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Schooner Louis V. Place

This account is one of many fine historicial accounts of Wrecks and Rescues on Long Island as published by Van R. Field in his book "Wrecks and Rescues on Long Island," The Story of the U.S Life Saving Service.  Copies are available from the author Van R. Field 17 Inwood Road Center Moriches, NY 11934  email: w2oqi@optonline.net

 

 

One of the best known and written about shipwrecks off Long Island was that of the LOUIS V. PLACE, occurring just east of the Lone Hill Lifesaving station on February 8, 1895. It occurred during a time when extremely cold and stormy weather prevailed on the atlantic coast from Florida to New England. The temperature in Florida on the day of the wreck was the lowest on record, while in New York City it was zero. Wind velocities were as high as 72 miles per hour at Woods Hole, 68 miles per hour at Block Island and 53 miles per hour at Sandy Hook. It was snowing all along the coast from North Carolina to Canada on the seventh and eighth. From the sixth through the ninth the USLSS had twenty nine vessels with a total of one hundred and twenty nine crew, meet with storm and sea related disasters. With the exception of the LOUIS V. PLACE there was no loss of life. 

The 163 foot, three masted schooner LOUIS V PLACE, built in 1890, sailed from Baltimore for New York with 1100 tons of coal for cargo. She left January 28 and was off Cape Charles, Virginia on February 4. By February 5 she was in heavy weather and her sails, rigging and hull were icing up. On the 6th the weather moderated somewhat. On the 7th the gale shifted to the north-northeast blowing violently and the weather became overcast. The ice, high winds and bitter cold all made it difficult to handle the ship. The upper sails were reefed and the ice made the remaining sails hard to work. Around two a.m. on the 8th, the storm hauled to the westward with even greater fury causing a wild and dangerous cross sea. The crew had now been subjected to four days and nights of bitter exposure to the elements with little or no sleep. Captain Squires believed he was near Sandy Hook. By seven a.m. the vessel was essentially a drifting iceberg, almost totally unmanageable, her running gear frozen in the blocks, her sails stiff with ice and her deck sheeted with ice. The visibility was almost zero. By eight a.m. the captain had completely lost his bearings, but was sure he was near land. The lead was cast and he found that he was in eight fathoms of water. Although the vessel was leaking badly, his intention was to anchor. He so informed the crew and passed out a ration of whiskey, urging them to move about to keep warm. The crew in their weakened condition were unable to cut the anchors free of the ice. The captain then ordered the men to put on all the clothing they could wear and remain on the aft part of the ship. Cutting the halyards had made no difference. The sails would not move so the men simply waited out whatever fate had in store for them. In about ten minutes they heard the roar of the breakers ahead. A few minutes later the vessel lay pounding on the bar with the seas breaking over the decks. The crew scrambled for the rigging. About five minutes before she hit, she was seen by a Lone Hill surf man Frederick H. Saunders on the beach. He ran for the station and telephoned for assistance from the two adjacent stations, and sent a messenger eastward to notify his own keeper and crew, who were at the scene of the wreck of the JOHN B. MANNING which had stranded several hours earlier between Lone Hill and Blue Point stations. Crews from both stations had struggled through the storm with their equipment and had managed to rescue everyone on board. The two wrecks were about a mile apart, the MANNING being further east. This rescue was completed after twelve hours of hard work. The lifesavers set out to return to their stations. They were tired and frostbitten. The Lone Hill crew found it impossible to haul their beach apparatus back so it was left for a later time. They began their trek back into the full fury of the gale with blowing snow and sand in their faces. The temperature was between three and four degrees.

 

The stranded LOUIS V. PLACE was between three and four hundred yards off the beach, near the Lone Hill station. The surf was sweeping her from end to end, and her crew were seen in the port mizzen rigging whenever the snow squalls let up for a few minutes. The tide was high. The surf was very heavy and filled with a grinding mass of porridge ice two feet deep. There was a gale force wind blowing. The beach was strewn with cakes of ice piled in some places six to eight feet high. Witnesses reported seeing twenty foot breakers. Under such conditions there was no way a boat could be launched or rowed through such a mess. The only hope of rescue was by breeches buoy. While the lifesavers were rigging the Lyle gun, two men on the ship lower on the mast, where the waves constantly drenched them, were seen to drop into the sea and disappear. They later proved to be the Captain and the cook. This appalling sight, so early in the rescue attempt made the would be rescuers realize that those aboard were already in bad shape. The Lyle gun was fired and the line landed too far from those aboard. It was fired a second time and the line landed close enough that the crew should have been able to reach it easily. However they made no move to retrieve the line upon which their lives depended. Today we would conclude that hypothermia had set in to such an extent that they were incapable of rational thought or action.

