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Cape Elizabeth Shipwrecks

This Exhibit Contains 15 Items


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Item 5726

Wreck of the Annie C. Maguire, December 24, 1886

Wreck of the Annie C. Maguire, December 24, 1886 / Maine Historical Society

Story by Chris Wallace

Images from Maine Historical Society

 

Item 5732

The wreck of the Alton A, 1972

The wreck of the Alton A, 1972 / Maine Historical Society

Fog, haze, rain, and snow would cause considerable problems for a ship. Adverse conditions could make it difficult, if not impossible, for a captain to locate landmarks, escape dangerous waters, or determine his own location.

 

Item 5741

Detail from a Map of Portland Harbour and islands

Detail from a Map of Portland Harbour and islands / Maine Historical Society

In one of the earliest documented wrecks, the schooner Charles was sailing in a thick fog on July 12, 1807, when the ship hit Watt's Ledge, knocking a large hole in the bottom of the vessel. The captain, Jacob Adams, had been confused in the fog and thought he was further from shore.

 

Item 5729

Wreck of the Bohemian, Cape Elizabeth, 1864

Wreck of the Bohemian, Cape Elizabeth, 1864 / Maine Historical Society

Any time a captain was disoriented, disaster might quickly follow. On the night of February 22, 1864, the steamer Bohemian was heading to Portland. The first officer had just taken the wheel when a buoy was spotted directly ahead. The engines were shut off in an attempt to slow the vessel, but it was too late. The Bohemian struck Alden's Rock, damaging the hull and ripping a gash in the engine room. Captain Richard Borland headed the vessel toward shore, eventually reaching Broad Cove, where the disabled steamer could proceed no further due to the amount of water she had taken on.

 

Item 5742

Detail of the 'List of drowned,' S.S. Bohemian, Feb. 22, 1864

Detail of the 'List of drowned,' S.S. Bohemian, Feb. 22, 1864 / Maine Historical Society

Anchors were dropped to keep the Bohemian from drifting seaward, and the captain ordered the lifeboats deployed. While most lifeboats were able to safely launch, a support pin in lifeboat number two gave way, spilling passengers into the ocean. Other lifeboats sailed without a full capacity, leaving around seventy passengers stranded on deck. Though Captain Borland managed to get fifty into the rigging, others were washed overboard as the ship settled into the water. Two crew members and a total of forty passengers, all from steerage class, perished.

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Item 5724

Deposition of James Hatter, 'Bohemian's' chief steward

Deposition of James Hatter, 'Bohemian's' chief steward / Maine Historical Society

In his deposition, Captain Borland testified "when we struck I was not certain where we were." The ship's officers, crew and some of the passengers were asked for their recollections of the night, and were questioned regarding the captains sobriety.
Here is an audio reading of this letter. The .mp3 file should play automatically:

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Item 5733

Portland Head Light, 1938

Portland Head Light, 1938 / Maine Historical Society

Errors in judgment sometimes seemed unavoidable. Lack of visibility on a rough sea, coupled with the guiding beacon of a lighthouse being shrouded in spray, made successful navigation of the coastline very difficult. During turbulent storms, waves have been known to break over Portland Head Light, almost obscuring the lighthouse from view.

 

Item 5734

A.C. Maguire, Cape Elizabeth, 1886

A.C. Maguire, Cape Elizabeth, 1886 / Maine Historical Society

There are times when it was not clear why a ship had wrecked. On the night of December 24, 1886, Weather Bureau journals show there was a 20 mph wind and a light rain. Though the crew of the Annie C. Maguire had seen the Portland Head Light through the rain, the schooner struck the rocks less than 100 feet from the lighthouse. The captain stated that he had lost his bearings and did not realize they were so near shore. Captain Thomas O'Neil, his family, and crew made it to safety with the help of the lighthouse keeper and his son.

