is liable to buy that, go to Charleston and be told, 'Oh, that's not Dixon.'"

Of course, eBay is awash with fake stuff. Every week there are dozens of books allegedly signed by Ernest Hemingway - some of them books that weren't even published until after Papa was dead.

Reach Brian Hicks at 937-5561 or bhicks@postandcourier.com