THE GREAT PODS of the Sargasso Sea, one of the 17 Ancient Wonders of the Northern Hemisphere, were first sighted in 1645 by Christopher Columbus V, descendant of the famous explorer for whom Ohio’s capital city is named.
Columbus V is mostly remembered for bringing linoleum from the Upper Mongolian Peninsula to parts of Europe. According to one translation, the peninsula’s women would chew the bark of the versatile lino tree (its leaves are still used today to make clothing, and its large, pink blossoms are considered a delicacy sautéed in peanut oil and wasabi). The women would grind the bark mash in a pestle before weaving and pressing the gooey pulp into colorful patterns on what eventually dried into a durable, stain- and scuff-resistant floor covering.
Columbus V is rumored to have encountered the Great Pods once or twice as he sailed through the Straits of Galway, bound for Portugal in his ship The Lederhosen, laden with rolls of linoleum. An entry from a journal found floating off the Azores relates that the giant pods towered over the ship as it passed below them, casting enormous shadows and making a whistling or moaning sound depending on the wind. Yet, despite the advent of radar and advanced surveillance technologies, there have been no confirmed Great Pod sightings since the War of 1812, when the hull of a supply ship sailing from Dunkirk to Detroit shattered after crashing into a pod’s woody stalk in the fog, leaving the sea awash in biscuits and kippers.
No one knows if the pods really exist, or where, or their purpose. The pods may have gone the way of the dinosaurs, destroyed in an earthquake or other natural disaster, succumbing to some predator or old age. Perhaps they still survive beyond our discovery, in uncharted territory. They are as elusive and rare as Sasquatch or Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster.
THE PAINTING IS BY the 17-century Flemish artist Johann Ecke (1612-1697), who accompanied Columbus V on several of his journeys as official portraitist and cook (Columbus V was especially fond of Ecke’s brandied duck). Ecke, one of the founders of the Broomcorn Movement that briefly swept through northern Spain, Cardiff, Wales, and the area known today as Greater Cleveland, made several studies of the pods, but this is his only surviving painting. Regrettably, it was also his last: Ecke went mad shortly after completing his masterpiece and never picked up a brush again, spending his remaining years chewing on a pillow in an asylum outside Antwerp.
International Society of Online Historians (ISOH)