Newspaper Articles from the Past…
Throughout the history of lighthouses, there are those occasions when mariners mistook a guiding light for another in the vicinity – a mistake that almost always resulted in a shipwreck. There were also times – though much rarer, when either light station equipment malfunctioned or dereliction of duty by the keeper contributed to mariners miscalculating their position at sea. Such occurrences would often lead to a shipwreck as well. This was the case for the schooner Saluda in January 1845 near Race Point Light Station on Cape Cod.
Newspaper article from: Public Ledger, 2/11/1845
“A False Beacon – Race Point Lighthouse, near Provincetown, did not revolve as usual during the severe storm of Tuesday, and was therefore mistaken for another light (the Highland) in the vicinity. A vessel and four lives were lost in consequence.”
Newspaper article from: Portland Weekly Advertiser, 2/25/1845
“Cape Cod Lights – We find the following melancholy account in recent shipping intelligence of the Boston papers. As the navigation of Maine is nearly or quite as much interested, as that of any other part of New England, in the lights on Cape Cod, the public attention in this quarter should be called to the circumstances, in order that suitable attempts may be made to have the evil rectified.
Schooner Saluda, (of Boston), Captain Ames from Marblehead for New York, with dry fish, went ashore about one mile from Race Point Light, (on the back of Cape Cod), on Friday night, 31st (January), at 11 o’clock; vessel and cargo a total loss, with the exception of chains and anchors, and a few damaged sails. The crew were all lost, except the mate (Mr. Peterson, of Hyannis).
The Saluda sailed from Marblehead at 4 o’clock on Friday afternoon, and made the Race Light about 10 o’clock, which the Captain mistook for Cape Cod Light, and shaped his course accordingly. About 11 o’clock she struck the outer bar, it being low water, and as the tide rose, beat over upon the beach.
The crew remained on board until 4 o’clock the next morning, when the vessel was fast breaking up. Captain Ames and mate went into the rigging with the hopes of reaching the shore by letting go of their hold as the vessel rolled in shore.
Captain Ames unfortunately dropped into the surf, while the mate reached the shore, and after waiting on the beach a short time, he went to Race Point, and reached the house of Mr. Nickerson, about 5 o’clock. The bodies of the unfortunate men have been recovered. Captain Benjamin Ames was only 22 years old, and belonged to Osterville, Barnstable, whither his body has been conveyed.
The others were a seaman, an Irish man (some say a Virginian), and a colored man, the cook, names unknown.
This is but one of many instances where property and even life have been sacrificed for the want of a proper light on Race Point. It was originally designed to be a revolving light, and the public have supposed it was such – but the keeper, as well as those who frequent Boston Bay, say that it never disappears wholly; hence it is often taken for the Highland Light; especially when the vapors rising from the water are so dense that only one light is visible at a time.
On the same night the Saluda went ashore, another vessel came into Provincetown Harbor, and the Captain reports that he watched the Race Light for one hour, and it did not revolve during the whole time, and that if he had not known the position of his vessel, it might have been the means of running her on shore.
During a severely cold spell in the winter of 1842, three vessels came ashore near where the Saluda now lies, all having mistaken the Race Light for that of the Highland, in consequence the former not revolving. Probably no blame in the matter should attach to the keeper of the light, as he is considered as good as any other keeper in the State; still, to my mind, there is gross negligence on the part of someone, and proper measures should be taken either to make the Race Light what it is contemplated to be, or make it a fixed light, in order that the mariner may act understandingly.”