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How Minnesota’s only underwater archaeologists find wrecks in Lake Minnetonka
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Melissa Turtinen / Photo by Melissa Turtinen  

Maritime Heritage Minnesota and its volunteers on May 30, 2019, pack the boat for a day on Lake Minnetonka looking for wrecks.

EXCELSIOR — A small boat is strategically packed with SCUBA gear — oxygen tanks line the stern — folding chairs, coolers and other bags of gear; some items shoved into every nook and cranny of the vessel.

It’s clear Ann Merriman and Christopher Olson of Maritime Heritage Minnesota have done this before. In fact, they’ve done this a lot, seeing as they’re the only two underwater archaeologists in Minnesota.

It’s just before 10 a.m. on May 30, 2019. Merriman and Olson, along with two volunteers, Kelly Nehowig and Mark Slick, and a Lakeshore Weekly News reporter are preparing to head out on Lake Minnetonka for the day to look for wrecks.

THE DIVE

The result of the 2019 work was recently published as a Lake Minnetonka Nautical Archaeology report. (This report, and previous reports, are available at maritimeheritagemn.org.)

That excursion last May was the first dive of the season.

At the time there was excitement among the Maritime Heritage Minnesota team — maybe over the fact Nehowig brought a container of cookies his wife baked, which are a favorite among the divers. Merriman jumped up and down when she saw them and made sure to carefully pack the container in the boat.

Maritime Heritage Minnesota will be spending this sunny day conducting underwater reconnaissance on anomalies that were previously captured on sonar imaging. Sonar is used to identify anomalies at the bottom of the lake, which might be human-made objects. Sometimes sonar signatures are obviously wrecks, but to answer specific questions about an anomaly, they’ll conduct SCUBA and sometimes use remote operated vehicles (ROVs) to collect hard data about the wreck or object.

Other anomalies don’t need to be dove upon because they can be identified “through their acoustical sonar signatures due to advancements in sonar technology” and compared to other anomalies that have already been identified and have similar signatures, Merriman said.

Their plan on this day is to focus on sonar anomalies in shallow water, hoping that since it is still so early in the season, weeds will not have yet covered up the site.

It was the first day of the diving season that would go on to include 35 dives, 17 days of targeted sonar scanning and two days of ROV work to confirm seven additional wrecks in Lake Minnetonka, identify several other anomalies as submerged cultural resources and do additional fieldwork on two previously discovered wrecks.

“All wrecks are significant no matter what they are made of, their condition and their age,” Merriman told Lakeshore Weekly News via email in January. “All sites and anomalies have and tell a story; some are more ‘interesting’ than others for a variety of reasons, but they are all significant and answer archaeological questions.”

Photo courtesy of Maritime Heritage Minnesota volunteers Kelly Nehowig and Mark Slick  

Photo courtesy of Maritime Heritage Minnesota volunteers Kelly Nehowig and Mark Slick

The Steel Row Boat Wreck was confirmed in Lake Minnetonka on May 30, 2019.

Underwater reconnaissance

Once everything is securely packed in the boat, it’s off to dive on the first anomaly. Maritime Heritage Minnesota does not publicize where it finds wrecks or maritime sites in order to preserve the integrity of the historic sites.

Using GPS coordinates, they boat toward the anomaly. When they get close, Merriman launches a buoy with a diver flag near the site (sometimes it lands right on the site, other times divers have to swim a bit to get to the site), then they drop the anchor and prepare to jump in.

The preparation part takes time — there’s a lot of equipment and gear to check and put on. Only Olson, Nehowig and Slick are diving today, so Merriman helps them get their gear on. Nehowig and Slick are the videographers, armed with cameras, and jump in first to take video of the site before Olson gets in and stirs up the site, they said.

When they get enough footage, Olson, with a dive slate and measuring tape attached to his suit, begins his work, measuring and taking notes using a No. 2 pencil (they work “great” underwater, Merriman said). They’ll use this information, along with videos the volunteers capture, in their research to determine more information about the site.

Melissa Turtinen / Photo by Melissa Turtinen  

Ann Merriman, left, makes notes on a board before Christopher Olson, right, dives on a site. Olson will use a No. 2 pencil to write down the size and other characteristics of the site while underwater. They say No. 2 pencils write “great” under water.

