Long Island Genealogy
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Long Island Shipwrecks

Long Island is the home of the famous "Wreck Valley". Hundreds of charted wrecks can be found in the waters off Long Island.  And there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of wrecks that are yet to be discovered or have not been charted.

    An Interesting, recommended, and well researched book, written by a native Long Islander and occassional visitor to this site is WRECKS AND RESCUES ON L.I. by Van Field is available from Runaway Bay Book Store in Sayville, the Souwester Books Shop in Bellport, Preston's in Greenport, Book Revue in Huntington, at Fire Island and Montauk Lighthouses.  It is also available by mail from Van at 17 Inwood Rd, Center Moriches, NY 11934 for $25 plus $2 shipping $27 total, sorry no credit cards.
    His stories also appear in L.I. Boating World every month along with Harlan Hamilton's LI Sound Lighthouse stories.  They are both interesting publications considering they are FREE at any marina or boating supply store.  L.I. Boating World also has a web site at http://www.liboatingworld.com.

Anyone having Information they wish to contribute to this section please contact Long Island Genealogy

Wreck Name
Type
Depth
Location
Loss Date
Coimbra Tanker 180 feet SE of Long Island, NY January 15, 1942
Hylton Castle Freighter 100 feet Fire Island, LI, NY January 11, 1886
Kenosha Freighter 105 feet Fire Island, NY July 24, 1909 
Lexington Steamboat 80-150 feet Long Island Sound January 14, 1840
Normandie Liner NA New York Harbor February 2, 1942
SS Oregon Liner 130 feet SE of Fire Island, NY March 14, 1886
USS San Diego Cruiser 115 feet Long Island, NY July 19, 1918
USS Tarantula Gunboat 115 feet South of LI, NY October 28, 1918
Texas Tower Radar Tower 180 feet South of Fire Island, NY January 15, 1961
USS Turner Destroyer 55 feet Off Sandy Hook Point January 3, 1944

