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Benson, Minn., luthier's opinion is part of heated debate over Titanic

Ken Amundson ruined what had been a perfectly-good violin in his experiment by dunking it overnight in a barrel of cold saltwater. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

BENSON -  On a chilly night in Benson, Ken Amundson took a perfectly-good violin, placed it in a leather case, and submerged it outside his home in a barrel of water liberally doused with sea salt.

In the morning he discovered he had ruined the violin, and that he was now in the middle of a debate raging across the Atlantic.

"It was in pieces,'' said Amundson of the violin.

Related story: Luthier knows no better place than home to practice his craft (with video)

The question under debate is whether the violin played by bandmaster Wallace Hartley as the RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic could have survived in reasonable condition after bobbing for 20 days in the cold saltwater, strapped to the musician's body and held inside a leather case.

The London auction house of Henry Aldridge and Son claims it did, and that this very violin will be auctioned off Oct. 19.

It claims the violin and the case that held it had been recovered along with the musician's body.

It has brought forward the opinions of forensic scientists and some of the world's foremost collectors of Titanic memorabilia to support its claim.

Daniel Allen Butler, well-known author and historian on sea-faring matters, is among those who have challenged the claim. Knowing Ken Amundson's reputation as a luthier, he had contacted him for an opinion. Could a violin survive days in the ocean and remain in fair shape?

Related story: Luthier knows no better place than home to practice his craft (with video)

Amundson said he was so intrigued by the question that he was willing to sacrifice a violin to conduct his experiment.

Amundson doesn't doubt that the violin to be auctioned belonged to the famous band master. A metal name plate is on the violin indicating it was a gift to Hartley from his fiancé, he said.

A metal nameplate would have compromised its sound, said Amundson.

He believes the musician kept the violin at home as a treasured keepsake, and would never have used it while performing.

Others hold far different opinions on the whole matter. The story is told in far more detail by the BCC:

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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