 

Item 5728

Bay State side- wheel steamer ship grounded at Cape Elizabeth, Maine, 1916

Bay State side- wheel steamer ship grounded at Cape Elizabeth, Maine, 1916 / Maine Historical Society

Though weather was the cause of many tragedies, it could not be blamed for all of them. In September 1916, the Portland Lightship went in for repairs. Usually it was replaced with a similar looking vessel, but this time a buoy was used instead. On September 23, a thick fog contributed to Captain Foren mistaking the temporary buoy for the Old Anthony bell buoy that is located four miles further out to sea. This error caused him to alter the ships course, and consequently the steamer Bay State ran aground on Holycomb Reef.

 

Item 5743

The vessel 'Bay State', run aground September 23, 1916

The vessel 'Bay State', run aground September 23, 1916 / Maine Historical Society

The ship could not be floated off the rocks, and though the water in the area was rough, all aboard were safely evacuated. At the subsequent trial, the verdict stated that while the replacement buoy had contributed to the wreck, Captain Foren's mistake could not be excused.

 

Item 5739

Oakey L. Alexander aground, Cape Elizabeth, 1947

Oakey L. Alexander aground, Cape Elizabeth, 1947 / Maine Historical Society

One of the more incredible tales of shipwreck is the story of the Oakey L. Alexander. On March 3, 1947, the vessel was transporting a cargo of coal when it was caught in an 80 mph gale. The 5284 ton collier found itself at the mercy of the huge swells. At 4:46 a.m., a gigantic wave lifted the ship, and it seemed to all aboard as if the vessel hung in midair. While the ship sat motionless on the wave, a second wave crashed against it, breaking off a 130 foot section of the bow, one third of the ship, which immediately sank, taking more than 4500 tons of coal with it.

 

Item 5737

'Oakey Alexander' aground off Cape Elizabeth, 1947

'Oakey Alexander' aground off Cape Elizabeth, 1947 / Maine Historical Society

Checking for damage, Captain Raymond W. Lewis found that the ship had broken at the point of a new cross-bulkhead, which was keeping water from entering the damaged ship. As the crews quarters were only a few feet from the break, there was fear that some men may have disappeared with the bow. A count of the crew showed that no one had been in the bow when it sank. As the remaining portion of the ship was still afloat , the captain decided to try to head toward shore, hoping to run the ship aground.

 

Item 5738

Rescue of Oakey L. Alexander crew, Cape Elizabeth, 1947

Rescue of Oakey L. Alexander crew, Cape Elizabeth, 1947 / Maine Historical Society

As the crew gathered on deck, the engineers stayed below to keep the motors running. The captain proceeded slowly as he was afraid that the already compromised vessel would buckle due to the force of the waves. At 6:00 am, over an hour since they had lost the bow, the ship ran aground near High Head. Rescuers on the shore 600 feet away shot a line to the ship that was then secured to the bridge. As breakers pounded against the stranded vessel, the crew crossed above the swirling whitewater on a system of lines and pulleys. Over a tense two hour period, all thirty-one men aboard were safely evacuated.

 

Item 5735

Wreck of the Alton A, 1972

Wreck of the Alton A, 1972 / Maine Historical Society

Though storms still wreak havoc on the coast, advances in technology and in navigational equipment have contributed to a decrease in the tragedies associated with shipwrecks along Maine's rocky shorelines.

 

Item 1121

Slave ship, 1878

Slave ship, 1878 / Maine Historical Society

Bibliography
Bohemian Depositions and Papers, 1864 (MHS coll 949, series 3, box 1/1)
History of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, by William B. Jordan Jr. (c) 1965
Shipwrecks and Maritime Disasters of the Maine Coast, by Peter Bachelder (c) 1997
Old Portland Town, by Herbert G. Jones (c) 1938
New England Storms and Shipwrecks, by Edward Snow (c) 1984
Portland in the Past, by William Gould (c) 1886
True Tales of the Sea, by Edward Clarence Plummer (c) 1930

 

 

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