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North Virginia Beach in Virginia Beach, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
 

The Graveyard of the Atlantic

Shipwrecks Along the Oceanfront

 

— Along the Oceanfront —

 
The Graveyard of the Atlantic Marker [Center panel] image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, January 17, 2021
1. The Graveyard of the Atlantic Marker [Center panel]
Inscription.  
U.S. Life Saving Service
During the 41-year period between 1874 and 1915, the journal of the four United States Lifesaving Service Stations covering the 38-mile coastline of Virginia Beach reported a combined total of 185 shipwrecks, earning the dubious title "The Graveyard of the Atlantic." In 1915, the U.S. Lifesaving Service joined forces with the Revenue Cutter Service and formed the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Wreck of the Henry B. Hyde
The Henry B. Hyde was said to be the finest and fastest three-masted sailing ship of its time … until she met with the forces of Mother Nature in February, 1904. HIgh winds and an angry sea caused her to wreck along the coastline of Virginia Beach. Under cold and miserable weather conditions the dedicated and brave surfmen from USLS Dam Neck Mills responded quickly, and all 13 people aboard were rescued.

For months numerous attempts to refloat the vessel proved futile until finally in September, 1904 another massive storm brought unusually high tides, and the Henry B. Hyde was briefly able to get underway.

After heading south for only a half

The Graveyard of the Atlantic Marker [Left panel] image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, January 17, 2021
2. The Graveyard of the Atlantic Marker [Left panel]
mile, she grounded once again on a newly created sandbar formed by the same storm that freed her from the beach. Eventually, the ill-fated ship was declared unsalvageable, abandoned and left to the destructive forces of Mother Nature.

The Beaching of the Benjamin F. Poole
Not all wrecks along the Oceanfront of Virginia Beach ended in disaster and destruction. The wreck of the four-masted Benjamin F. Poole could certainly be considered an example of good fortune.

During a raging coastal storm in April, 1889, more than 40 ships ships were reported wrecked between Cape Henry and Cape Hatteras. The Benjamin F. Poole became caught up in this storm while attempting to reach the shelter of the Chesapeake Bay. The captain had no choice but to beach his ship, else it be broken up by the force of the storm. The ship came ashore several hundred yards south of the Seatack Lifesaving Station. Because of the gallant efforts of the surfmen, the entire crew was rescued by a breeches buoy. After the storm passed the Benjamin F. Poole was left high and dry on the sands of Virginia Beach.

Many attempts to re-float the ship failed and it was determined that future rescue efforts would have to wait for an unusually high tide brought on by another big storm.

The ship had been on the beach for some 15 months when the captain, Hjalmar Charlton, was married in July,

The Graveyard of the Atlantic Marker [Right panel] image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, January 17, 2021
3. The Graveyard of the Atlantic Marker [Right panel]
1890. He and his bride spent their honeymoon aboard the stranded ship. After all, the captain's quarters were quite luxurious, and all of their meals were prepared and served by the ship's steward. What more could the new couple ask for? In fact, the accommodations were so elegant and well-appointed, the honeymooners decided to stay aboard the ship and set up housekeeping. With the ocean and beach literally at their doorstep, the newlyweds spent an enjoyable summer on the beach greeting folks who came to see their stranded ship.

Finally in September, 1890 a three-day storm, most likely a hurricane, produced the necessary high tides to refloat the ship. Thus ended the most unique honeymoon along the Oceanfront of Virginia Beach.

After being overhauled, The Benjamin F. Poole once again sailed the high seas for many years.

This photo from the early 1880's is the Seatack Life-Saving Station at 24th Street. Each of the first four stations along the Virginia Beach coastline was built from the same set of plans between 1874 and 1878. each station had two stories. The first floor was divided into four rooms: a boat room, a mess room, a storage room and a keeper's room. There were two rooms on the second floor: a barracks for the crew and a sleeping room for rescued victims that contained cots and provisions to sustain 25 people for 10 days.

Day watch was kept from

The Graveyard of the Atlantic Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, January 17, 2021
4. The Graveyard of the Atlantic Marker
an observatory platform on the roof. Although not distinguishable in this photo, the roofs were usually painted red to make them more visible from offshore.

A second generation of substantially larger stations began replacing the original buildings were usually retained but moved to make way for the new structures. As with the Cape Henry Station and Seatack Station, the original building was used as a stable for the horse assigned to each station and the storage of carts and other, larger items.