 

The surf men left the line in place and fired a third shot, which also fell within reach. When it cleared for a short time around one a.m., a fourth line was fired but it missed the vessel.

 

Shortly thereafter the weather closed in again, obscuring the wreck from view for about three hours. When it became possible to again see the wreck, there were only four men left in the rigging. The gun was fired for a fifth time, but before it could be seen where the line landed, the weather closed in again. The short winter day was almost over. The men stood ready to fire another line aboard the moment visibility returned. A short while later they got their chance. The line landed aboard across the top-foremast stay. There was still enough light to see that the men on the ship did not move.

 

Darkness arrived, and with it all hope of getting a breeches buoy to the ship before the next morning was gone. The night was wild and intensely cold. The lifesavers huddled on the beach by the beacon fire hoping the storm would abate enough to launch a boat, but no chance came. When daylight came, almost 24 hours had gone by since the stranding and there were apparently only two living men left on the wreck. The third of the four who had been seen on the previous day was in the crosstrees near the other two, frozen to death. The body of the fourth hung in the rigging head downward, held by the lashings he placed around himself, swaying to and fro in the merciless gale.

 

At sunrise the Lyle gun was fired again and the line landed on the mizzen mast very close to the two remaining sailors. Two more shots were fired. One fell across the hull. The tide was out and the rail was out of the water. One of the men crawled down to it and feebly tried to haul it in. He was unable to, so he climbed back up into the rigging. By now it was three p.m. of the second day, and any hope of rescue by breeches buoy was abandoned as it was plain that the sailors were too far gone to aid in their own rescue.

 

The boat was taken from the wagon to the water's edge and several attempts were made to launch it into the ice laden surf, only to have it hurled back to shore. The last attempt took place at sunset. The surfmen brought the boat back up the beach a bit, only long enough to rest and wait for another opportunity to present itself.

 

About midnight the tide was receding and the surf had fallen somewhat and the wind had slacked off a bit. Forty hours had elapsed since the stranding and it was now or never if the dying men were to be rescued. At last with a mighty push they got the boat afloat with keeper Baker at the helm and keeper Rorke on an oar. The seas were still running high and the ice pounded the boat. At last they were able to come alongside the stricken vessel. Their shouts aroused the men in the crosstrees. They carefully crept down the shrouds to the rail, where they were helped into the surfboat and were swiftly brought back to shore. Once there, they were transported to the station and cared for. Later they were sent to the Marine Hospital at Stapleton, Staten Island, where one of them died a few weeks later.

 

To this tragic event there were large numbers of spectators who had made their way across the frozen bay on the ice by horse and sleigh. An eyewitness account was written by Dr. George King who was a schoolboy at the time. He tells of climbing to the cupola of the school. With a spyglass he could see the masts of the two ships. He tells the following story. "We started from Patchogue shortly after nine o'clock and made the beach in less than four hours. We landed at Lone Hill and immediately proceeded to the Lone Hill station, where we packed away our provisions and blankets in the boathouse and rushed over to where the two wrecks lay. The one farther to the east, which we first approached, was the three masted schooner, JOHN B. MANNING. This ship had been literally lifted from the water by the fury of the gale, and cast up on the beach. We did not tarry long in her vicinity as farther west toward Lone Hill we could see the three masts of the LOUIS V PLACE standing high above the surf. In the masts one could plainly see and count the figures of eight human beings, it was an awful sight. We rushed up the beach to give aid to the lifesavers in pulling their gun and getting their breeches buoy and boat gear in position. There were many people present, hardy individuals filled with the spirit of adventure and the desire to aid. Several had come in sleighs drawn by horses, making the seven mile trip in good time, and the drivers, having picked out a favorable road (on the ice), had returned to the mainland for another load of passengers and supplies. By nightfall the beach was literally crowded with people who had journeyed across the bay, and it was a problem to know how they were to be kept during the night, without their freezing to death. I was fortunate enough to be invited by Captain Frank Rorke to stay in the lifesaving station with the crew, and was given a place in the bunkroom, but many others slept in the boathouse, in horse sheds and empty houses at Water Island.

 

At 9:30 a.m. Lt. Maguire, U.S.R.M. Inspector of third district stations arrived with Doctor Overton of Patchogue. A half hour later Doctor Robinson of Sayville arrived, having been summoned by the keeper. The survivors were put in the care of  the two physicians. They were soon shipped off to the U.S. Marine hospital on Staten Island.

 

Seaman Stuvens gave the following account of the events: "Captain Squires called all hands aft, gave us some grog to keep the life in us and cautioned us to mind his orders exactly. Some time later he ordered the men to cut the halyards to bring down the sails, but these were frozen stiff and would not come down. It was a few minutes after that the schooner struck the beach on the crest of a big wave.