Steamboat Lexington

    Construction on the paddlewheel steamship Lexington began during the month of September, 1834 at the Bishop and Simonson shipyard in New York, New York.  Any one pursuing an executive MBA would benefit from studying Cornelius Vanderbuilt's attention to quality and detail. Her hull was 120 feet long and 21 feet wide.  The Lexington was 490 gross tons.  Work was personally supervised by Cornelius Vanderbuilt, who ensured that the finest grade of materials would be used.  Seasoned white oak and yellow pine was used in the box frame design of the hull and deck.  The strength of the hull was derived from bridge plans in the publication, Town's Patent for Bridges .  Her wood burning, vertical-beam engine was built by the West Point Foundry.  Ship furnishings included teak railings, paneling, and stairways.  The highest quality of fixtures was used throughout the ship.  Safety was considered in every aspect during the planning and construction of the ship.  The single smokestack was encased throughout all decks.  Exposed combustable materials were not used near the boilers and steampipes.  A pipe was fitted into the hull which allowed the hot cinders from the boilers to pass into the water instead of on the decks.  A fire engine was installed with hoses and pumps.  Three lifeboats were placed on the Lexington near the stern and a life raft on the forward deck.  These lifeboats could only carry half of the full complement, but they fit the requirements of the day.
    On June 1, 1834, she began service as a day boat between New York, NY and Providence, RI.  Passengers enjoyed the fastest boat on Long Island Sound.  Service and accommodations were first class.  In 1837 the very successful service was moved to Stonington, Connecticut.  The New Jersey Steamship Navigation and Transportation Company purchased the Lexington in December of 1838 for $60,000.  The boilers were converted to burn coal, and the interior was refurbished at a cost of $12,000.  The coal fired engines were force fed by fans, which in turn would drive the steamship even faster and hotter.
    Daybreak found the Lexington tied up in New York on January 13, 1840.  The morning air was very cold, about zero degrees.  Ice was beginning to form on the surface of the water.  One hundred and fifty bales of cotton were loaded under the promenade deck of the steamship.  Some of these bales were placed within a few feet of the smokestack casing.  A fire had occured in the casing only a few days earlier, but no one took the problem seriously even after repairs were made.  It was a mistake that would later prove disastrous.
    For the evenings Long Island Sound crossing, Captain George Child was in charge of the ship and crew of thirty-four.  The regular master, Captain Jacob Vanderbuilt (Cornelius's brother),  was home sick with a cold.  A number of sea captains were boarding on their way home to see loved ones. Passengers began arriving in the early afternoon and paid $1.00 for the trip to Stonington.  The fare was 50 cents if passengers stayed on the decks, but the temperatures were too cold for anyone.  For those passengers traveling beyond the Connecticut destination, a train would continue their journey to Boston.  Adolphus Harnden boarded with $20,000 in silver coins and $50,000 in bank notes for the Merchants Bank.  The ship took on about 115 passengers and departed her dock for the last time around three o'clock in the afternoon.  The twenty-three foot diameter paddlewheels propelled the vessel down the East River and around Throgs Neck into Long Island Sound.  A brisk north wind was blowing, producing a heavy sea.  Additional coal was thrown on the fire and the Lexington began to pick up speed as she began her journey into the open sea.  White caps could be seen on the water as Manhattan drifted into the setting sun.
    By six o'clock the passengers were settled in and enjoying dinner.  They had a choice of baked flounder in a wine sauce or mutton with boiled tomatoes.  Conversations covered the lastest news, politics, and banking rates.  Some ventured out onto the decks for a short time, only to return quickly to the warm interior.  One table was engrossed in a game of cards.  No one knew of the horror that was about to happen.
    At seven thirty, a fire was reported by the first mate.  Looking out the wheel house, flames could be seen shooting from the aft section of the promenade deck, near the smokestack casing.  Captain Child steered the vessel south toward the north shore of Long Island in an effort to beach her, but soon the steering became unresponsive.  The Lexington then turned to a heading of east, on its own, as if trying to out run the flames. The lines between the rudder and the wheelhouse were burned through.  With her steam engine running at full power, the Lexington was now out of control.  The fire quickly engulfed the entire aft section of the ship.  Crew members in the engine room were forced out by the flames before the engines could be shutdown.  Launching the lifeboats while the Lexington plowed through the water was impossible.  The fire fighting equipment was not deployed properly and any chance of stopping the fire was lost.  The silver coins were dumped onto the deck so the wooden box could be used in a bucket brigade.  Flames were now as high as the smokestack.  They could be seen from the shoreline of Connecticut and Long Island.  Many boats in the shoreline marinas were blocked by low tide, ice, and rough seas in an attempt to reach the burning steamboat.  Captain Child ordered the launching of the lifeboats.
    The scene on the decks were of terror and panic.  As the crew were preparing a boat for launching, passengers stormed the lifeboat, filling it well beyond capacity.  In the wake of a trashing paddlewheel, the boat and everyone in it was quickly swept away and lost.  The Lexington was slowing down, giving some the chance to throw cotton bales over the side as rafts.  By midnight the steamship was burned from bow to stern.  Its deck had collapsed into the hull.  At three o'clock the next morning, the Lexington slowly sank into Long Island Sound.
    Many people who remained in the water succumbed to the freezing cold water.  In the end, only four people would survive.  All but one of the survivors was frostbitten.  The Second Mate, David Crowley was able to dig into the center of a cotton bale to stay warm.  He floated for forty-eight hours until he was washed ashore.  He was to keep the bale in his Providence, Rhode Island home for many years until he sold it for the Civil War effort.
    On September 20, 1842, the Lexington was lifted by heavy chains to the surface, only to break up and sink again into 130 feet of water.  A thirty pound melted mass of silver was recovered from inside the hull.
    Today the wreck lies broken up across the bottom in anywhere from 80 feet deep to 140 feet of water.  The wreck is covered in wire from the salvage operation, fishing line, and other wreckage.  The bottom is very dark, cold, and extremely hazardous.  Navigation lines are a must.  A paddlewheel is located at Loran 26679.1/43979.9 in 80 feet.  The bow is at 26652.1/43962.8 in 140 feet.


