By James D. Charlet © 2011
The United States Life-Saving
Service is one of the least-know yet most fascinating aspects of American
history. These were the men who made the heroic rescues of shipwreck
victims. This service would eventually give rise to the modern
United States Coast Guard. Here is how it all came to be.
Since colonial days, America's only coast at the time was plagued by disastrous loss of life, goods and ships. For many years this continued unabated. There were sporadic but amateur efforts to redress this critical issue: local volunteer efforts, huts built on the beach with survival supplies which would always promptly be raided, and even some official state efforts in New England. Finally, a full century after becoming a nation, the United States Government asked this question: "What can WE do to correct this situation?" The answer was two-fold. Prevention was the first priority. If mariners could be forewarned of dangerous coasts and shoals with enough time to react, then shipwrecks could be avoided. So in 1870, the United States Light-House Establishment was created. The idea was that if a substantial tower was erected it could display a visible elevated light at night or during low visibility daytime storms such that ships could see it and then be aware of how close they were to particular navigation hazards. In addition, if this light flash had a "signature" to distinguish itself then it would provide a precise location giving ships captains exact latitude and longitude. Their charts could then do the rest to help them avert danger. Finally, if distinctive markings were painted on the towers, this would provide the same signature for daytime and fair weather.
The second part of the plan
followed the next year. The question to be answered now was "What
can we do if ships wreck in spite of these warnings?" The answer
was the establishment of the United States Life-Saving Service in 1871.
This would consist of strategically located coastal stations professionally
manned and equipped whose sole job was to come to the aid of shipwreck
victims. These men were called "surfmen." The man in
charge of each station was called the "Keeper," - the same as, and
often today confused with, the man in charge of a light station.
The first United States Life-Saving Service (USLSS) stations were built in New England, our population center at the time. But very soon attention was focused on "the Graveyard of the Atlantic," the treacherous coast of North Carolina. The first station to be built and manned there was Chicamacomico (chic-a-ma-COM-i-co). That superlative alone makes it a special place, but there would be more. The station was located on a spot on Hatteras Island that was the farthest point east in the state. Just how far east is this point? If one follows a longitude line from this point due south, then the first land encountered is Cuba! Chicamacomico is 300 miles east of Jacksonville, Florida. Obviously this critical and strategic point needed to be the starting place, and so it was.
Ships' captains traversing the main U. S. shipping lane were going north or south along our Atlantic coast. When they came to North Carolina, they had to make a decision. There were only two safe ports on either end of the state: Wilmington on the south and Chesapeake to the north. In between was 300 nautical miles. At an average speed of five knots for this trip, under ideal circumstances, it would take the typical sailing ship of this day the better part of three full days to make passage. A lot of sudden weather changes can occur during that time on the Outer Banks. Period weather forecasting was limited to observations of the horizon, a distance of only seven and a half miles at sea-level. Today it is inconceivable for us to imagine that anything as enormous as a hurricane could be coming in that we didn't know about weeks in advance. But mariners in the 1700 and 1800s did not have this advantage. It can be a glorious day for a long time just seven and a half miles away…when the terror is seen it is simply too late. This, of course, was not the only factor in the Graveyard of the Atlantic. There was this whole business of having to go an additional 300 miles east to clear North Carolina. Then as now, time was money. Many ship's captains decided to cut corners and would come too close. It often ended in disaster… and then would be heard the cry "Ship ashore!" Enter the surfmen of the United States Life-Saving Service.
Chicamacomico, like all United States Life-Saving Service stations, was regulated by the strict rules laid down by Sumner Kimball, the first (and only) national Superintendent of the USLSS. Much like modern firemen or rescue squads, Life-Savers would have spent a great deal of their time simply waiting for a disaster to happen. Hence the comprehensive and detailed manual (see sidebar). Each surfman had specific duties and all had a week that was highly structured and regulated. They spent many hours in practice drills to perfect the various skills needed in their dangerous job. They also spent as many hours with the mundane but necessary chores of station maintenance, painting, cleaning, and upkeep of their equipment. Reportedly, a surfman was once asked to describe what his daily life was like. His answer was something like "it is hours and days and weeks upon end of excruciating boredom interrupted occasionally by a few minutes of sheer terror!"
