Thursday, 22 February 2024 13:14

Former Saratoga Teacher Admitted Into Royal Geographical Society

Wilton resident  Joseph W. Zarzynski examines a French and Indian War powder horn at Fort William Henry Museum. Photo by M. P. Meaney. Wilton resident Joseph W. Zarzynski examines a French and Indian War powder horn at Fort William Henry Museum. Photo by M. P. Meaney.

WILTON — A Wilton resident and maritime archaeologist who studied Lake George shipwrecks was admitted as a Fellow into the Royal Geographical Society earlier this month. 

In the 1980s, Joseph W. Zarzynski was a Saratoga Springs school teacher whose life took an unexpected turn when a friend of his found a World War II bomber in Loch Ness. Zarzynski took a leave of absence from teaching, went to Scotland, and thought “wow, I want to be an underwater archaeologist.”  Zarzynski went back to school and earned a second master’s degree in Archaeology and Heritage from the University of Leicester in England.

While in upstate New York, Zarzynski took up recreational diving in Lake George, and became fascinated by the shipwrecks there. “A group of British shipwrecks were put into the lake in what is called a ‘wet storage’ in the winter of 1758,” Zarzynski said. The British decided to sink the fleet in shallow water and raise them in the spring of 1759 for a campaign against the French in the Champlain Valley. “It was pretty difficult raising vessels, so there were probably four dozen plus that were not recovered,” Zarzynski said. “So they became the focal point of some research we did in earnest from 1987 right up until I stopped diving in the lake in 2016.”

From 1987 until 2011, Zarzynski directed Bateaux Below, a nonprofit that mapped dozens of Lake George shipwrecks.  In 1990, he led the team that used a Klein side scan sonar to discover the 1758 Land Tortoise radeau, a floating gun battery from the French and Indian War. In 1998, the Land Tortoise was listed as a National Historic Landmark. A few years ago,  Zarzynski’s book, “Ghost Fleet Awakened: Lake George’s Sunken Bateaux of 1758” was published by SUNY Press. It was Zarzynski’s use of geography in studying the famed “Sunken Fleet of 1758” that helped land him in the Royal Geographical Society after a lengthy application process.

Zarzynski will be teaching several workshops at the Fort William Henry Museum in Lake George later this year. Museum visitors can also visit the underwater archaeology exhibit room to see a painting of a 31-foot long shipwreck created by a nonprofit that Zarzynski spearheads. His eight book, “Fort William Henry’s Moments in Time” was published in August of last year. 

The Royal Geographical Society was founded in London in 1830. According to the organization’s website, “the Society’s purpose remains the same today as when first founded, namely the advancement of geographical science.” In addition to Zarzynski, other Fellows include Sir Ernest Shackleton, Sir Edmund Hillary, and Clive Cussler.

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