Sandy exposes ship

By Sunset Beach, Reprinted By The Raleigh Telegram
SUNSET BEACH, NC – While Hurricane Sandy caused devastation to most of the Northeast, the Southeast experienced a much less severe
storm. But the storm still managed to unearth a piece of buried history in Surf City, on Topsail Island.
A section of the William H. Sumner, a three-masted schooner whose young captain died under suspicious circumstances after running the ship aground in 1919, has been protruding from the sand a short distance from the Dolphin Street beach access.
The wreckage is a chunk of the ship that floated ashore when the Coast Guard blasted the vessel shortly after it ran aground, to remove the navigation hazard.
At least part of the 489-ton, 165-foot ship is believed to be resting at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean near the southern end of the island. Erosion caused by strong coastal storms routinely exposes what has been identified as a side portion of the ship. This piece has been there for quite a while, and should ideally remain there underneath the sand, being naturally preserved that way. The wreckage is only visible at certain periods of low tide.
A large frame of the ship that once rested on the shore is in the state archaeology lab in Fort Fisher. The frame was moved to the lab after a group of fishermen was caught trying to illegally remove it from the beach about a year ago.
The state claims all abandoned shipwrecks still in the water. Surf City Mayor Zander Guy said when the wreckage was initially exposed more than 10 years ago it was a public safety concern. Large iron bolts used to hold the ship’s frame together eventually erode into spikes – a potential hazard to beachgoers. The state can permit beach towns to relocate and re-bury ship wreckage.
For the most part, beach towns leave the artifacts in place, giving a residents and visitors a rare glimpse of the past outside of museum walls.
The Sumner is a valuable resource unique to Surf City since most shipwrecks on the North Carolina coast are in the Outer Banks.
Archaeologists have studied the ship, a “heavily-built” vessel that hauled lumber and phosphate rock for about 30 years. On Sept. 7, 1919, it was sailing precariously close to the shore, catching the attention of swimmers and sunbathers at Wrightsville Beach.
Shortly after it ran aground, the Sumner’s 24-year-old captain was dead. His ship’s mate, Charles L. Lacey, claimed that his boss, Robert E. Cockram, shot himself to death. This was Cockram’s first command after a promotion only two weeks before.
But evidence pointed to foul play, and Lacey was charged with murder. He was convicted of the crime but later acquitted in an appeal.  ::
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: This article was released by the Town of Sunset Beach, North Carolina.