When built, the 1874 station existed in a far different environment than it is today. Now Hatteras Island is a famous resort. Then, it was extremely remote. (Sidebar: As recently as 1900, Wilbur Wright had taken a train from Dayton Ohio to the Chesapeake area of Virginia, and then steamer to Norfolk and another train to Elizabeth City, NC to begin his experiments in Kitty Hawk. There were no other commercial carriers available at this point, so Wilbur began asking people how he could get there. Elizabeth City is only 48 miles north of Kitty Hawk, yet no one he asked had ever heard of the place! He finally came upon an old salt, Israel Perry, who had a rickety old boat, was willing to take him there, and knew pretty much where Kitty Hawk was.) In 1874 there were no roads or bridges on Hatteras Island; it was accessible only by boat. Although it had few natural resources, the ones Hatteras Island did have were abundant. A basic living could be eked out with the enormous amounts and varieties of seafood- fish, crabs, oysters, shrimp, and clams. Waterfowl were extremely plentiful, such as ducks, geese, and swans. There were forest critters like squirrels, rabbits, and raccoons. Vegetable gardens could produce supplements for a basic diet. Unlike today, then Hatteras Island was covered with extensive hardwood forests. These provided building materials for houses and boats. All other supplies had to be imported. Ironically, the frequent shipwrecks on these shores brought many basic as well as exotic materials- often in great quantities- right to the resident's doors!
From 1874 until 1911, the men
from the Chicamacomico station lived this "Banker" (slang for "resident
of the Outer Banks"- the term Outer Banks itself originally referred
only to the combination of Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands) lifestyle
and went about their duties and daily routines. They responded
to many situations during these years. The vast majority of rescue
attempts were successful, but naturally there were some failures as
well. In addition to their own work, the Chicamacomico crew also
assisted their sister stations in other rescues, as all Life-Saving
Service stations did. Gull Shoals station was five miles south
of Chicamacomico, and the Pea Island station was six miles to the north.
(sidebar- "Richard Ethridge and the Pea Island Life-Saving station)
An entirely new station and
outbuildings were constructed in 1911 to expand and upgrade the old
structures. All of the latter were mercifully retained.
The "old station" was at first used for storage and eventually served
as the ocean-side boathouse. It was there that Surfboat Number 1046
was kept. In 1915, the United States Life-Saving Service merged
with the United States Revenue Cutter Service to form an organization
that everyone now is familiar with: the United States Coast Guard.
The Mirlo Rescue
Under this new name, the United States Coast Guard, but with all the old values, on August the 16th, 1918, there occurred here what one author describes as "perhaps THE most dramatic rescue in US Maritime History." World War I had raged for four years. German "U-boats" were decimating Allied shipping along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts unchallenged. As per regulations, the watchtower of the new Chicamacomico Station was manned for constant lookout. On duty this day was Leroy Midgett. From his position in the tower, he had been observing the northward passage of a foreign tanker five miles offshore. It was the British ship Mirlo. She had taken on a full cargo of 6,679 tons of gasoline in New Orleans and was proceeding home with this vital wartime materiel. At 4:00 p.m. he could scarcely believe his eyes on this clear, warm and sunny August day as an explosion rocked the Mirlo. The ship immediately changed course, as the captain had obviously decided to attempt to beach the stricken vessel. But there was another explosion. Then another. This last one split the Mirlo in half, dumping those thousands of gallons of highly inflammable liquids into the sea. Gasoline floats on water. And then it ignited. An inferno ensued. Acres of walls of flames extended as high as 100 feet according to some witnesses. Captain William Rouse Williams of the Mirlo had three lifeboats launched. One got away safely. The second was overloaded so much so that the oars could not be used properly, and it could only drift aimlessly as the sailors watched the burning seas slowly catch up to them. Sometimes the lifeboat nearly swamped amid this horror. The third fouled in the riggings on the way down, capsized, and catapulted its occupants into this inferno.