Diving on anomalies is just one part of identifying wrecks at the bottom of the lake, and only a portion of their time is actually spent in the water. In fact, Merriman rarely gets in — she lets Olson and the volunteers do that because they like it — and instead stays on the boat, keeping a watchful eye on any approaching boats to make sure they don’t get within 150 feet (it’s the law) of the diver flags that are on the boat and on the buoy near the dive site. When they do, she is quick to yell “Divers below” until they move away.

Melissa Turtinen / Photo by Melissa Turtinen  

Ann Merriman of Maritime Heritage Minnesota launches the diver below buoy when they get to the site of an unidentified anomaly on Lake Minnetonka on May 30, 2019.

This scene plays out frequently, and Merriman’s frustration grows with each boat that gets too close, putting the divers at risk.

“Please, boaters, please be respectful of the diver down flag — it’s the law, but it’s common sense and the lake is busy enough without MHM and our volunteers having to fear for our safety,” Merriman told the newspaper. “The diver down flag does not mean that we are in trouble — it means we need you to stay away from us.”

Divers will spend anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes on a dive, depending on the depth and size of the site. After the divers have collected all the information they need, it’s time to get back on the boat.

“Getting in is easy,” Nehowig said. The hardest part is getting on the boat after a dive, the divers agreed.

On the first dive, they identified a wreck. After some discussion about the wreck, which was later identified as the Fiberglassed Plywood Outboard Wreck that likely sank around 1976, it’s off to the site of a vessel built in the mid-1950s at a location identified as the Triple Pontoon Boat Wreck Site.

Photo courtesy of Maritime Heritage Minnesota volunteers Kelly Nehowig and Mark Slick  

The Triple Pontoon Boat Wreck was confirmed in Lake Minnetonka during a dive on May 30, 2019.

In between the second and third dives of the day, the boat stops for a quick lunch — Merriman supplied Lunchables and soda to eat while sitting on the small folding chairs/stools they brought aboard — and then it’s back to identify more anomalies.

On this outing, they dove on more than five sites, confirming three wrecks and identifying a handful of other submerged sites. But their work isn’t complete.

Research

Maritime Heritage Minnesota will use the information gathered during their fieldwork on May 30, and any subsequent outings, to conduct maritime historical research so Merriman and Olson can answer even more questions about the wrecks and anomalies, such as determining the wreck’s manufacturer, age, sinking date, etc., Merriman said. With some sites, they’ll fill out an archaeological site form to submit to the Minnesota Office of the State Archaeologist for a site number.

There are hundreds of remaining anomalies in Lake Minnetonka, and so long as there is grant funding and in-kind donations, Maritime Heritage Minnesota will continue to investigate the unknown anomalies in the lake until there are no more left to identify, Merriman said.


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Business
The local cobbler: A colorful sole (copy)

WACONIA — Tamas “Zen” Pomazi was walking down Waconia Parkway on a summer day, heading toward town. He pushed his toddler in a fancy Swedish stroller with “Biggie Smalls,” a little white chihuahua, by his side.

“Don’t you know I’m gangster,” Pomazi recalls he yelled into his cellphone. Who he was yelling at, he doesn’t remember, but it was probably someone who owed him money, he said.

A few minutes went by until his wife, who witnessed the scene, told him to look at himself and what he was doing, Pomazi said.

Still angry, he looked down to see his son and dog and remembered where he was. At that moment he realized he wasn’t gangster anymore, he laughed.

Photos by Lydia Christianson  

Pomazi working on a shoe in his workshop in Waconia.

In a workshop in the back of a warehouse, Pomazi, of Waconia, a master cobbler and owner and founder of Greenwich Vintage Co., diligently repairs and resoles shoes and boots with his unique colored soles.

These shoes might come from a thrift shop, online, or someone bringing in a pair they want refurbished. He doesn’t have a brick and mortar store, but his work can be found at its site greenwichvintage.us.

LIFE BEFORE COBBLING

Pomazi was born in Yonkers, New York, in 1969. As Pomazi likes to say he was “born in New York and raised in L.A.” After his parents divorced, his mom brought him to Las Vegas for a brief period. Then off to West L.A.

Growing up in L.A. and being surrounded by older guys who did graffiti is what got Pomazi into graffiti. He was already fascinated with it before he left the Bronx, but those who participated in that scene kept it quiet.

“In L.A. it was so new that nobody really knew what to do of it,” he said. It was the 1980s and authorities in L.A. had other things going on besides policing graffiti. “It was kind of wide open for us when we were kids,” he said.

