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Icy Waters Took Toll in Tragedy

Footnotes to Long Island History

ICY WATERS TOOK TOLL IN TRAGEDY

FEB 15, 1951

by

Thomas R. Bayles


    

Doomed Vessel the Louis V. Place a three- masted schooner which smashed ashore on Great South beach off Patchogue, February 9,1895, bringing death to most of her crew who clung to the rigging in a subfreezing gale for two days.

       It was on February 9,1895 that one of the worst tragedies of the sea took place on the outer bar of Great South beach off Patchogue. The schooner Louis V. Place, which had left Baltimore January 31, loaded with coal bound for New York ran aground on the bar off  Patchogue on that Friday morning during a heavy snowstorm. The record of the trip was told by one of the survivors, Seaman William Stuvens, recorded in log form, a part of which follows,

       "Feb 7, forty miles from Sandy Hook, wind increased to a gale, reefed lower sails; intensely cold and vapor thick, sea very rough.

       "Feb 8, wind shifted to the westward and finally blew a terrific gale. Heavy cross seas were running from the northeast, vessel unmanageable, as the sails and rigging were so covered with ice that they could not be handled, pumps choked, men exhausted impossible to make Sandy Hook as the schooner is driven eastward."

       At 8 o'clock, Stuvens continued, "Capt. 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 deathblow 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. Capt.Squires mounted to 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 Capt. 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 into the boiling surf 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 life lines 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 8 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 to live through that terrible Friday night, by making a shelter. We got on the mizzen cross trees 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 cross trees. We tried our best to save him but could not get to him and he died about 2 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 and 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 life boat. We were both badly frozen, with Nelson the worst and it was with the greatest difficulty that we managed to get down to the half submerged deck. We tumbled into the life boat and in a few minutes were on shore. Everything possible was done for us. It took hours of rubbing to bring back the circulation.

       Capt James S. Baker of the Lone Hill life saving station told of the part he and his men took in the rescue. He said;

       "There was a blinding snow storm on the morning the Place struck. I had just come from the rescue of eight men with the breeches buoy, from the schooner John B. Manning a mile or so to the eastward. When Thomas Swanson informed me the three masted schooner had struck a half hour before.

       "We dragged our beach gear to the beach, planed the gun carriage in the sand and fired a line over the vessel which was pitching in the surf that was piled high with running ice. No boat  could have lived an instant in those waters. The crew were all in the mizzen rigging of the vessel and they paid not the slightest attention to the lines During Friday we fired five lines across the schooner without any result.

       "A cry of horror went up on shore as Capt. Squires fell and went overboard and we watched with agony the other men die, wondering if we would be able to save one of them. It was an awful experience to see men die where we could almost put our hands on them. When night fell we built a big fire of logs on the beach and kept up a watch hoping there would be some chance of saving the men.

       "At daylight Saturday we began work again with the wreck gun and landed a line across the vessel, but no attempt was made to grasp it as the men on board were made to grasp it as the men on board were too numb with cold to move.

       "Late in the afternoon we ran the surf boat down through the wash and slush and tried to get through the breakers, but after the boat was upset several times we gave up the attempt. It was now sundown and we lighted the fire on the beach again. It was low tide at midnight and we made another attempt to launch a  boat this time with success. When we got to the side of the schooner we yelled to the two men still there to come down. The sea was running across the vessel and the deck was filling every minute.

       "We got the men in the boat and soon had them on the beach where we 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. Nelson hands and ears were badly frostbitten and Stuven's hands and ears suffered most from frost. Both the men are in the Marine hospital on Staten Island and Nelson's foot will probably have to be amputated.

       "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 brave 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 bodies of the frozen men were buried in Lake View cemetery Patchogue, and stones erected to their memory. The stone carrying Nelson's inscription states that he died in the Staten Island hospital a few weeks later. There is also a stone to the last survivor Stuvens, which has no date of death so was probably put up simply to complete the memorial to the eight men who sailed on that ill fated schooner.

MEMORIALS to the men of the Louis V. Place. Donated by Mrs. Augusta Smith Weeks
of Patchogue, the plot is located in Lake View cemetery Patchogue.

 

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