John Allen "Cap'n Johnny" Midgett, Jr., the keeper in charge of
Chicamacomico had immediately responded to Leroy Midgett's announcement
from the lookout tower. Surfboat No. 1046 was launched with six
lifesavers aboard. Due to heavy surf, it took them thirty minutes
to get out to sea. During this daring and strenuous rescue, John
Allen Midgett, Jr. and his crew of surfboat No. 1046 encountered
Mirlo lifeboat No. 1, instructing them to wait for their help. They
then went through the wall of flames, which scorched the paint and blistered
the wood on their surfboat, to rescue the survivors of the capsized
lifeboat. They next searched seven miles south to locate the overloaded
drifting third lifeboat. Surfboat No. 1046 towed all survivors
to shore. NINE HOURS AFTER THE INCIDENT began, forty-two British
sailors were landed safe and alive on the beach of Chicamacomico.
Almost immediately, the six Chicamacomico surfmen were awarded the King
George Medal for Bravery. Shortly thereafter they received the
United States Gold Lifesaving Medal of Honor. Some years later,
they all were honored with another commendation. In 1906, Congress
created the highest award the US Government would issue. It was
called the Grand Cross of the American Cross of Honor. There were
extremely stringent requirements to be met for this award. In
the entire history of this medal, only eleven were ever issued nationwide.
SIX OF THOSE ELEVEN went to the crew of Chicamacomico Surfboat No. 1046.
That very boat sits inside the 1874 station today.
Life changed slowly on Hatteras Island. Its isolation greatly restricted outside influence and perpetuated a continuance of the old ways. By the year 1954, however, several changes did occur that had profound impacts. Hatteras Island got its very first paved road that year, vastly improving travel time and contact on the island. Years earlier, the telegraph and then the telephone had done the same for improving communications. What would produce THE single biggest impact for the United States Coast Guard was the invention and perfection of the helicopter. These speedy and highly maneuverable machines could be stationed safely much farther away yet still get to a rescue site more quickly. "Choppers" could also cover a much larger range as well as stay out longer than a surfboat. Modern, larger, more powerful boats could do the same. The last breaches buoy rescue performed by the United States Coast Guard was also in that same year of 1954.
Thinking now changed. The design, location and number of stations were seriously reconsidered. In that momentous year of 1954, the Chicamacomico Station was totally abandoned.
Staff moved elsewhere or retired. Chicamacomico was alone and lost. Forgotten. Neglected, it fell into obvious disrepair. [pic] Vandalism, storms and time took their toll. There was even talk to burn the neglected original station. Gallantly to its rescue came the formation of the Chicamacomico Historical Association in 1974. They faced twenty years of deterioration, but miraculously all seven buildings remained. As a private, nonprofit 501(c)(3), entirely through volunteer efforts, restoration began. Starting in 1983, the first steps were taken. Efforts spearheaded by Carolista Baum, David Stick, and Woodrow Edwards began to manifest dramatic, tangible results due to the work of restorer Ken Wenberg. Today the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site can boast of this amazing superlative: it is the only existing US Life-Saving Service complex in the US with ALL of its original buildings
Chicamacomico was -and is-
a particularly proud member of a very proud service. In the history
of the United States Life-Saving Service nation-wide, from 1874 until
1915, surfmen combined to come to the aid of 178,000 shipwreck victims
whose lives were in peril. Of those, 177,000 were saved.
That is an incredible success record of 99.4%! Equally incredible,
when one remembers the circumstances under which the surfmen worked,
was their own loss of life while performing rescues during this same
period was less than 1%. Truly amazing American heroes.
A legendary motto was born on Hatteras Island that says volumes about
these men: reportedly, a surfman expressed concern about the conditions
they were facing in preparing for a rescue. The Keeper responded
"The book says we gotta go out, it doesn't say a damn thing about
coming back!" The Service proudly used that motto thereafter.
