Saturday, June 16, 2012

Hauntingly beautiful

Ghostly image of a 1897 Shipwreck, still visible at low tide, on Higgins Beach, Maine

In 1967 Miss Emma Bray told the story as she remembered it as a young girl:

"The old wreck down by the river has been a part of the scenery here at Higgins Beach so long that most folks just take it for granted. But there are some of us who can remember when it wasn't so there and when it came.

Way back in 1987, August 11, that was a bad, bad night-foggy! It was so thick it looked as if the space between earth and sky was stuffed with gray-white cotton.

A bunch of us kids rode over to Bowery Beach on our bicycles to a square dance that evening. It was clear when we started; but when the dance was over and we set out for home, it was so foggy we were afraid of running into each other on the river coming down Meeting House Hill.  However we made it without a mishap.
About 2 am my mother was awakened by loud noises out towards the water, but she could see nothing. When morning came and the fog cleared, we saw a three-masted schooner stationed well inshore-near the first point in the river. It was a beautiful ship-majestic-sitting there as if at anchor. She didn't look at all like a wreck with a big hole in her hull.

It was the Howard W. Middleton, strongly built of white oak and yellow pine in 1882 at Camden, NJ. A real noble ship. It had left Philadelphia on August 2 with 894 tons of coal for Peter Nickerson and Company in Portland, Maine. Captain Shaw was trying to make Richmond Island Harbor inside the breakwater to lay over till morning. Instead, he ran onto that rock near the mouth of the Spurwink. On our geodetic map that rock is charted simply as "obstruction" and it is only about 28 feet deep there. If you stand at the foot of Champion St. at very low tide, you may see the top of the rock beneath a breaker. You can always see a breaker there a couple hours before and after the dead low water.

Well, there was lots of excitement! The crew came ashore and talked with the residents. Tugs from Portland Harbor plied the water for days taking off coal. She had soft coal in her lower hold and hard coal between decks.

On August 12th, she was declared a total loss and was placed in the hand of the underwriters. People began to pick up coal on the beach by the buckets and barrels. Mrs. Kenney remembers that her father drove over from Westbrook with a cart and got two tons of coal for winter.

People were eager for souvenirs, of course, and many of us remember when some big boys stole the shop's bell. But the captain or the sheriff made them return it to the captain.

There she stayed on the rocks, pretty as a picture (although she was really broken in two,) all the rest of August. She was there when we left in September. Sometime the following winter a storm broke her up and washed her ashore where she now lies. There is a piece of it in the river too, which can be seen at low tide. There are always changes around the old wreck. Years ago there was quite a big swimming pool around the ocean end of it, with water as deep as 8 feet near the boat. A 12 year old boy drown there one summer.

Some years the ribs of the hull stand up head high above the beach and perhaps the next year they will be buried in the sand. For years we picked up beautiful iridescent pieces of coal showing red, green, and blue, and now you may find a long piece from the old Howard W. Middlton. A few people have a picture of this boat on paperweights. These pictures were taken from the beach and showed this proud, three-masted vessel in her last days of beauty."
Photo credits
and pinterest
The story is a reprint from:


  1. Those pictures are amazing. Really beautiful.

  2. How great it is to talk to older folks. My grandfather was born in 1886, and he used to tell the most fantastic stories. I only wish I had been smart enough then to write them down. Now all those stories are a mish mash of discrepancies among my brothers, sisters, cousins, and even my mom. The only thing we know for sure is that he was born in Birmingham England, grew up in Philadelphia, was put in an orphanage at fifteen which he ran away from, and joined a circus.

  3. what an interesting story jackie-love it! :)

  4. Hi Jackie
    Such an interesting story and the photos are amazing...

  5. What a wonderful story Jackie. And I might add, told very well!