Is there a word or phrase for happiness that occurs after a tragic experience? “Every cloud has a silver lining,” “it was bitter sweet,” “comfort in time of distress,” might apply. Yet, when half of the 200 passengers and crew are lost at sea in a freak accident, it’s difficult to find happiness of any kind. But the aftermath from the tragedy of the SB Pulaski, a passenger/freight steamboat that sank off the coast of North Caroline, June, 1838, kept it in the news in a good way.
Secrets, secrets, secrets! Why is it our government and other regimes simply call an incident or encounter “classified information” when they don’t want anyone to know about it? Denise Sharp, a historian from Brookeville, Maryland, says, “Their secrets are difficult to unravel unless you have the determination to follow every little clue that might lead to a cover-up.” That’s exactly what she did when discovering that the U.S. government and its military had hushed up the sinking of a transport ship during WWII.
In early days, when ships grounded near shore or became stranded on a rocky coast, there was neither Coast Guard nor means of communication to get help. The only rescue efforts came from the U.S. Lifesaving Service if there was a station nearby. Such was the case on October 11, 1896, when the schooner E.S. Newman ran aground in distressful circumstances.
Unless you’re from Alaska or Canada, chances are you’ve never heard of the SS Princess Sophia, named the “Titanic of the West Coast.” One of the worst tragedies to occur inside Alaska and Canada, the 2,320-ton, 245-foot steel hull passenger ship sank in late October, 1918. Yet, the sinking and loss of 353 lives received little publicity.
Lake George, a 32-mile-long by two-miles-wide body of water an hour’s drive north of Albany, New York, is an unlikely spot to find the oldest intact warship in North America. But history buffs know all about the roll this radeau, (a French word for raft) played in the French and Indian War, 1755-1763.
When President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a blockade of Confederate ports during the Civil War, April 19, 1861, he launched the “cat and mouse” war games in which ships were hellbent on outsmarting each other. Painted the color of a Hatteras fog to remain inconspicuous, while burning smokeless anthracite coal, a long, low “greyhound of the sea” could lose herself against a wooded shoreline. Then, like a rabbit from the bush, she would make her final dash for a protected harbor.
They’re everywhere, a ubiquitous conglomeration of lost ships the likes of which will never be matched by any other nautical graveyard. The ships, their masters and crews plunged to the bottom of North Carolina’s Graveyard of the Atlantic where a seafarer once declared: “It’s a place to sail, troll and dive, a place where only fish survive, a place that fosters all our fears, a place that harbors a widow’s tears.”
Those who will not venture out into the open sea pay the penalty of never having looked into the bright eyes of danger and at best they know but half of life. The mariners who went down with their ships encountered life headlong and lived it to its fullest blazing a path of glory before them. From the days of earliest New World expeditions, many knew about the Graveyard of the Atlantic and approached it with mixed feelings. Some flaunted it while others feared it, yet they persisted in risking their vessels and lives in its treacherous waters. Some tried to avoid it when venturing into the open sea.
In Australia, many names of people, places and things are taken from the Aborigines, native inhabitants that settled the country more than 50,000 years ago. Hence, the SS Warrimoo—meaning Eagle’s Nest or Landing—was chosen for the 345-foot passenger ship launched in England in 1892.
Figuratively, I jumped aboard the U-1226 in June, 1993, when it was reported as being discovered in shallow water off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. But I wasn’t the only journalist to get a scoop on this astounding discovery. David Arnold of the Boston Globe, Barry Danforth of the Wall Street Journal, and Joe McVey of the Baltimore Sun joined me “aboard” the shipwreck and we all met our deadlines.