SS Oregon

    The night before arriving in port it was Captain Philip Cottiers' custom to supervise the OREGON'S entry into New York City. He went below leaving word to be awakened at 5 A.M.to welcome the arrival of the Pilot boat. This would give him enough time to be on the bridge before daybreak.
    As he went below he scanned the horizon and gazed out at the cool clear night with great satisfaction. The OREGON made the crossing on schedule again. He was pleased with the OREGON'S excellent performance making the trip from Liverpool, England in just under 71/2 days. The watch was on deck as always and the first mate was on the bridge nearby following the Captain's orders. Captain Cottiers had complete confidence in his crew.
    Suddenly out of the blackness of night a three masted heavily laden schooner struck the OREGON midships. The phantom ship, later identified as the CHARLES R. MORSE, penetrated the OREGON'S steel hull and stove three large holes in the luxury liner's port side. Temporarily they locked together but just as suddenly they drifted apart. Cries of help filled the quietness of the night as the schooner slipped mysteriously below the waves taking her crew with her.
    No one seems to know with any certainty when, how or why the idea of the Blue Riband was started. Recording speeds of steamship crossings began in 1838 and has continued since. In 1886 the OREGON was one of the speediest to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Although materially the award never existed until 1935, the OREGON was the proud recipient of that prestigious title. Until then her competition was not yet born. It was not until 1952, when the U.S.S. United States won the title for the United States and recaptured the award from other contenders. This time officially with the coveted Silver cup of Victory. The OREGON, although gone these many years held this victorious title in abeyance for The United States.
    When the OREGON left Liverpool at 10 A.M. on Saturday March 6, 1886 Captain Philip Cottiers, her skipper, intended to buoy the credibility of her exceptionable speed. She carried her 520 foot length proudly with her 7,375 gross tons across her 40 foot beam. She could make 19 knots with ease. Not only was she queen of the Atlantic she was also luxury par excellence. The seasoned and experienced crew members catered to the whims of the more than 650 passengers on board.
    The entire week of this momentous voyage the waves were glass top smooth and comfortably calm. Billowing clouds could be seen in a 360 degree arc painting a picture most passengers would never forget. It was a memorable crossing in more ways than one could imagine. Captain Cottiers made his last entry in the log before the morning docking, smiling as he flowingly wrote, "Weather clear, seas calm, fresh breeze from the west, continuing at maximum speed. All is well."
    At that time the OREGON was the biggest and the fastest ship afloat. It was designed especially for Stephen Barker Guion, owner of the American Lines, by Fairfield Ship Builders of Glasgow. She was exquisitely fitted with the finest, most elaborate and costliest materials. Steve Guion's penchant for splendor and speed became an obsession that eventually became his downfall. The diminishing quotas of passenger crossings certainly did not help either.
    With the invention of the compound steam engine in 1870 this four masted barque now sported two impressive smoke stacks, burned 240 tons of coal per day producing 12,000 horsepower. On her maiden voyage in 1881 she crossed the Atlantic in 6 days ten hours and 40 minutes. An unheard of speed...yet engineers predicted more improvements were on the drawing boards to increase propulsion and fuel economy. This earned the OREGON the mystical Blue Riband award ...and unfortunately the notoriety of being the largest ship to have been sunk off Long Island.
    Stephen Guion's interests centered elsewhere after winning this prize and as a result he went bankrupt. Cunard Line purchased the OREGON and placed her in the passenger trade crossing the Atlantic on a regular basis. As this giant forged forward approaching New York Harbor most of her passengers went to bed anticipating her early morning arrival. The engineers made certain she maintained full speed. The OREGON went down 107 years ago becoming the largest wreck lost in the history of ship navigation on Long Island. She is located on the 20 fathom curve just about 22 miles from the Fire Island Inlet. Smaller vessels with sufficient fuel can make the trip with ease. She is fairly easy to locate because the hull is still in one piece and her twin smoke stacks stand out like sore thumbs on the depth recorder.
    Unlike the SAN DIEGO the OREGON is right side up as though in a deep water drydock with her giant screw still buried in the sand. "At the time we were under a full load of steam, hoping to arrive in New York City in time for early Sunday church services. The weather was clear even at this early hour of 4:30 A.M.", said Captain Cottiers. After the collision the OREGON floated for more than 8 hours. He had earlier ordered all water tight compartments closed. "We worked from the moment of the collision. We took all the necessary precautions. The engineers attempted to seal the onrushing sea with a large canvas patch, but it was
useless." The CHARLES R. MORSE, after colliding with the OREGON disappeared completely. None of the nine man crew or any part of the wreckage was ever found although a couple of masts were located about 17 miles from where the OREGON now lies.
    "We wasted no time alerting the passengers. Some never heard or were aware that a vessel had collided with us. The temporary repair kept us afloat just a little longer", explained Captain Cottiers. At about 8 A.M. upon hearing the distress signals the Pilot boat was the first to arrive. THE OREGON'S crew had already lowered the boats as the F.A.GORHAM of Maine came into view.
    Captain Cottiers was the last to leave his ship, later he commented to reporters, "I'm thankful that there were so many people involved in the rescue." Four hundred passengers and crew were transferred to the Pilot boat and about 500 hundred more on the F.A.Gorham schooner. Everyone on the OREGON was saved. It was a text book rescue.
    The OREGON'S cargo, worth about a million British pounds, all of the passengers baggage with untold valuables and over 300 mail bags remained on the OREGON as she majestically slid beneath the frigid waves.
    Rumor spread as to what caused the strange and unusual sinking. Mistakenly it was said that it was caused by an engine room steam explosion, quite common in those days. Some criticized the ability and qualifications of the ship's personnel. At the hearing by the Board of Inquiry in Liverpool, the panel concluded that no blame could be placed on the officers or crew of the OREGON.
    Through out the many years the OREGON has become one of the most interesting wrecks on the Eastern seaboard. All kinds of  artifacts have been found there. Besides being one of the most popular dive area on the East Coast, it has become a favorite fishing area for all types of game fish....But the most important prize of all are the 20 lb lobsters said to have spawned in the recesses of the OREGON.


