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USC Salkehatchie event instills passion for history

Story by Sean Gruber

No one can say that Mount Pleasant resident Fred Tetor doesn’t deserve a break.

He worked in the United States Navy for eight years, as a police officer for three, and then as Mount Pleasant’s fire chief for another 12.

But ask the 67-year-old what led him to spend his retirement years sifting through grains of sand and tediously categorizing artifacts as a volunteer intern archeologist for the ongoing restoration of the Confederate submarine the H.L. Hunley, he’ll give you a simple answer.

Photo by Sarah Miller

“The Hunley did it,” Tetor said. “There was no single aspect that drew me to it; I wanted to experience all of it. My family fought for the Confederacy. I’m a historian. I’d do anything to work on it.”

It was that same passion for history that Tetor wanted to pass on to 32 Walterboro residents and university students at his lecture at USC Salkehatchie on Tuesday, September 25. The event, organized jointly by the Colleton County Historical and Preservation Society and the university, gave its attendees a frontline view of the Hunley’s restoration process and a detailed history of the submarine.

“I want to pass on the true history of the Hunley and the South to this generation,” Tetor said. “I want to leave a better understanding of the Hunley’s place in South Carolina’s culture, then and now.”

In his presentation, Tetor described the ship’s creation and subsequent testing, taking care to note the submarine’s dark past. The submarine killed a total of 12 test pilots during its first few voyages, including its inventor. He also described the Hunley’s final mission, where it sank the Union vessel USS Housatonic and then failed to return to its dock, disappearing into Charleston Harbor, taking the lives of all those on board.

Tetor concluded the presentation by describing his experience with the excavation and recovery of the Hunley wreck and the artifacts recovered from the interior of submarine.

“We examined every grain of sand,” Tetor said. “In total, we pulled out about 12 tons of sediment. Everything was washed and categorized.”

After the lecture, the crowd was given the opportunity to ask questions and then invited to share refreshments. Guests mingled with each other, discussing the presentation and Civil War history.

“I knew very little about the Hunley before tonight,” said Kristen Pierce, USC Salkehatchie student and Saint George resident. “I thought it was fascinating. As a Civil War re-enactor, I like that there are presentations like this working to preserve history.”

Bonita Cheney, a library media specialist and Walterboro resident, also gained insight into the history of the Hunley.

“I went to see the Hunley when it was raised, but I didn’t really know all the details that made the submarine interesting back then,” Cheney said. “I came here because I wanted to hear the facts, not the romanticized version of events.”

Sarah Miller, associate professor of history at USC Salkehatchie, hopes the university will be able to host similar events and lectures focusing on South Carolina history.

“I think all of this is crazy cool,” Miller said. “It’s awesome to see all of the technology and excavation techniques that enable us to learn things about history we couldn’t even imagine knowing just a few years ago. I would like to see more events like this at Salk. Everybody should learn about history.”

For more information about the H.L. Hunley visit http://www.hunley.org/.

Special to The Colletonian (3053 Posts)