When the USS Nina, a Civil War era salvage ship that disappeared in 1910, was discovered on the ocean floor nine miles northeast of Ocean City, two American families were finally able to resolve the mystery behind the disappearance of their longlost relatives.
"It was the most astounding, unbelievable thing I had ever heard," said 70-year-old John ALvin Croghan of Alexandria, remembering his reaction to the Nina's discovery. "I'm still shocked."
Croghan's father, John Samuel Croghan, was captain of the Nina when the ship left Norfolk on Feb. 6, 1910, bound for Boston.
The Nina disappeared in a raging storm with 32 sailors aboard, and wasn't found until early this year, when three salvage divers from the Washington area discovered the wreckage.
"I was only 18 months old when the wreck happened," said Croghan. "My mother took me on a Merchant Miner passenger ship from Norfolk to Boston a couple of days before my father was due to leave. We were supposed to meet him in Boston, but obviously he never came.
"It took a long while for my mother to get over being bitter about the disappearance of the ship and my father," he said. "The Nina was ordered to go to Boston to have some faulty boilers repaired, and I guess my mother never thought the trip, in a storm and all, would be too safe."
Croghan, a retired lawyer, said his father was a career naval officer who fought on the battleship Oregon in the Spanish-American War, and was stationed for several years in China.
"I remember my relatives held out a hope for a while that the ship found some place to hide out during the storm, but it was all kind of fleeting," he said. "I know my mother never had that hope. A couple of monhs after the disappearance, I think, we got a letter from the Navy declaring the crew officially deted."
Charlotte Nina Hubbard, 67, of El Paso, Tex., was told of the Nina's discovery by her daughter in North Carolina, who read of the discovery in The Washington Post.
"You might say I'm kind of amazed," said Hubbard in a telephone conversation last week. "I was named after that boat because my uncle, John, Hanson, went down with her. He was declared officially dead right before I was born, so I can't remember anything about the affair.
"My father used to talk about how mysterious the disappearance was, and when I was born he insisted that I be named after Uncle Johnny."
Hubbard said her family kept a scrapbook of postcards that Hanson, a first mate on the Nina, sent from ports all over the world.
"It's a strange thing to have a close relative disappear under circumstances like that," she said, "and to carry the incident with you in your name. Somehow, I've always thought they went down in the Bermuda Triangle or something, it was that mysterious."
Michael Freeman, owner of American Watersports Co. in Oxon Hill, said that "my theory is that she was broadsided by another ship during the storm. If the Nina [which had a steel hull] had simply capsized, she would probably have gone straight down to the bottom. But we found pieces of the ship and its contents strewn across the ocean floor like she was suddenly hit by something.
"Plus," he said, "there's a huge lump in the sand that could very well be another vessel."
Ray Nathleson, a Bowie oyster diver, who has been salvaging the wreck, said he would forward a photograph of the Nina and a dish brought up from the wreck to Hubbard's daughter in North Carolina, who plans to give the photograph and dish to her mother.
Stuart Crespin of Hyattsville, who salvaged the dish from the Nina's galley, said he hoped the gift would better the image of treasure divers.