USS San Diego

    Armored Cruiser 6 was originally named the USS California, the ship that would later be renamed to the USS San Diego. She was built for the United States Navy by the Union Iron Works of San Francisco, California. This shipyard also built the USS Olympia almost ten years before. The Olympia is available for tours at its Philadelpia, Pennsylvania dock. The hull of the ACR6 was launched April 28, 1904 almost two years after the keel was laid. It was 503 feet long and had a beam of almost 70 feet. The ship weighed about 15,000 tons fully outfitted and loaded for duty. Two eighteen foot diameter propellers were driven by two steam powered engines. These four cylinder engines were supplied steam by sixteen boilers. These engines could produce
25,000 horse power.
    ACR6 was commissioned into the United States Navy on August 1, 1907 as the USS California. In addition to two torpedo tubes, she carried four 8-inch, fourteen 6-inch, and eighteen 3-inch guns.
    She operated in the Pacific Ocean, visiting many ports including the Philippines, China, Japan, Hawaii, Peru, and Guam. In January of 1911, she is designated the flagship of the Pacific fleet. On September 1, 1914, the ship is renamed the USS San Diego. This was done as a result of a new policy of naming battleships after states. Shortly after, a boiler explosion kills nine crewman during a full speed run in the Gulf of California.
    The USS San Diego left the water of the Pacific Ocean and entered the Atlantic Ocean via the Panama Canal for the first time during July 1917. She served in the Atlantic as a convoy escort, at one time stopping at the port in La Croisie, France. After removal of some of her 6-inch guns in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the San Diego steams to New York to meet up with a transatlantic convoy. At 11:05 a.m. most the crew of the San Diego felt a dull thud which originated from the port side engine room. The crew that worked in this area must have experienced a large explosion as bulkheads were smashed in. The ocean soon followed and within 20 minutes the USS San Diego gently rolled over and was gone, along with six of her crew. It is amazing that 1,177 of the ship's crew and officers were able to abandon ship in a such a short time.
    The German submarine U.156 is credited with sinking the USS San Diego. The submarine laid mines in the area where the cruiser was lost. Unfortunately we will never know the details of the U.156 operations, as the submarine was sunk on her return voyage after entering a mine field.
    The USS San Diego today lies upside down about eleven miles southeast of Fire Island inlet, Long Island, New York at Loran 26543.4 43693.2 in 115 feet of sea water.
    The weight of the massive armor belt along with the hull and it's contents crushed the superstructure into the sand soon after she sank. The hull is relatively intact, its keel is at seventy feet and the sand is at around 115 feet. The ship rests upside down with a list to the port side. This angle allows more light on the starboard side, which commonly called 'the light side'. The port side is called 'the dark side' because of the shadow in which it resides. The sand line is higher on this side because of the list. The stern has started to collapse, but the propeller shafts, which are the diameter of 55 gallon drums, hang out into space at the seventy foot mark. The propellers were removed in the early sixties, however one was lost while on its way to Staten Island, New York. A bilge keel on each side on the hull runs a good length of the ship. These were attached to give the ship stability. They now give divers a line of reference for navigating the wreck. Along 'the light side', the 3-inch guns can be found sticking out from their mounts in the hull.
    Many holes exist at various locations around the hull. These can give advanced divers the opportunity to investigate the San Diego's dark interior. The inside doesn't resemble a ship, but rather a junk yard of collapsed machinery, bulkheads, and ship stores. Penetration of the wreck requires special skills and equipment. Hallways and rooms ranging in size from small to very large can quickly silt out, reducing visibilty to zero. Six divers have died on this wreck. It is the most popular dive site in New England, attracting hundreds of divers every year. The US Navy has a policy for removing artifacts from sunken aircraft and shipwrecks.



