Modern conveniences have made historic events such as the wreck of the Louis V. Place foreign to our imaginations. To think, so many people died or were left to die on a sand bar actually visible from the beach.
by Christopher Verga
As winter approaches, the breeze off the bay along the South Shore can deliver a haunting reminder of the hazardous occupations that built our communities here.
Though Long Island’s seafaring history is often looked at with an eye toward nostalgia, so many remarkably human stories of grit, heroism and loss are often overlooked.
This is one of those stories.
Today, dozens of wrecks lay off Long Island shores as relics to a high risks occupation.
One of the ships that faced the wrath of a Long Island winter storm was the 163-foot schooner Louis V. Place. On Monday January 28, 1895, Captain Squires and his crew of the Louis V. Place set sail from Baltimore to New York City with a cargo of coal.
On the morning of Feb. 8, with the crew expecting to be near Sandy Hook, the ship became lost in a storm and struck a sand bar in an area that was visible off the shore of Fire Island near Patchogue and Blue Point.
As the sound of the thunderous waves crashed against the bow of the ship, some members of the crew were thrown broadside into the frigid waters to face certain death.
The remainder of the crew secured themselves in the rigging to prevent being washed overboard. In the mist of an early morning light, surf man Fred Sanders of the Blue Point Life Saving Service Station noticed the distressed ship and sent out warning signals to the other stations.
The Lone Hill and Blue Point stations assembled a rescue team and by 10 a.m. shot the first of five life lines from shore onto the bow of the ship, however failing in their attempts. By midnight, 14 hours later, all but two crew members had frozen to death in the rigging or were cast away by the unforgiving waves.
But the drama continued.
Two survivors, T. Nelson and Claus Stevens, gripped the rigging throughout that first night until the rescue team was able to regroup the following morning. In the early hours of the following day, a line was successfully secured across the bow of the distressed ship.
But it was of no use.
Nelson and Steven were too weak and frost bitten to pull themselves to safety and had to wait until the following day for a Life Saving Service boat to reach them.
Once on shore, Nelson and Stevens were treated by Dr. Robinson of Sayville. Frost bitten and in need of multiple amputations, Nelson succumbed to his injuries prior to any surgeries that were planned for later in the day.
The sole survivor, Claus Stevens later suffered a mental breakdown from his memories of the 40-hour struggle against death.
He would live the rest of his life in an asylum.
The wreck of Louis V. Place would became immortalized by Bay Shore photographer Martin Anderson. His pictures inspired some of the wealthiest residents of the South Shore to pay for all burial and monument expenses at Lakeview Cemetery in Patchogue Village (photo below).
Seven people died in total, though the cook’s body was never found.
Modern conveniences have made historic events such as the wreck of the Louis V. Place foreign to our imaginations. To think, so many people died or were left stranded to die on a sand bar actually visible from the beach.
Our collective lust for the so called “salt life” have made us forget the struggles people endured for the benefit of a thriving economy, but thanks to Bay Shore Historical Society’s image collection we can reflect the true essence of a true “salt life.”
Sources: Brooklyn Eagle archives and records kept at the Bay Shore Historical Society, which includes photos from the Martin Anderson Collection. (One appears above.)
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