Cape Cod National Seashore Update on Newcomb Hollow Beach Shipwreck
Contact: William Burke, Seashore Historian, 508 255 3421 x 16
Contact: Sue Moynihan, Interpretation and Cultural Resources Management, 508 349 3785 x 230
The wreck that washed up on Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet in late January continues to capture the attention and imagination of the public, historians, archeologists, and others interested in this visual piece of Cape Cod maritime history.
Over the past several weeks the National Park Service (NPS) has coordinated the activities of researchers who are helping the seashore learn more about the wreck. Archeologists from the National Park Service, the University of Connecticut, and the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeology have documented the wreck through photographs and measured drawings. A researcher from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is carbon dating a piece of wood in an attempt to determine the age of the vessel. Another Woods Hole researcher will use LiDAR to provide a three-dimensional image of the wreck. Preliminary findings indicate that the wreckage is from the lower hull of a mid- to late-19th century schooner. The NPS will share research results, as it becomes available.
“This research will help us fully understand the boat and its maritime context,” said Seashore Superintendent George Price. Many individuals have suggested that the seashore excavate the wreck and display it at a seashore visitor center, or permit a maritime institution to acquire it for preservation and exhibition, or allow local historical societies to take pieces of the wreck to display in their museums.
“The integrity of this vessel is best preserved exactly where it is,” said Price. “If this were an intact ship with a significant, unique history in danger of being destroyed, our options might be different.” Recently, the seashore restored and placed on display an intact mid-19th century hay barge that likely is the last boat of its kind in New England. “In the case of the wreck,” Price said, “NPS management policies indicate that the best option is to leave it in place, provided we can count on the goodwill of the public to not damage it before it is claimed again by the sea. If despite our best efforts people damage or destroy the wreck, we will need to consider other options.”
Rangers continue to monitor activities at the wreck. Law enforcement patrols are ongoing, and several citations with fines or mandatory court appearances have been issued to people damaging and stealing parts of the wreck, which is protected under federal law. Interpretive rangers are on-site at the wreck periodically providing information to visitors. Persons visiting the wreck should be cognizant of the tides to avoid being trapped by an incoming tide. Also, the clay cliffs in the vicinity are unstable. Large sections can fall unpredictably, and for this reason visitors are urged to not climb up the cliffs.
“People seeing the wreck for the first time who share their reactions with us are almost universal in their responses,” said Price. “The scene is mystical. They feel connected to Cape Cod’s past. Assuming the wreck is pulled into the sea, we hope it will be washed ashore again in the future to inspire and educate a new group of people.”