 

"We knew that was her death blow, and she bumped a few times, then settled with a slight list to port nearly broadside to shore. Big seas broke over the deck and the schooner plunged with every wave that swept over her. It was death to stay on deck and be swept away, while it was a more lingering death to go aloft, but we chose the latter. Captain Squires mounted the crosstrees on the foremast with Olsen and myself. Nelson, Morrison, Allen, Ward and Jaiby were in the rigging on the other masts.

 

"We were all warmly clad but nothing could keep such cold from our bones. The wind howled through the rigging and the flying spray froze on us so that we could hardly open our eyes or mouths, or move our arms or legs for numbness. We had been hanging for several hours when I saw Captain Squires fall with a rattling sound down the shrouds and his body was swept out to sea by a big wave. Next went Morrison, the cook. They made no sound or cry but dropped like logs. I believe they had been frozen to death standing in the rigging.

 

"All that Friday the men who remained stamped their feet on the crosstrees and moved about as well as we could to keep from freezing. Several lifelines were fired across the rigging from shore but we were too much benumbed to pull them in. All that day we hung there and it grew frightfully cold again at night and seemed beyond human endurance. Suddenly about eight p.m. Engineer Charles Allen let go and went tumbling down into the sea. Soon after Jaiby, the big mate died and went overboard. When morning came I saw seaman Ward hanging frozen to the ratlines. He had died during the night.

 

"Nelson and I were able to live through that terrible Friday night by making a shelter. We got on the mizzen crosstrees and cut the lashing of the mizzen top sail, that had been furled. Into this hole we crept and were able to keep out of the wind, but the cold was frightful. Poor Olsen tried to get into our shelter with us, but he was under the crosstrees and unable to get around the mast and on to the crosstrees. We tried our best to save him but could not get him, and he died about two o'clock Saturday morning, sitting where he had been for hours.

 

"Nelson and I kept alive by beating our arms and stamping our feet. Several lines were fired across the vessel at low tide, but Nelson was too stiff to move so I climbed down to the deck and managed to get hold of one of the lines, but I was so numb with cold I could not haul it in. Ice formed on it faster than I could haul it in and it got so heavy I had to drop it.

 

"Then I climbed back to our perch and beat Nelson and myself some more and waited for the weather to moderate. We had not eaten since Friday morning and it was now Saturday night and growing colder. If I could have had a meal of pork and beans and coffee I could have endured the strain longer than I did. But without food I couldn't have stood it much longer.

 

"About midnight Saturday I could see, by the light of a fire built on shore, the men coming out to us in a lifeboat. We were both badly frozen, with Nelson the worst, and it was with greatest difficulty that we managed to get down to the half submerged deck. We tumbled into the lifeboat and in a few minutes were on shore. Everything possible was done for us. It took hours of rubbing to bring back the circulation."

 

According to Captain Baker when the lifesavers got the men ashore, they cut their boots off and got them into warm clothing and made them as comfortable as possible. Their boots were grabbed by the crowd and cut into pieces as souvenirs.

 

"On Sunday we launched a boat and went out to cut down the bodies of the two men who were frozen in the rigging and bring them to shore. Every day sleighing parties of all kinds braved the cold in crossing the frozen bay to view the scene of the tragedy. There is a light covering of snow over the ice and a roadway has been worn across the bay like that of a street."

 

The two men frozen in the rigging and that of the mate that washed ashore near Forge River were buried in Patchogue. The engineer was found near Moriches. Where he is buried is unknown.

 

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle's reporter stated that it was estimated over a thousand people journeyed on the ice across Great South bay from Bellport to Bay Shore to view the two wrecks.

 

"The bodies presented a horrible sight and scores of people to satisfy their morbid curiosity went to Ruland's undertaking rooms to see them." (Patchogue Advance, Feb. 15, 1895)

 

The ship completely broke up within a few weeks. One of the masts was purchased from the owners by the village of Patchogue, and set up in the middle of the village as a flagpole.

 

The residents of the south shore procured all the soft coal they wanted by simply picking it up on the beach and transporting it home across the frozen bay. Most of it was sold.

 

The crew of the rescue boat was manned by: Jas. S. Baker, keeper in charge, Frank Rorke, keeper, Blue Point, J.P. Ketcham, No. 1, J.J. Reynolds No. 2, Thomas Swanson No. 3. G.F. Swanback No. 4 and F. Saunders No. 6 all of Lone Hill. (Patch. Adv. Feb. 22, 1895).

 

Plots for eight of the sailors who perished were furnished by Mrs Augusta Weeks at the Lakeview Cemetary in Patchogue and paid for by four Smith sisters. Eight stones were placed, but only  four are buried there. - Gustave Jaiby, Charles Allen, August Olson and Fritz Oscar Ward (Mard)

 

 

 


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