And It Just Keeps Getting Better
Most visitors to Chicamacomico commonly use terms like "magical," "fascinating," and "incredible" to describe their experience at the site. Many come back year after year, not just to see and hear the same things, but to simply soak up its unique ambiance. Besides, they always find something new. There are changing displays, exhibits, demonstrations, formal and informal programs, original and unusual artifacts, and annual special events. But more than all of that is the place itself. It is a very special place. It tells a heroic story of not only the men who worked there to save other's lives, but a heroic story of how it saved itself.
During the winter of 2005,
four of the outbuildings and one of the water tanks were relocated to
form two distinct historic districts: 1874 and 1911. As a bonus,
a nearby 1907 Hatteras Island house with direct connections to Chicamacomico
and the United States Life-Saving Service was moved onto the site.
This opens an entirely new and important interpretive theme: family
life. Chicamacomico is now an even more very special place.
In the same memorable month the move began, Chicamacomico added another star to its crown. For years, Rear Admiral Stephen Rochon of the United States Coast Guard had wanted to tell the dramatic story of the Pea Island Life-Savers in a powerful way. He had researched and then scripted a documentary. Filming took place primarily on the NC Outer Banks. The original Pea Island Station was long gone, but the 1874 Chicamacomico Station was nearly identical, so obviously it became a primary set. Actual Coast Guardsmen portrayed the Life-Savers. The film was narrated by James Earl Jones and music was by award-winning composer Bobby Horton. The Outer Banks Premiere was sponsored and hosted by Chicamacomico. It was a huge success.
If You're Going
The Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site is located in the small village of Rodanthe, North Carolina on Hatteras Island. From the north, travelers will proceed south on US 158 to the Outer Banks, going through the towns of Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head. Follow signage from Nags Head towards Hatteras Island, turning onto NC Highway 12 South. There you enter the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and will be proceeding south on Bodie (pronounced "Body") Island. On the way, you will pass the Bodie Island Lighthouse. Soon you will come to Oregon Inlet, which you cross over via the two and one-half mile long, very scenic Bonner Bridge. Hatteras Island awaits on the other side. The fist 12 miles is the Pea Island Wildlife National Refuge, a birders paradise. Rising on the flat, barren horizon in the distance like the Emerald City will be the village of Rodanthe Only 7/10 of a mile further, on the left, is Chicamacomico. The entire trip from exiting Nags Head to the site is only 30 minutes, but you will want to make numerous stops along the way. From Chicamacomico to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is only another 30 minutes south, and Ocracoke Island is now within striking distance! A very worthwhile and rewarding trip.
From the west travelers will approach the Outer Banks on US 64. Continue to Nags Head, turning right on NC 12 South.
From the south travelers will be coming from Ocracoke. Simply proceed north, for Hatteras Island still only has one road! You will pass through the villages of Hatteras, Frisco, Buxton, Avon, and then "Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo". This can be confusing. You actually will be passing through Salvo, Waves, and then Rodanthe, but you will not be able to tell one from another. Years ago they were quite distinct, but now they have all blended together. The first village you come to from the south will be Salvo. When you pass the Post Office, you are in Waves. When you pass the theme park on both sides of the road, you are in Rodanthe. As soon as you see the Water Treatment Plant on your right, put on your right blinker, Chicamacomico is right around the corner!
Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site is a private, non-profit organization funded entirely by admission fees, grants and donations. They can be contacted via
Sidebar 1- "Light-House Service vs. Life-Saving Service: What is the Difference?"
Glorified and romanticized, the lighthouse keeper's job was actually quite simple, mundane, and routine. Typically he was the sole employee on the site. His job was simply to light the lantern each evening and put it out every morning. All other duties were offshoots of that: wash the lantern house windows, clean the lenses, trim the wicks, haul the kerosene, wind the weights, and general maintenance around the tower and the site. These rarely required a full 40 hour week, so the light keeper enjoyed a fair amount of free time. The Service also usually provided a home suitable for a family, so he lived at his workplace. What North Carolina lighthouse keepers did not do was perform rescues. They had neither the equipment nor the training to do that, and certainly not the personnel required.