An inclination toward the arts was bred young. His father, an oil painter, was one of Pomazi’s biggest influences in art and where he gets some of his artistic ability. “I remember sitting on his knee when he was doing paintings,” he said.

Pomazi came from a Hungarian background. Strong Jewish Hungarian women shaped his upbringing. His mother’s Hungarian girlfriends were always around and felt like family to him. He was the first boy in the family and was doted on because of it. His grandma “ran around with a wooden spoon trying to feed me all the time,” he said.

After a brief time living in Belgium, Pomazi came back to the U.S. and attended San Diego State. He floundered a bit going back to L.A. so he found and attended the Art Institute of Seattle. “That’s when I really got into doing graphic design and doing a lot of art,” he said. He even started doing graffiti in Seattle.

But along with involvement in graffiti, came a lifestyle. During this time of his life, Pomazi was living as “the persona of ‘Zen One’ the graffiti writer. A blunt-smoking, beer-swilling, gun-toting gangster,” he said. He had gotten these illusions of grandeur from watching too much “Scarface” and “Goodfellas,” he said.

Pomazi had been dealing narcotics and was sentenced to do time in prison. Art continued to be a staple in his life. “In prison you have to have a hustle to get along,” he said, but he wasn’t interested in doing people’s laundry or working in the cafeteria.

Other inmates would come to him for greeting cards and postcards. “Guys would come up to me ‘Hey can you draw a rose on the envelope to my old girl,’” he recalled. Eventually he graduated to tattooing in prison.

Tattooing was not only time consuming, but also led to a paranoid state of mind, he said. Other tattoo artists would turn you in so that you weren’t competition. Pomazi was even sent to solitary confinement for his work.

POMAZI’S EPIPHANY

In solitary confinement, Pomazi had a chance to mull over a previous visit. His mom had brought his 85-year-old grandma all the way from Hungary to visit him in prison. She previously had a stroke, so she was in a wheelchair.

Pomazi revered his grandma. When she was wheeled in he could see that she was disappointed. She tapped him and told him in Hungarian to come closer to her. She had a secret to tell him that she didn’t want anyone else to hear.

“Grandma, I can’t get any closer,” Pomazi recalled saying. She smacked him in the head and made him promise he’ll never come back to prison. The visit was over and he hugged her goodbye.

He never saw his grandma again. She died only a few months later. He took it hard that he wasn’t able to be there for her in the end and wouldn’t be there to bury her. He still had years of his sentence to serve. But in solitary, his grandma’s words rang true. It got him thinking about wanting to be a better person.

Another pivotal moment happened while talking with two other inmates. They asked him what he had planned for himself when he got out of prison. At that moment, he realized his mother escaped Communist Hungary to go to America and did everything she could to give him a better life. All of that, for him to be stuck in prison. “It hit me like a ton of bricks,” Pomazi said.

“That’s when I said ‘I’m done’” with getting in trouble, with the drinking, the drugs, with the lifestyle he was living. He befriended a man that was serving a life sentence. “People doing life don’t have anything to lose, they won’t lie to you,” he said. He took Pomazi under his wing and introduced him to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Between his grandmother and the epiphany about his mother’s sacrifices, “that was the final straw,” Pomazi said. He was ready to get out, be a better person and work hard. “I’m happy to say that I’ve kept my promise to my grandmother,” Pomazi said.

People ask him what he was addicted to. Was it the alcohol, the money, the drugs? Pomazi’s answer is simple “I was addicted to the game.” All of the other things just came along with it. “I loved it so much they had to put me in prison,” he said.

NEW GAME

But the game has changed for Pomazi. He has been sober for 22 years. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s pretty close. “I wake up, look at my phone and go ‘What can I create today?’” He gets the satisfaction of putting something together that will make a person happy, and he knows they will be wearing his shoes for a long time.

After Pomazi got out of prison he moved to Minnesota in 2000. His stepbrother gave him an opportunity with his business. When that didn’t pan out, he started customizing sneakers for local rappers and did murals in Minneapolis. At a certain point he was done with sneakers. “Then it was like a natural progression into grown man shoes, wingtips, doing my own thing,” he said.

At a summer wedding is where he had his “aha” moment. When his stepfather died, he left Pomazi with a bunch of his old wingtip shoes. He decided to wear a pair for the event, but by the time he got to the venue, his shoes had become unbearable to wear.

