Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Shipwrecks

The wreck of The City of Columbus (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The City of Columbus steamer ran aground off the coast of Aquinnah, Martha's Vineyard in January, 1884 and began to take on water, ultimately sinking into the frigid sea. More than 100 people lost their lives and in its day the Columbus was considered one of the worst sea disasters in history. Headlines of the time proclaimed it as "One of the Worst Horrors Ever Known in New England."

This wreck is the starting point for my novel The Ghosts of Aquinnah and one of my main characters is a fictional survivor named Christopher Casey. 

I had never heard about The City of Columbus until I accidentally stumbled onto it while doing some preliminary research to flesh out the story idea that eventually became the Ghosts novel. 

A few years ago The Martha's Vineyard Museum held an exhibit called Out Of The Depths: Martha's Vineyard Shipwrecks. Included in the exhibit was a door from the ill-fated City of Columbus that washed ashore after the wreck. 


In addition to the Columbus, the exhibit profiled the wreck of the Port Hunter, a WWI supply freighter which collided with a tugboat and sunk off the coast of East Chop in Oak Bluffs. While no one was killed in this wreck, numerous supplies that were on their way to troops in Europe ended up ashore on the island instead. 

To me one of the most interesting parts of the exhibit must have been the images of the submerged ships that are now available thanks to sonar technology. When I visited the Vineyard last summer and stood atop the Aquinnah cliffs, I couldn't help thinking about The City of Columbus submerged somewhere below me, underwater for nearly 130 years. 





My A-Z of Martha's Vineyard theme is inspired by my book, The Ghosts of Aquinnah, which is set on the island. Click here for all the info on the book.


39 comments:

  1. Hi Julie - travelling by ship in those days could so easily be treacherous ... I see the Lighthouse is there - that must have saved a few ships.

    I can understand you standing on 'your cliffs' just thinking about the stories of lives lost and the terror as the ship submerged ...

    But your retelling will bring your story to life ..

    Excellent research ideas .. cheers Hilary

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  2. That's cool you got to see the exhibit and a door from the wreckage.

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  3. It really is amazing what can now be found and seen at the bottom of the sea due to technology. My husband and I have watched a few specials about that kind of thing - fascinating stuff.

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  4. Shipwrecks are definitely a very eerie, haunting thing - it's fascinating watching documentaries about them where you see footage of them. I guess it's something to do with the mysterious depths of the ocean as well.

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  5. Hi, Julie,

    That must have been quite an experience.... Especially after writing about the wreck.

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  6. I love the way you took historical events and wove them into a story! Excellent research and excellent post! I felt like I was standing on the edge of that cliff with you, thinking about those submerged ships.

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  7. It gave me chills reading this. Very well done, Julie.

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  8. Shipwrecks are scary. It's interesting that with technology you can see what's below the water.

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  9. Shipwrecks are scary. It's interesting that with technology you can see what's below the water.

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  10. How fascinating! I love knowing the story behind The Ghosts of Aquinnah. It would be neat to go to the exhibit after reading your book. :)

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  11. @Hilary, I read that one of the things that people questioned at the time of the wreck was how it happened when the lighthouse was so close. Apparently the captain was considered negligent and it sounded like the whole thing could have been avoided.

    @Alex, it is cool and kind of spooky too.

    @Madeline, I think so too. It's so eerie to see that footage.

    @Trisha, yeah, the ocean is fascinating all by itself.

    @Michael, definitely. :)

    @Tyrean, oh, thanks, I appreciate that.

    @Inger, thanks!

    @Nana, I agree, I find it so interesting but then also creepy too.

    @Chrys, that would be nice! :D

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  12. Watching the footage of the sunken ferry in Korea makes me cringe. I can't even imagine how awful a death drowning would be. Not that fire would be better...guess there is no good way to meet a tragic end!

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  13. The horror of those on board, scrambling for anything to stay afloat--that must have been a scene aboard the City of Columbus.

    Gave me chills as well.

