YEAGERTOWN - In the 1950s, Bill Stuck and his friends had the run of Yeagertown and Burnham. If it was sunny, they would spend the day outside. The Lewistown drive-in was in its glory. Burnham High School held classes as any school would. The Titanic was lost somewhere in the ocean.
As Stuck got older, things changed. As he watched the pieces of his youth disappear, he began collecting mementos, so that parts of the past could be taken into the future. His collection includes one of the drive-in's speakers, a window from Burnham High School, and, though the Kishacoquillas Valley Railroad was out of commission by the 1940s, Stuck has a spike from it as well.
"We knew the town," Stuck said. "Things meant something."
Sentinel photo by BUFFIE BOYER
Bill Stuck’s watch, pictured here, was made from components of Titanic, the infamous cruise ship that sank in the Atlantic Ocean 100 years ago Sunday.
And, one day while Stuck was at work, he learned that the Titanic, the White Star liner that sank in the wee hours of April 15, 1912, was no longer lost. It was Sept. 1, 1985, when a team led by Robert Ballard snapped the first pictures to be taken of the Titanic since its ill-fated maiden voyage.
Several years later, in 1998, Stuck and his wife, Jan, went on a cruise to Nova Scotia. While there, Bill visited the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which, over the years, has collected various pieces of Titanic history and in some cases, pieces of the Titanic itself. According to the museum's website, these artifacts-including one of the Titanic's deck chairs-floated to the surface after the ship sank; most were donated or loaned to the museum by descendants of Nova Scotians who were involved in recovery efforts.
"But it was all under glass," Bill said. "And you couldn't even touch the glass."
Their journey took them within 50 miles of the spot where the Titanic's remains lie.
"It's an eerie feeling," Bill said, "to stand on the deck of a ship, with two miles of water beneath you, and know that the Titanic is down there."
In 2010, Bill and Jan went on another cruise, this time to the Caribbean, and they took their sons, Dan and William III, and Dan's wife, Chris, with them. Before stopping in Philipsburg, St. Maarten, the port shopping guide, Allan Donohue, informed the ship's occupants about the jewelry stores at the next port, including Diamonds International. While Jan was interested right off the bat, it wasn't until Donohue mentioned that the store sold watches made from parts of the Titanic that Bill started paying attention. They got a VIP card for the store, and went to see these timepieces steeped in history.
Designer Romain Jerome made 2012 of these watches to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ship's sinking. The bezel surrounding the watch's face is made of an alloy comprised of steel from the Titanic and new steel from Harland and Wolff shipyard, where the Titanic was built a century ago. The face of the watch is made of a composite containing coal from the ship's coal bins.
Bill was permitted to try on one of the watches. He left the store in awe, but, being a practical man, he left the watch, with its $11,800 price tag, behind.
The following day during dinner, at the next port, Dan waited until the entire family was seated before making an announcement. The family had collaborated and, with Donohue's help, had sneaked back to the jewelry store after Bill left and purchased the watch for him, even managing to negotiate the price down several thousand dollars.
"We knew he was going to be upset, but we knew it was something he would be shocked by," Jan said, adding that they waited until the next port to give the watch to Bill so he wouldn't try to return it.
He didn't, but he does store it in a lockbox at his bank, he said.
For Bill, the timepiece is more than just a watch, and its value is not simply a dollar sign. Much like his Kish Valley Railroad spike, the window from Burnham High School, and the drive-in's speaker, the watch is a part of history. As long as Bill owns them, he knows the story of the Titanic, along with his pieces of local history, will never be forgotten.