15 January, 2010

The Strongbox of Geoffrey Hawkins

On October 17, 2003, a large iron strongbox, dated from the late 19th century, was discovered in the basement of a small house in Duquesne, Pennsylvania. The house was once owned by my grandfather, Cedric Pepper. The house was sold following his death in 1987. The subsequent owner returned the strongbox to my family, as my grandfather was the house's only previous occupant. That was the beginning of my association with the enigmatic and wondrous Hawkins Strongbox.

It took a team of technicians eleven months to decipher the strongbox's locking mechanism.  On January 21, 2005, it was finally opened.  In the years since, the contents of the Hawkins Strongbox have been disseminated, examined, cataloged and preserved by scholars and curators at the Victorian Mechanical Museum in London, England. To say that many of the items found within the strongbox have been revelatory would most certainly be an understatement.  Manuscripts, letters, photographs and other assorted ephemera discovered therein have unveiled an enigmatic "age of wonders," a lost history of the Victorian era that has remained mysteriously unexamined by contemporary academia.

The namesake of the Hawkins Strongbox is one Geoffrey Hawkins, and it is his story that will unfold here in the many months and possibly years to come. Four hundred and ninety-six items from the strongbox have been cataloged to date, and museum officials have indicated that those items represent just one half of the box's contents. Therefore, the story of Geoffrey Hawkins will certainly not be presented here in any type of linear fashion. It will be a potentially puzzling, disjointed exploration, but one that I hope will still ultimately prove enlightening and satisfying.

As we launch this effort, I want to express my thanks to Archer Bowens, Documents Archivist for the Victorian Mechanical Museum. It was a chance meeting with Archer at Wake Forest University in late 2003 that brought about the Museum's involvement with the then still unidentified large iron chest.  Archer has since been with the Hawkins Strongbox project every step of the way and has been instrumental in helping prepare collection items for online exhibition.  His is a spirit of adventure not entirely dissimilar from that of Geoffrey Hawkins, whose life and legacy we now explore.

3 Observations:

Anton Pickerwill said...

So, it appears that the rumors are true. The so-called "academics" from the VMM are making public the contents of the infamous Hawkins Strongbox, or the "the Great Duquesne Deceit" as the more learned scholars such as myself refer to it. And my, my, what an auspicious public introduction--a tiny little blog in a remote corner of the world wide web. And here I had been waiting for something to pop up in the Times or the Post.

Ah, but sadly there are those who will still undoubtedly believe this tripe. Geoffrey Hawkins was an unremarkable sort, his legend being a product of his own very careful machinations. It is a shame that his descendants have chosen to perpetuate the very myths that were debunked almost a century ago.

Jeffrey Pepper said...

Ah, Mr. Pickerwill, though I've never had the pleasure of meeting you personally, a number of my associates said I would likely be encountering you sooner or later. It appears that it is sooner.

The intention of this online exhibition is by no means to preach a historical gospel according to Hawkins as you seem to imply. We are neither looking for validation nor extended publicity. The VMM has always maintained a very low profile and will undoubtedly continue to do so now. Ours is not a quest for fame.

Terry said...

I for one am intriged at the publication of the contents of the strongbox. Information should be shared. The public can then decide the truth of Mr. Hawkins. Bravo sirs!