Photos by Lydia Christianson  

Pomazi with his camouflage shoe soles. “I wake up, look at my phone and go ‘What can I create today?’” he said.

The rest of the night at the wedding Pomazi puzzled over how he could make the shoes more comfortable. He later realized no one in the shoe industry was doing colored soles. “That’s where the spark went off in my brain. There’s a hole in the market,” he said. He got his start renting space in Papa’s Shoe Repair as well as hand-pouring the shoe soles in his home basement using molds he made himself.

Photo by Lydia Christianson  

Pomazi with his glow-in-the-dark shoe soles. He was drawn to the arts as a child; his father was one of Pomazi’s biggest influences in art.

Things have changed since Pomazi started. Papa’s Shoe Repair went out of business. Pomazi bought the machinery that he would need from the shop. Now, he works in the warehouse in the back of the building where the shop once was.

What hasn’t changed is the work Pomazi puts into his craft. He is still hand-pouring his signature colored soles in the basement of his home. He prides himself not only on his craftsmanship but also his customer service, he said. “You call my number, you’re not talking to an empty shell of a company that doesn’t have a personality,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Greenwich Vintage Co.  

A pair of boots fitted with glow-in-the-dark soles.

FAMILY MAN

“I don’t know where I’d be without her. I definitely wouldn’t be here,” Pomazi said of his wife. She guides him on strategy and marketing behind the scenes at Greenwich Vintage Co.

The two met when she was selling her grandmother’s couch on Craigslist. He was with his friend who wanted to buy the couch. After meeting her, the couch was the last thing on his mind. When he said he didn’t want it, she said “OK” and slammed the door in his face, Pomazi recalled.

A couple of emails went back and forth between them until one night. Pomazi was working on a legal graffiti job in Minneapolis when she called him. “She goes, ‘If you can find me, you can take me out on a date,’” he said.

After they found each other she brought him to a Thai place that was “inedible,” he laughed. Now, they’ve been married for almost 10 years, he said.

Their son Elijah Pomazi is 5 years old. He likes to watch his dad work on shoes in the workshop. What keeps Pomazi driven is in large part, his son.

“When you’re just the guy in Waconia trying to do what you can do to survive. It is very tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. Sometimes he considers going and just taking some job. “But how does that leave anything for my son at the end of the day. I want my son to be his own boss.”

Mary Bloomgren, Pomazi’s mother-in-law, describes him as “a great family man,” she said. “He’s a great husband to our daughter and a fabulous father to our grandson.”

NOT JUST CUSTOMERS

Customers become friends when they meet Pomazi. Luke Ibis remembered seeing the colored sole work in a local publication and soon after followed his Instagram page. Ibis met Pomazi about a pair of shoes he wanted done. The two connected discussing a shared interest in sneakers.

When Ibis got remarried in 2017 he invited Pomazi and his wife. When Pomazi walked up to the groom’s dinner, “he’s got this gigantic smile on his face,” he recalled. The first thing he does is grab Ibis and start fixing his pocket square to how he thought it should be.

“Then he walks into the house and basically proceeds to charm and talk everyone’s ear off including my 90-year-old grandmother,” Ibis said. From a first impression he’s a bit intimidating, you might not expect him to be that kind of guy. But, “he’s definitely got the gift of gab,” he said. Everyone was saying at the end of the night “who was that guy?” Ibis said.

Photo by Lydia Christianson  

Tamas “Zen” Pomazi working on a pair of boots.

Another friend he met through Greenwich Vintage Co. is Freddie Brown, who was checking out Pomazi’s website and wanted to have his shoes worked on. Pomazi told him to come out to Waconia so they could figure something out. The two got to talking and realized they had similar interests.

Brown recalls receiving three missed calls from Pomazi when he was in Cleveland looking at shoe repair equipment. Filled with excitement he told Brown he had found a pair of size 16 wides in a warehouse. Exactly Brown’s size and somewhat difficult to find. Those are “still my favorite pair of boots,” Brown said.

However, Pomazi’s dedication goes farther than shoes. When Brown’s son was getting himself into trouble, Pomazi offered to talk with him. He “ruffled his feathers” a bit, he said. Brown appreciated that Pomazi cared whether or not his son turned out OK. “It’s hard to find people who really care nowadays,” he said.


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