200 Plus

Fake News Blames ‘Heartless’ Locals

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Mar 20, 2019

In 1884, the barkentine Elmina had grounded on the bar off LBI in a violent storm, with the loss of all those on board. While the failure of the local life-saving crews to save anyone was explained, the treatment of the victims’ bodies came under scrutiny.

The New York Times on Jan. 13 stated, “Six mounds, freshly made, mark the resting-places of seven of the victims of the disaster to the bark. Elmira. … Placed in pine boxes, the bodies were hastily buried in the sand. Each grave is marked with a number, the same number being attached to the remnants of clothing taken from the bodies, and kept by the crew of Life-saving Station No. 21.”

Even local papers, such as the Matawan Journal, repeated the stories.

“Eight bodies of victims of the wrecked barkentine Elmina have been recovered. … They were buried last Saturday on the beach abreast of the spot where the vessel went to pieces on Long Beach.”

The New York Telegram decided to build on what was being reported with an investigation and on the 17th ran the headline “APATHY ALL ROUND.”

 The article stated, “Although it is now five days since six men, a woman and child were washed ashore from the British bark Elmina, which was wrecked on Long Beach upon the Jersey coast, yet nothing has yet been done, nor is there likely to be, to give the victims a Christian burial. From inquiries made by a Telegram reported to-day … there is not a society or person in the whole length and breadth of the land whose duty it is to see that the body of the shipwrecked sailor received any better treatment than being tumbled into a half-dug grave in the sands wherever the sea happens to cast him up. When one mariner was spoken to of this he scornfully asked, ‘Who cares what is done with a dead sailor.’”

From the owners of the Elmina it was learned “The firm stated to the reporter that so far as they knew it was not anybody’s duty to give decent burial to bodies of sailors thrown up on the shore along the coast. … The supposed relatives of the drowned sailors would be the only ones to remove the remains for proper interment. … It was probable the bodies were buried out of reach of the waves and the place marked.”

The story got worse.

“Mr. Jones, of the Atlantic Mutual Marine Insurance Company, said that he had never heard of any association or society whose mission it was to procure Christian or even decent burial for ship-wrecked sailors. There were societies for animals, inanimate objects and almost any (and) every conceivable object, but poor Jack’s dead body was seemingly so much lower in the scale than these that no one had ever thought of starting a fund to bury the bodies of sailors cast ashore.”

The United States Lifesaving Service put the onus back on local citizens. “If the coroner took possession of the bodies, they were buried at the least possible expense to the county wherein Long Beach is situated.”         

Making the local Jersey Shore citizens look heartless, prominent New Yorkers became involved. Two days later in the Telegram, “The unfortunate crew of the English bark Elmina, wrecked at West Creek, near Barnegat, were buried in the sands on the seashore. This has been regarded by many thousands of people as a great calamity. At all events it has aroused laudable and charitable feelings in the minds and hearts of several. Miss Agnes Herndon, an actress, contributes five dollars toward a fund to be used to insure the deceased decent burial.”

The people of Manahawkin felt they were being wronged by this “fake news.” Some of them decided to set the record straight.

“The reports which reached this city from Long Beach, Ocean County, N.J., that the bodies of the ill-fated crew of the English bark Elmina, sailing from Salscombe, wrecked on the coast between Beach Haven and the Great Swamp, Ocean County, had been buried in the sand without Christian ceremony, were greatly exaggerated, (said) Coroner Luke A. Courtney, of the village of Manahawkin, near Long Beach, in speaking of the matter to a Telegram reporter.”

After attempts to send the life car to the vessel failed, the Elmina began to break up, and it was struck with a large wave.

“When the spray cleared, as the immense wave receded, it was evident that those on board had been washed into the ocean. It required but a few minutes then for the sea to break the vessel in pieces, which were strewn along the beach and carried over it by the rising tide into the bay at Manahawkin, about seven miles in width. Nothing further could be done by the men on the beach. They watched the timbers as they were dashed on the sands and swept away again. Every fragment was examined in the hope that some of the crew could be found clinging to the wreckage, but with(out) avail. … Everything had been swept out to sea, excepting some debris lodged among the hills of ice in the bay. Five bodies were washed ashore near Live Saving Station No. 20. I was immediately notified by Mr. Pharo, one of the crew of that station. I at once proceeded there and had the bodies conveyed across the bay to Manahawkin and prepared them for burial. Each was washed and clad in new clothing.”

What of the charges that the victims were buried on the beach?

“On the following Sunday they were buried in the Baptist churchyard, with appropriate religious services conducted by the Rev. Dr. Perry, of the Methodist Church, and Rev. Dr. Eldridge, of the Baptist Church. The ladies of the village had anchors of evergreens made, which were placed upon the graves. Each body and grave was marked and a full description taken of them, so that if their friends should turn up and desire to remove them it could be done without trouble. … There were five bodies found, although from signals made from the wreck to the lifesaving crew there were sixteen on board the Elmina. There was no woman or child in the number.”

Courtney then explained in detail what he had done to help identify the victims.

“Body No. 1 had worked in ink on right arm a tree with a snake entwined in the branches, and a man and woman, one on each side of the stem underneath the boughs, intended to represent  a Biblical scene: also, heart and cross between thumb and forefinger, a star on back near right side, heart on left, a star on back near right side, heart on left thumb, and an anchor and cross on left hand. He measured five feet eight inches, had blue eyes, brown hair and whiskers; age about twenty-eight years. English without doubt, and probably an officer.”

The Rev. Eldredge also wrote to the paper saying, “Since I am pastor of the Baptist Church at Manahawkin, N.J., pronounced the burial service at the graves of the wrecked crew, it becomes my duty to vindicate the citizens of this town and those of authority from the incorrect statements which have appeared in the press of New York. The statement that ‘six sailors, a woman and child’ were washed ashore from the bark Elmina is untrue. There were only five bodies seen, which were found on the Long Beach. … They were promptly and carefully brought to this town, where new boxes were made for them, their bodies kindly placed therein and conveyed to a public building … where the citizens gathered to view the remains ... which were then conveyed to the Baptist burial ground, where a concourse of people collected to take a parting look, to wreath the coffins, to weep and to hear the burial service performed by a minister of the Gospel at request of the Coroner.”

The citizens of Manahawkin had stood up against New York’s “fake news” – and they weren’t done just yet!

Next Week: Hallowed ground.

tpfcjf@comcast.net

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