USS Turner

    Commander Henry Sollett Wygand Jr. of the U.S.S. TURNER never had a chance. Without warning a mysterious explosion ripped open the main deck sending it sky-high, toppling the mast onto the deckhouse and smashing the ship's only link with the world, destroying the ship's nerve center and the emergency transmission radio system. Commander Wygand along with many of his officers were killed immediately. Sailors were blown to the deck. Their bleeding bodies were scattered everywhere. Fire erupted instantly while the engine room quickly filled with hot poisonous smoke and fumes.
    As the wheelhouse collapsed it was accompanied by an unbearable screech of grinding steel. Many more seaman were blown over the side into the freezing water. The engineers feverishly worked to maintain power in subdued darkness waiting for orders from the bridge. Orders never came.
    It was 3:30 A.M., January 3, 1944 when THE TURNER quietly maneuvered through the wind, rain and sleet in darkness, and dropped anchor, after completing nine months of active sea duty in the North Atlantic. Here she was 4 miles SE of Rockaway Point, Long Island in 60 feet of water awaiting new official orders.
    This Bristol Class Navy Destroyer (designated DD648) was one of 56 that were built in Federal Shipyards' facility in New Jersey. It was named in honor of Captain Daniel Turner, a hero of the war of 1812. It took five months to build, a record time even with today's automated shipbuilding techniques. This fortress could make in excess of 33 knots with her twin screw machinery.
    Chief Machinist Mate Rene H. Pincetl was getting the engine room tuned up so that the TURNER could weigh anchor at 7AM sharp. He was lighting off the boiler and getting ready to start up on time when suddenly and without warning a thunderous explosion violently shook the destroyer. "The concussion threw me across the engine room against the bulkhead", he recalled.
    All communications were now useless and he couldn't talk to the bridge. The engine room quickly filled with smoke and toxic gases. "I secured the blowers hoping that would slow the smoke from coming down. We were busy. At the time there were six of us in the engine room," he explained.
    Dave Merrill, the radioman tried to send an SOS through the emergency transmitter but found the main radio room useless and in shambles. Later he said that what bothered him most was, "the loss of a brand new suit of tailor made blues...they cost me $49."
    The first blast ripped the 5 inch guns out of their mounts like they were toys. Sailors watched in awe and disbelief as the cannons turned end over end. Flames belched suddenly from another gun mount. Coxswain Raymond 0. Pomp said that his crew immediately broke out the C02 extinguishers to put out the flames erupting from #3 mount. When that extinguisher emptied they hooked up the hose. "We were especially concerned in preventing the gun's ammunition nearby from exploding," he explained. "All hands were either fighting fire or taking care of some of the guys that got hurt. I heard three blasts in all. There was no confusion, no panic, even when the fuel oil flared up and lit up the stormy winter sky. The way the flames reflected on the rolling waves was weird. It was real scary with the artillery shells exploding around us."
    Luckily the crew left the forward mess room a few minutes before the initial blast. That's where without any warning whatsoever the explosion tore open a gigantic hole. As with most meals of the day, the 200 crewmen were always fed in shifts and the engineers had just finished when it all happened. The engineers worked continuously to maintain enough pressure to operate the ship's fire water main. It was difficult groping in the semi-darkness, choking and trying to see through blood-shot eyes. The crew heroically remained at their posts attending to stricken buddies in the brightness of the burning fuel oil.
