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New England’s Beloved Shipwreck, the Schooner Nancy

Life handed a shipwreck to the owner of the schooner Nancy during a storm off the New England coast.

So he made it into a tourist attraction.

schooner-nancy

The Schooner Nancy. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

For many years the huge wooden boat was stuck in the sand near Nantasket Beach in Hull, Mass., drawing paying crowds, postcard vendors and refreshment stands.

The schooner Nancy had been beached during a fierce nor’easter in the winter of 1927, but that terrifying night was soon forgotten. The turmoil of the waves became a quagmire of lawsuits and paperwork.

The Schooner Nancy

On Feb. 19, 1927, the schooner Nancy anchored at Boston Light to ride out an expected storm.  She was a wooden five-masted schooner, 259 feet long, and she had just delivered a load of coal. Her hull was empty.

A vicious nor’easter hit the next day.. The winds reached 70 mph and dragged the Nancy out of Boston Harbor.

She was headed sought for Harding’s Ledge, a shoal that had caused many shipwrecks.

schooner-nancy-from-air

The schooner Nancy from the air. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

The captain, E. M. Baird, ordered an extra sail set so the Nancy would clear the rocks. The maneuver worked, but the schooner was headed toward shore. The crew desperately tried to change her course, but failed.

From his home in Hull, Osceola James watched the schooner Nancy as it was driven onto the beach. A lifesaver himself, he was the son of legendary lifesaver Joshua James.

James ran out of the house without putting on a heavy coat. He commandeered horses pulling a snowplow and hitched them to the wheeled carriage that carried the surfboat from the Humane Society Station.

Rescue

The horses brought the lifeboat to the beach, where hundreds of onlookers watched the grounded schooner Nancy. James picked out a crew from the crowd, men who knew how to row.

"We just went to work," James later told the Boston Globe. "I couldn't see any need of waiting. It was getting dark and those men on the vessel wanted to come ashore."

The men launched the surfboat into waves that broke as high as 15 feet. Fifty men held a line attached to the stern in case the surfboat capsized.

The crew jumped into the boat safely, including one sailor who held the ship’s ice-covered cat. The surfboat returned to shore safely after 20 minutes of rowing through the pounding surf.

The crew of the schooner Nancy was luckier than the eight men who died that night aboard the Coast Guard cutter 238, which sank off Highland Light on Cape Cod.

Tourist Attraction

The schooner Nancy had grounded during an unusually high tide, and remained stuck in the sand. She quickly became a tourist attraction, drawing record crowds.

Extra police were sworn in to handle the traffic. The Globe reported in March that Capt. Baird and his crew gave tours of the vessel, charging 50 cents admission to more than 400 people in a day. The Nancy soon was bringing in as much as $800 a week. A New Jersey dry dock company went to court to claim the money, claiming it was owed money by the Nancy’s owners.

schooner-nancy-tracks

The schooner Nancy near the railroad tracks. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Sen. William Hennessey wrote a letter to the beach’s authorities, asking if the crew had the legal right to charge admission to a schooner stranded between the high- and low-tide water marks.

The Town of Hull tried to collect $151 in property taxes from the owner, Samuel C. Forde, who in turn tried to get a cabaret license from the town.

The New Haven Railroad brought a lawsuit against the ship’s owner because her bowspirit nearly overhung the railroad tracks.

The Nancy's Last Voyage

Attempts to float the Nancy failed.

In 1929, another storm drove her 10 feet inland. A sailor who lived aboard the Nancy and escorted tourists said the storm made him seasick. That 10-foot trip, reported the Globe, was the Nancy’s last voyage.

Over the years, arsonists set fire to the Nancy. An advertisement for Nutro drinks was painted on her side in giant letters. Her bowspirit was taken off.

The schooner Nancy became such an eyesore by the Great Depression that Works Progress Administration workers dismantled her. The government gave the lumber to poor residents of Hull so they could heat their houses.

 

3 comments

  1. Good morning, I am looking for pictures o that wreck. How could I get some? I live just a shirt tom away. I’ve ased local people if they had any. Time is the problem. Now it has been long time since that reck happened and I not been able to receive any copies for myself. What you could suggest would help me. Thank you.

    • Leslie Jones, long time Boston Herald photographer, donated his photos to the Boston Public Library. Do a Google search for Leslie Jones, shipwreck and Boston Public Library and you’ll find it!

  2. Jim O’Brien of Jake’s Seafood in Nantasket remembers his mother telling him to stay away from the wreck and how the tar on his feet when he came home let his mother know he had climbed all over the wreck like every other kid in Nantasket at the time.

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