Sidebar 2: "Confusing Dates: When Did it Begin?"
One will encounter three vastly different dates tracing the origin of the United States Life-Saving Service and the United States Coast Guard. Those dates are 1790, 1848, and 1871. Here is a brief clarification. The date on the U. S. Coast Guard's shield is 1790. The official Coast Guard web page (www.uscg.mil) puts it this way.
The United States Coast Guard is this nation's oldest and its premier maritime agency. The history of the Service is very complicated because it is the amalgamation of five Federal agencies. These agencies, the Revenue Cutter Service, the Lighthouse Service, the Steamboat Inspection Service, the Bureau of Navigation, and the Lifesaving Service, were originally independent, but had overlapping authorities and were shuffled around the government. They sometimes received new names, and they were all finally united under the umbrella of the Coast Guard. The multiple missions and responsibilities of the modern Service are directly tied to this diverse heritage and the magnificent achievements of all of these agencies.
The 1790 date
was the establishment of the U. S. Revenue Marine (later changed to
"Cutter") Service. The first Federal agency to be called the
United States Life-Saving Service was, in fact, created in 1848.
However, it was it was highly ineffective, and not national at all.
It served only the coasts of New Jersey and Long Island. It was
poorly run, equipped, and staffed. It floundered for years until
public outcries from horrible ship wrecks demanded reform.
Sumner Kimball was hired in 1871 as the first national superintendent
of the Service, and the complete turn-around of the Service is entirely
attributable to him. Thus most historians correctly use the 1871
date as the beginning of the United States Life-Saving Service.
Sidebar 3: "Richard Etheridge and the Pea Island Life-Savers"
Chicamacomico's sister station to the north was established in 1878, only four years after Chicamacomico. Just a year later, its keeper was fired for dereliction of duty. His replacement was the highly competent Richard Etheridge. His qualifications included service in the United States Army, having a key role in the success of the Freedman's Colony on Roanoke Island, and experience as a surfman in the United States Life-Saving Service. His only disadvantage was that this was a mere 15 years after the conclusion of the brutal Civil War, and Etheridge was a black man. Expectedly, his all white crew quit. Undaunted and with no other option, Etheridge hired an all-black crew. Four months later, their station mysteriously burned to the ground. Due to these circumstances, the Pea Island crew felt that they must do a superior job just to be considered equal. They excelled.
A hurricane in October of 1986
would indelibly put into the record books testimony to the superlative
job done by this crew. A three-masted schooner, the E.
S. Newman, foundered just offshore from the Pea Island Station.
Conditions were so horrendous that it was impossible to use either the
surfboat or the beach apparatus. Keeper Etheridge asked for volunteers.
Two at a time would be tied to a rope, would swim out to the wreck,
and haul back the survivors one at a time. All of the crew volunteered,
making nine separate attempts, and saved all lives on board.
Pea Island was the only all-black
crew in the history of the United States Life-Saving Service.
Sidebar 4: Scans of pages from an actual 1899 manual "Regulations for the Government of the Life-Saving Service of the United States."
- Title page. Note logo which contains 1848 date.
- Page 55- weekly routines spelled out.
- Page 93- the beginning of the drill once they have reached the beach. 1 &2 are positioning Lyle gun, mortar used to fire lines to wreck (in practice, wreck pole). 3 & 4 put crotch in place (used to elevate line above water) and then stretch out block and tackle. 5 & 6 are burying sand anchor, the land terminus for lines sent to ship. 7 has helped to unload apparatus from cart and assists in burying sand anchor. Keeper (far right) oversees all.
- Page 96- Shot line has been shot to ship, tied off by onboard crew. This used to haul in whip line, which is method of actually moving breeches buoy to and from ship.
- Page 103- everything in place, makes more sense! Whip line is one continuous loop attached to breeches buoy and running through a pulley attached to ship. As surfman "haul off" on the lee whip (the side of the line opposite where the wind is blowing), they are pulling the breeches buoy to the ship. There one survivor at a time is loaded. The surfman then shift to the other side of the line, the "weather whip," and haul the survivor to shore.