    Coxswain Williams on duty at the Coast Guard look-out station on Sandy Hook luckily happened to see the destroyer explode through the haze. A general quarters alarm dispatched a sub-chaser and a 77 foot launch to the scene. The need for assistance spread quickly. Immediately upon arrival the Cutter rescued a man bobbing about on a torn mattress while another clung desperately to the ship's mascot, a little mongrel terrier called "Turn To."
    Survivors were certain the order to 'abandon ship' came from the Cutter's Captain at 7AM. The 83 foot sub-chaser, the larger of the vessels pushed her bow athwart the burning destroyer and lashed in to receive the stranded seamen. The bright flames of burning oil made the operation easier to see, while other Coast Guard units continued to cruise the area in search of missing Sailors.
    Officially the cause of the mysterious explosion was blamed on defective ammunition. This explanation doesn't ring true simply because the experienced and well disciplined crew would have been alerted to any sensitive munitions problem during the previous nine months they worked together. A more popular theory attributed the blast to U-boat activity. It was a well known fact that Germans had sunk dozens of ships in and about New York harbor. The heavy blustery weather that blanketed the morning of January 3, 1944 could have provided enough cover for a sub to prowl in releasing numerous torpedoes to create the havoc
witnessed on the TURNER.
    A normal compliment on destroyers of this class consisted of approximately 200 men. Of that number 163 were actually rescued. Its logical to presume that 37 men joined Commander Wygand on the "missing-in-action" list.
    Ashore, reports later revealed, That the explosion affected people in a variety of ways. Besides the concussion and spooky whistling, gusts were accompanied by unexplainable rumbles that mysteriously rattled and shattered windows. Some thought it was an earthquake. Directly west of where the TURNER exploded, covering the entire length of Staten Island's 15 miles, the countryside residents were bewildered and confused. In the Bay Ridge section along the waterfront, a woman was sure that ''the heavy woman upstairs fell out of bed." Suburban dwellers thought their oil burners exploded. Up and down the New Jersey and Long Island shores and as far away as Bellville, New Jersey, folks reported strange happenings. Even in Bayshore and Babylon on Long Island, reports came in that people felt the explosion's vibration too.
    Before everyone left the TURNER Coxswain Ray Pomp went below decks, closed some hatches and checked to see that every one was out. "The next explosion I heard split her in two. That's when she busted-up after 7AM. Slowly the TURNER slid to the bottom 55 feet down," he sadly remembered. Just as the whirlpool of the sinking ship leveled off, the final and worst detonation occurred. Water flew high in the sky as if to say farewell. With daylight the ocean resumed its repetitive earthly pattern. The U.S.S. TURNER is no longer a hazard to navigation since an oil tanker rubbed her bottom on the wreck. This prompted some salvage and the TURNER now rests broken up in 50 to 58 feet of water. Although the Navy Department did not officially say so, German U-boats had been lurking around Coney Island area looking to decimate more tonnage as freighters left New York harbor for Europe. There is no doubt that German U-boats torpedoed the TURNER not once but twice. Now she is an excellent in-shore search area, within easy reach for both divers and anglers. Bonito, albacore and weakfish have made the TURNER their territory and roam about the old girl's slowly rusting remains.



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