Can't believe I missed this for so long - Straight Dope Chicago has posted an article about the Foolkiller that disagrees with my conclusion that it may have been a vessel built by Londer Phillips. Straight Dope is more of the opinion that William Deneau, the discoverer, simply faked the whole thing.
Actually, I've always suspected that Deneau planted the skulls there himself, though I've stoped short of saying he faked the whole thing - my general sense is that he found a sub, made up a story to go with it, and didn't realize how long the thing had actually been in the river. I certainly don't think it's a DEFINITE that it was a Phillips sub, but it does match the drawings of one of his later ones uncannily, and I haven't found a better explanation.
Here's the article.
And a few replies:
1: OTHER PAPERS I can't say for sure that the other papers besides the Tribune never covered the story - I just haven't found any other stories about it. There's no index of other papers, so it's tough to say for sure. The suggestion that the other papers didn't run the story because they didn't believe Deneau doesn't really hold - not believing a story was true had never stopped most of the local papers from running it before.
2: PHILLIPS Straight Dope posits that Lodner Phillips was fully incapable of making such a submarine. This would be a better argument if the submarine had been a working one, not the kind that sank and never came back up. Phillips wasn't exactly educated, and some of his relatives seem to have thought of him as a real ne'er-do-well, but, on the other hand, plenty of guys who really knew their stuff, submarine-wise, seemed to regard him as one heck of a submarine designer (by mid 19th century standards). For him to build the craft in 1849 wouldn't have been outside the realm of the possible. Of course, for Deneau to have it built as a massive hoax wouldn't have been impossible either - that's always Option B.
I've never said with any certainty that Phillips made the thing, but, giving Deneau the benefit of the doubt (which we don't REALLY have a good reason to do, except that no one seems to have publicly called him on the story at the time) that he actually did find the craft underwater, none of the other submarines rumored to have been in the river come as close to fitting the description.
I'm not quite convinced that the story is dead - there could always be another photo found, or some more information. Until then, though, we're at a sort of dead end in the story. Was it really a submarine that had been down there since 1849? Was it some other sunken craft? Did Deneau build it and sink it himself? The world may never know!
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