James Charlet taught NC
History for 24 years and is the author of the state-adopted textbook
North Carolina: Our People, Place and Past
(Carolina Academic Press, Durham, 1987). He served four seasons
as a National Park Ranger in Cape Hatteras, and seven years as Lead
Interpreter at Roanoke Island Festival Park. He is currently Site
Steward at Chicamacomico and resides with his wife Linda (Operations
Director at Chicamacomico!) in the quaint village of Salvo on Hatteras
"Chicamacomico- A Heroic
Story" -- Photo Captions and Explanations
- "Move and Movie Pix" Folder
- The 1874 station abandoned, and before restoration began.
- Self Explanatory in title (hereafter listed as "SE")
- The stable part way in temporary move. Flooding still evident.
- Detail of move: underside of "twin move"
- Notice hydraulic lines (lower center) running to jacks. These initially raise building. Cribbing (crossed timbers) is put in place and the building is lowered onto them. Then the steel I-beams and wheels are put in place, building raised to remove cribbing, then lowered onto I beams for move.
- "Twin Move". Due to the sandy nature of the Chicamacomico site an additional step was necessary to prepare the move. Preconstructed roadway units were hauled in, off-loaded, and set into place.
- The large white steel I-beam goes under and perpendicular to the two I-beams already under the building. It is attached to the set of front wheels and then lashed to those beams so the move can begin. Rear wheels have already been similarly attached.
- Almost ready to go; final adjustments being made.
- Ken Wenberg, Executive Director of Chicamacomico and mastermind of the move plan, discussing procedures with Steven Steiner, owner of the moving company. The brightly colored machine with all the gauges is what lifts and lowers the buildings. It controls five different jacks that can all be operated individually or simultaneously.
- Filming on the beach directly in front of the Chicamacomico station. The actors are Coastguardsmen who are examining the quarterboard (nameplate) of the E.S. Newman. This is an actual artifact owned by Chicamacomico. It was literally all that was left of the wreck. Filming is Bill Travis, director, writer and producer of the film. Observing is Ken Wenberg, CHA Executive Director.
- The surfmen were rehearsing the Drill. CHA used this shot to create a poster used to advertise the film premiere.
- An interesting comparison to the actual photograph.
- Linda Molloy-Charlet, Grand Mistress of Ceremonies, in front of the movie premiere poster of "The Voice of Gladdened Hearts" at Roanoke Island Festival Park.
- Rear Admiral Stephen W. Rochon, concept creator and Executive in Charge of Production of the Film.
- (Two shots are labeled "20"). The first one is the CHA crew at their table for the Premiere. Left to right: Jackie Wenberg, Board VP; Bob Huggett, Site Historian; Jinx Caylor, volunteer; Linda Molloy, Operations Director and event coordinator; Mary Ann Cohen, Board Secretary; Ken Wenberg, Executive Director; Anne Kenny, volunteer; James Charlet, volunteer and author/photographer of this article. The second one: Kate Burkart was a fourteen-year-old student who wrote to President Clinton asking for recognition of the Pea Island crew who rescued the E.S. Newman. Due to her efforts, 100 years later the awards were given posthumously.
- The 1907 Palmer Midgett House.
- -- 27. Generic shots of Chicamacomico after restoration. Use as you see fit. Picture #26 is so titled because there on August 3, 2002, Linda and I were married there. I was dressed as the Keeper and she as my bride.
- "Pea Island Crew" Folder
All paintings are by
local black artist James Melvin (pictured in #9) of Manteo, NC, and
all are about the history of the Pea Island Station. There are
displayed in a special exhibit at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke
Island because that site was the former homestead of Keeper Richard
Etheridge. He and his family are buried there.
- SE, may be used for illustration and explanation of text.
- SE, may be used for illustration and explanation of text.
- The rededication ceremony of the exhibit at the Aquarium.
