A visit to the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons turned into a trip down memory lane when I looked up through the jaws of the recreated prehistoric Great White Shark skeleton that hangs overhead. Carcharodon megladon was a shark that grew over fifty feet long and prowled the ancient seas 17 million years ago.
A quarter century ago, I stepped on the porch at left handed guitar picker Ralph Long’s home in Bel Alton (pronounced Blaton by the natives) . In addition to the milk crates full of Indian artifacts that he had collected from various sites in the Zekiah Swamp were boxes of whale bones, sharks teeth, and fossilized shells that had come from many places in the Charles County Potomac River drainage basin.
My immediate attention was drawn to beautifully preserved narrow spiral mollusk shells that were nearly five inches long. Never had I seen such specimens.
“I found those in a clay bank in Nanjemoy.” Ralph said.
Ralph also had a cigar box full of the Melodeon teeth that came from the ancestor of the present day Great White Shark. Most of the teeth were fragments but there was one nearly complete tooth that measured almost four inches long. I noted the size of the tooth and commented that I had heard of a perfect six inch tooth that was found near a feeder creek in the Patuxent River by one of the Copsey boys.
“Where was that tooth found?” Ralph asked.
“There is a small creek just south of Drift Inn called Mary’s Creek. The story is that it was found at the edge of that creek.” I replied.
“Let’s check it out.” Ralph said.
A couple weeks later, between band gigs, we took my 25 foot KenCraft down river from Golden Beach and eased up as close as possible to the shore before anchoring up. We waded in to the creek and started looking for fossils.
In the sand bank above us, we found a whale vertebrae. There were a few fossil skate teeth along the creek but no monster sharks teeth. There was an old crooked wild cherry tree that had fallen across the creek from high atop the cliff overlooking the site. The tidal water entering the little creek was forced to flow under the log which cut the channel deeper at that point.
I waded into the creek and held my breath just below the surface as I reached deep to the bottom to feel around. I put my hand on a very unique feeling object. From the clay bed bottom, I pulled a remarkably preserved 5 3/4 inch Mega tooth to the surface.
Ralph’s eyes bugged out as he dashed into the water and plunged his head and body below the tree beside me. He must have been down for a minute but he came up with another equally large tooth.
“Larry, I think there is a whole jawbone full of teeth below the clay. I can feel a smooth hard surface imbedded in the clay that feels like petrified cartilage. Have you got any dive gear that we could use to excavate this with?” Ralph breathlessly asked.
“Yes, I’ve got a tank and regulator but I will have to get some air.” I replied.
So, during the next week, I drove to Capt. Ken Pumphrey’s dive shop in Huntington to get my tank topped off.
During the 50 mile round trip, I remembered when I found a very small portion of a juvenile Melodeon jaw and teeth in the sand bank overlooking Popes Creek. I was a teenager at the time, but I knew the relative rarity of finding any part of a petrified jaw. A whole dental structure would make Ralph and I amateur paleontologists of the year.
The next weekend, we started early on Saturday morning with the full tank of air and an assortment of small garden tools to dig out the submerged jaws. Ralph was the first one to don the tank and throw on his mask. Weighted down with a 30 pound dive belt and armed with a hand spade and a hand weed rake, he laid flat on the bottom of Mary’s Creek under that log.
Within a half hour, he had uncovered a small section of the jaw which rose like a two foot arch over the hole he excavated. Ralph faced into the outgoing tide as he worked like an undersea gopher to extricate his prehistoric prize.
Watching from the surface, everything seemed to be going smoothly till I noticed the tree above him shift a couple inches. I eased into the water and Ralph tugged on my leg. He pulled my arm deep to feel that his neck was wedged under the shark jawbone that had broken off when he disturbed a small limb that was supporting the weight of the tree that then dropped on the jaw. Ralph had slipped his head into a giant trap laid by Mother Nature and unwittingly tripped the trigger.
Ralph was pinned like a prisoner in a pillory. He only had ten minutes of air left, if he did not panic. The tree crushing down on the fossilized jaws was too heavy for me to budge. There was not enough time to dig him out.
I dashed to the boat and grabbed the bitter end of my very long anchor line that I used to use for anchoring in the Gulf Stream. With the line in hand, I scaled a tall tree that had toppled over the bank to get to the top of the cliff forty feet up.
On top of the cliff, I brought the line around the base of a big secure tree and rappelled down the cliff holding both ends of the rope together. I tied the bitter end to the submerged cherry tree, dove below the surface, tapped Ralph on the back and removed his heavy weight belt.
I rushed to the boat and secured the other end of the line in a quick yoke to the two stern cleats. Looking back after firing the engine, I could not see Ralph’s bubbles from his regulator exhaust stopped coming to the surface.
With the boat in forward gear and the throttle pushed to the max, that little four cylinder diesel engine screamed as the prop dug a hole in the shallow bottom. The tree moved up and over just a bit up the creek from the pull of the improvised hoist. Was it enough?
I shut the engine down and pushed myself through the chest deep water in the middle of the creek. Halfway between the tree and the mouth of the creek, Ralph’s inert body rolled into me with the outgoing tide. I caught him and dragged him to the shore.
The U.S. Coast Guard required CPR life saving course paid off and Ralph was gasping for air in no time.
“Where’s the girls?” were Ralph’s first words.
“What girls? You almost died!” I replied.
“I went through the light and was surrounded by at least six dozen virgins and you dragged me away.” Ralph said.
“Ralph, you must have taken a wrong turn at the light but you’re here now.”
Though Ralph should have been grateful, it was fairly obvious he was not too glad to see me.
We gathered our gear, retrieved the line, and took the two big teeth home.
At the dock, I handed Ralph the big tooth he found. He said, “Keep it, Larry, I am the only man in this world who has survived being in the jaws of a prehistoric Great White Shark. I have a new mission in life. I am giving up fishing and fossil hunting and seek a far more elusive quarry, virgins.”
That was the last time Ralph boarded my boat. He quit the band and moved south.
A few months after that fateful day, I returned back to Mary’s Creek to recover that arch shaped section of jawbone that so radically changed my friend’s life. It must have been dragged into the river with the tide. The tree had washed away from a recent hurricane and the hole was silted in.
There is no on site evidence that the rest of that mega-jaw lies buried beneath the clay bottom of Mary’s Creek. There are only two teeth left for you to determine the truth.