Shown here is an 1880's photo of John Woodhouse Sparrow, a crew member stationed at the Seatack Lifesaving Station at 24th Street. Sparrow is wearing the standard duty foul-weather gear: oilskin slicker, hat and boots, and he's carrying a standard-issue beach lantern and telescope.

Foot patrol watches along the Oceanfront were scheduled around the clock during the best and worst weather conditions (hence, his handy walking stick.)

Sparrow was awarded the USLSS Silver Medal for his heroic action while rescuing four crew members who had fallen overboard from the wrecked vessel Jennie Hall on Dec. 12, 1900.

THe crews that manned the USLSS were rued and fearless men who usually came from a hardy breed of beachmen and fishing families. They were required to be experts in the ways of the sea and in the handling of surfboats in broken

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waters. This invaluable experience contributed greatly to the gallant deeds they would be called on to preform. Regularly scheduled and strenuous safety drills kept these men well trained, in top of physical condition and always at the ready.

The Wreck of the Dictator
In the spring of 1891, the most tragic shipwreck occurred along the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. The Norwegian bark Dictator, a sailing vessel with a crew of 15 aboard, plus the wife and young son of the captain, J.M. Jorgensen, cast off from Pensacola, Florida with a full load of yellow pine lumber en route to England.

Well into the voyage, off the coast of Bermuda, the Dictator hit a heavy storm that damaged the vessel and caused the loss of two lifeboats. The captain was forced to steer the bark toward Virginia for repairs.

The Dictator was spotted by a surfman on foot patrol, along the beach. The ill-fated ship was limping helplessly north toward Cape Henry, completely at the mercy of a storm-tossed Atlantic Ocean. It wasn't long before the Dictator foundered on a sand bar several hundred yards north of Seatack Station. Full lifesaving crews from both Seatack and Cape Henry Stations, were prepared and ready to attempt to rescue those on board. After tolling for 12 hours, only eight of the crew had made it safely to shore. As darkness approached, and having been pounded all day by strong

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winds and heavy surf, the Dictator began to break apart. Pieces of lumber from the damaged ship and its cargo became lethal weapons in the churning surf.

A final, desperate attempt was made to reach shore by those still on board, including Captain Jorgensen, his wife, their 3-year-old son and four members of the crew. Spectators on the beach watched in horror as Captain Jorgensen strapped his son to his body and set out toward shore only to have his son swept off his back and drow. As the ship continued to break apart, Mrs. Jorgensen and the four remaining crew members were thrown into the cold and raging seawater. All drowned except for Captain Jorgensen, whose body was found washed up on shore, unconscious bu alive.

The figurehead of the Dictator washed ashore among the ship's debris which lined the beach for miles. The ornate, hand-carved wooden figurehead was placed on the Boardwalk at 16th Street and given the name "The Norwegian Lady." She remained there until 1953 as a "Visible Reminder of the Tragedy and the Dangers of Life at Sea."

This rare and truly remarkable photograph, taken March 28, 1891 in front of the Seatack Lifesaving Station, captures the tragedy surrounding the wreck of the "Dictator." Pictured are the grim faces of the 10 survivors, including Captain J.M. Jorgensen (fifth from the right), who lost his wife and son in the wreck. Captain Jorgensen never again returned to a life on the sea. However, every year for over over 30 years, on the anniversary of the tragedy, he returned to Virginia Beach and threw a bouquet of flowers into the ocean in memory of the lives of his family and crew.
 
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: DisastersWaterways & Vessels.
 
Location. 36° 51.853′ N, 75° 58.794′ W. Marker is in North Virginia Beach in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Marker is on 36th Street just west of Atlantic Avenue, on the right when traveling west. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 205 36th St, Virginia Beach VA 23451, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Princess Anne Hotel (here, next to this marker); The Threshold of a New Nation (here, next to this marker); A Day at the Beach (here, next to this marker); Seaside Park Casino / The Cavalier Hotel (a few steps from this marker); The Ash Wednesday Storm (a few steps from this marker); The Winds of Change (a few steps from this marker); VB Now (a few steps from this marker); Premier Boardwalk Events (within shouting distance of this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in North Virginia Beach.

 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on January 20, 2021. It was originally submitted on January 20, 2021, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 48 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on January 20, 2021, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.
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Mar. 5, 2021