- SE, may be used for illustration and explanation of text.
- SE, at the Aquarium.
- An actual portrayal of Melvin's interpretation of the famous and dramatic rescue of the E.S. Newman. While it is difficult to really make out much in the scene, that is precisely what would have been the case to a witness.
- Actual photo above the medal.
- This could be a complete sidebar to the article for it well illustrates the Beach Apparatus Rescue technique. The stricken vessel is obvious and within range of the Lyle gun. This was common due to the geology of Hatteras Island. A sandbar runs parallel to the beach several hundred yards offshore. Upon this many storm-tossed ships grounded and wrecked. Due to these well-illustrated circumstances the Beach Apparatus was the preferred rescue method of the lifesavers. Foreground, left to right: Surfmen #3 & #4 are uncoiling the whip lines which will be sent out to the ship. It forms a continuous loop and is attached to the "Breeches Buoy". This is a canvas life-ring sewn to a pair of canvas shorts, or "breeches". Survivors are loaded one at a time. One side of the whip line is pulled by four surfmen to bring the rig out to the ship. The surfmen then shift to the other side of the whip to haul ashore. Behind Surfmen #3 & #4 are Surfmen #5 & #6. They are digging a two-foot deep hole in the shape of a cross. Inserted there will be the sand anchor which is then buried. This gives a secure terminus to the hawser-the thick line sent to the ship and tied to the highest place (usually the mast) by persons on board. The hawser carries the breeches buoy. In the upper center Surfman #7 is putting up the crotch pole. This is merely a pivoting X-member used to elevate the hawser line to keep the breeches buoy above the water. To the right, Surfman #1 is preparing the Lyle gun to fire. This is a small mortar designed by Lt. David Lyle specifically for this purpose. It fires a 20-pound projectile to which the shot line is attached. Surfman #2 (far right) is readying the shot line. This thin rope is wound around pegs in the faking box to his lower right. This prevents the line from fouling when it is fired out at great speeds. Once the shot line reaches the shipwreck it is used to haul aboard the whip line, the hawser and the breeches buoy. Now the rescue can begin! A trained crew was expected to complete this entire process in under 5 minutes.
- Virginia Tillett, one of the many local descendants of the Pea Island crew, with artist James Melvin, who created the Pea Island Station paintings exhibit. At the rededication ceremonies at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island on February 23, 2005.
- "Day Four Moves" Folder
- The new 1874 district. The water tank and cookhouse are repositioned next to the original station. The wreck pole is visible between the two buildings. When the 1874 cookhouse was originally relocated (in the early 1900s) among the 1911 buildings, it was enlarged and refinished to match that architecture. The building was built in 1904 as is.
- The dome in the middle is a cistern. This stored non-potable water below ground to be used in fire suppression. The water source is rain collected from the station roof, channeled into gutters and then directed into the cistern by the pipe visible between the two.
- (Although the sun was in the wrong place, this is an interesting view.) Left to right: the 1874 Station, Cookhouse and water tank. The tower of the 1911 Station visible behind 1874 Water Tank. To the right is the roof and chimney of the 1911 cookhouse. Barely visible to the far right in alignment are the 1911 Stable, Tractor Shed, and Boathouse.
- Remaining singles
- 1874 station with 1928 addition, abandoned (addition removed in restoration)
- Same angle as #2 but over 50 years later.
- DSC01443: Surfboat #1046 today inside the 1874 Station facing the ocean.
- DSC2312, 3236, 3237, 3239: all in the present; just some choices for you.
- Map showing locations of the first seven USLSS stations built in NC. While all were built in 1874, Chicamacomico was the first one of those. Map from "Ship Ashore- the US Lifesavers of Coastal North Carolina" by Joe A. Mobley, NC Div. of Archives and History, Raleigh, 1994
- Thomas Nast cartoon.
- "The Wedding" is so titled because on that ramp of the 1874 station I married Linda Molloy on August 3, 2002!
More articles, ghost stories, and tales in CoastalGuide's HELMSMAN