The Life Savers

Station in the Dunes by Cathy Ulrich

Symbol of times past,
You stand silent
on shifting dunes.

Those who shared your walls
patrolled these beaches
looking for wrecks.
Hurricane’s victims
run aground.

Ships foundered
on unseen bars of
dreaded sand
while surf pounded
their sides, and sailors
clung to rigging,
hoping that someone saw.

Brave men,
Life Savers came.
Lauching boats in
boiling waters,
rowing furiously
through rocky shoals,
reclaiming lives otherwise
lost.

Formally organized in 1878 as an agency of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the U.S. Life-Saving Service comprised a series of stations and crews positioned along major shipping routes along the East Coast, the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico and then later the West Coast. Their job was to patrol the beaches and harbors and to rescue crews and salvage cargo from the numerous shipwrecks of the day – the many thousands of them. In 1915, Woodrow Wilson signed “The Act to Create the Coast Guard” which served to merge the Life-Saving Service with the Revenue Cutter Service.

I always wondered why the U.S. Coast Guard was organized as an agency of the Department of Treasury (I think now, it has been moved to Homeland Security), but it makes sense that  the Coast Guard started as an agency involved in the rescue and salvaging of cargo ships.

Peter and I encountered this one remaining Life-Saving Station on Cape Cod during our visit to Provincetown this week. It was originally positioned at Old Harbor further south on the Cape, and was moved to Race Point in the Cape Cod National Seashore near Provincetown. Now a museum dedicated to the crews who manned and staged often dramatic rescues (not unlike modern Coast Guard rescues), this lovely old building captures the imagination of the days when sailing ships were vulnerable to any kind of weather and the shifting sands of commercial waterways.

For more information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Life-Saving_Service

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joshua_James_(lifesaver)

http://www.mychatham.com/capecodlifesavers.html

Old Harbor Life Saving Station by Cathy Ulrich

Have you ever encountered a museum or historic site that captured your imagination and made you wonder what it would have been like to have lived or worked in that time?

Love,

Cathy

21 comments on “The Life Savers

  1. That’s a neat old building. And the USCG is such an underappreciated organization, it’s so cool that you’re giving them some love. There have been many historic buildings that I would have loved to have lived in, and that I find incredibly compelling. One of the first ones that comes to mind is Washington Irving’s house in Sleepy Hollow, NY. It’s such a cool house.

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    • Cathy Ulrich says:

      Oh, I’d love to see Washington Irving’s house. That area on the Hudson River looks so amazing and there is such a great mystique around Irving. I loved the production of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” that Tim Burton did. Although, I pretty much like everything he does. And yes, the USCG is an amazing organization. I knew nothing about their history until I started researching the Life-Saving Stations. Interesting to note that the Coast Guard really got its start from volunteers and then land-based lookouts.

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  2. russtowne says:

    On the west coast of the U.S. is one or more similar sites and museums in tribute to the brave men who went into angry seas in little wooden boats to save men who were in ships that were in trouble. Amazing courage, skill, and dedication. Thank you for the reminder.

    Russ

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    • Cathy Ulrich says:

      Thank you, Russ. One of the links that I included here is about one of those rescuers, Joshua James, who worked as the Captain for the Life-Saver station in Hull, Massachusetts until he died while on duty at the age of 75. The stories are amazing. I really enjoyed learning about them.

      Cathy

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  3. Nice tribute to the Coast Guard Cathy. During WW2, my dad was a member. He swabbed the deck of a ship stationed off the coast of the Philippines. He called it the Draft Dodgers Yacht Club. As a woman, I can’t say that I’ve ever wanted to live or work in any era other than the present. When I visit my family out in the San Francisco Bay Area, I always see my best friend from college who insists we do something nature-y to offset my severe city slicker-ness. A few years ago we visited the Jack London House Museum which is an idyllic stone ranch surrounded with fantastic redwood trees. We were only there a few hours, but even I could easily stay there two entire days before I start gasping for crowds, noise and concrete.

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    • Cathy Ulrich says:

      V,
      It sounds like you may have gotten some of your wry sense of humor from your dad. I’m with you about being a woman and living in a different era. I’m not sure I’d actually want to live in these places, but I do find that they spark my imagination as to what it might have been like. Glad you enjoyed the Jack London House – and also glad that you found your place in the big city. I think another part about living in this era is that we actually have lots of choices about where we can live. Great to know you found yours.
      Cathy

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      • I’m a life-long city slicker. I had relatives that lived in the suburbs, one in particular — and insanely conservative Republican, think a Tea Partier before the party, thought my parents were horrid to raise their kids in San Francisco. She and her family eventually left the Bay Area to reside in a gated community in Arizona they so despised “the element”. Oy. I love city living and would surely suffer in the ‘burbs. I need glass, steel, concrete, noise and crowds to feel alive.

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      • Cathy Ulrich says:

        While I now live on an acre of land surrounded by mountains and overlooking a beautiful very large open space, I really enjoy visiting large cities and loved the three years that I lived in Boston. When we were there last week, I so enjoyed revisiting the lifestyle – taking the “T” everywhere, being in the energy of the crowds, the food, the lights – all of it. Being a big fan of visual and performing arts, I do miss the huge array of choices that big cities have to offer.

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  4. In Cornwall, the locals watched the shipwrecks, so that they could take the cargo once the men had drowned. Harder times. Down the back from me, there is a burial barrow which has never been excavated, and a replica iron age hut- no, I would not want to live then, I know enough about it to know that. And- it is interesting to learn of it, how people survived.

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    • Cathy Ulrich says:

      Yes, I think it is interesting to learn of past places and times. I wouldn’t necessarily want to have lived then, but I do find myself and my imagination wondering what it would have been like.

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  5. Brigitte says:

    Cathy, I love the Cape. Provincetown is such a cool place — very diverse and colorful and so New England, don’t you think? There’s just something about the Cape that is magical (as well as Nantucket!!). It’s so passionate and regal, you know? Loved the poem too.

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    • Cathy Ulrich says:

      Yes, I so love the Cape. It was my first time in Provincetown and I had never been on the Cape proper, but had been to Martha’s Vineyard a couple of times during the period that I lived in Boston. Those dunes are just amazing – beautiful, and wild. The day we went out to Race Point and I took these pictures, it was very foggy and mystical. I loved the way the Life-Saving Station looked in the fog across the dunes (my skin loved it too!). Thanks so much Brigitte! I hope your adventure was as much or even more fun!

      Cathy

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  6. Really interesting Cathy! I spent an incredible summer in Provincetown when I was 20. A truly magical place–but I never did see this station. I loved your pictures too! Love-Julie

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    • Cathy Ulrich says:

      Thanks, Julie! I had never been to Provincetown before. Loved it! And the Cape Cod National Seashore was just amazing! Were you working in Provincetown for the summer?
      Hugs,
      Cathy

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      • Julie Hansen Intuitive says:

        HI Cathy–I spent the summer before my last year of college working and living there for the summer. I met the most inspiring people–who I still remember so well. It is such a mystical place. Took me back to see those dunes! Love-Julie

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      • Cathy Ulrich says:

        It is very mystical. It was shrouded in fog for most of the time we were there. The two hundred year old homes, ships, the dunes and the sea. What a great place to spend a summer during your college years, Julie. I can only imagine how wonderful that must have been for you as a budding intuitive…

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  7. Fantastic piece. The poetry was especially evocative.

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  8. jolynproject says:

    Learn something new everyday. Thanks for sharing this info with us. 🙂

    Like

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