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  14. Shipwrecks are scary. They give me the chills, Julie.

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  15. Shipwrecks are interesting, and make one wonder was it the storm, or the lack of skill by the ship's pilot? We have a 'Wreck Beach' off Vancouver Island, where many a sailor and his crew lost their ship, and lives.

    We have many reminders of old war preparations on the coast, too.

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  16. @Elizabeth, I know, the disaster in Korea is so horrific.

    @Susan, yeah, it's terrifying to even imagine.

    @Rachna, it's upsetting to think about, isn't it?

    @DG, I think in this case it was lack of skill or pure negligence, that's how it seemed anyway. Really disturbing.

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  17. Shipwrecks are always of interest to me as they seem strangely romantic in a sick and "gonna die from drowing" kind of way. It is haunting and to hear of the stpries just enriches the history even more. Glad they have articles from this ship and one ca see them. Very cool that you used it in your book:)

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  18. Mm. Starting out with a bang, eh? I always think that's a great way to go. Grab the readers heart and sympathy all at once.

    True Heroes from A to Z

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  19. Stopping by on the 22nd day of the #Challenge to scroll though your posts. Interesting stuff. Aren't you lucky to have The Rookery in your memory bank. Nice things to write from. Congratulations on the hard work I know this takes to present.

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  20. @Birgit, I feel the same way about them, they are so haunting.

    @Crystal, I hope that's how it worked. :D

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  21. @Stepheny, thank you so much for stopping by! It's great to meet you. Good luck with the rest of the Challenge - in the home stretch now. :)

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  22. what a cool exhibit to be able to go to when you're writing about the wreck! It must have been so fascinating - and inspiring? - to see actual items from the ship.

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  23. I'm so enjoying your posts. And shipwrecks are a fascinating, if morbid, subject. Cool how research can lead us to use real events like these, bring them to life again.

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  24. @Liz, oh, the exhibit was held before I was writing the book but it was cool to be able to see it online.

    @Marcy, I'm so glad you're enjoying them, thank you.

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  25. This makes me think of a documentary I saw once, about the Titanic shipwreck... really scary seeing what's below the surface... but also amazing that advanced technology allows us to see the remains...

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  26. We recently had a storm off of the east coast. It caused a large vessel to be stranded off the shore for several days. They had to bring in a tanker to tow it out. Thank goodness for the tanker!

    Elsie
    AJ's wHooligan in the A-Z Challenge

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  27. I guess in the modern day we don't think about how dangerous sea travel was back in history.

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  28. Shipwrecks are so sad and scary...Reminds me of your book.

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  29. I love the stories shipwrecks have to tell. The mysteries and secrets!

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  30. So you have finally come over to my side: boats.

    Do you know that, on average, they say at least two large ships sink a week! Yes, at present.

    Life at sea still is not without peril.

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  31. @Michelle, oh, I think I saw that same documentary. It was disturbing but also so fascinating.

    @Elsie, wow that had to be scary for those stranded!

    @Susan, yeah, it's easy to forget.

    @Cathy, glad it's a reminder. :)

    @Christine, I agree even though they are sad.

    @Inge, oh wow, I didn't know that! I love the ocean but am definitely intimidated by its power.

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  32. I think the museum exhibit would be fascinating. And I wish I could see something like the sonar images you mentioned. So cool!

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  33. Fascinating facts Julie.

    ......dhole

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  34. Sunken ships. Sunken treasure. Always fascinating. Great way to start a story!

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  35. Shipwrecks are fascinating. The coast of Cornwall is littered with them.

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  36. @Lexa, I know, I think it's so amazing the images they can capture now.

    @Donna, thanks!

    @Lee, thank you!

    @Annalisa, oh, I can imagine it is with all the cliffs there.

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  37. I think seeing the wreckage would have given me chills. Cool you got to see it.

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  38. Shipwrecks are so haunting. Cool details though!

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  39. @km, I agree completely, it's chilling.

    @Loni, definitely. Thanks!

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Thank you for your comments!