A ledger has recently come to light, a kind of logbook that chronicled the day-to-day activities at the Ditch Plain, Montauk, lifesaving station during the five-year period from 1873 to 1878. Trouble is, you will have to go to Southold to see it.
The Southold Historical Society purchased the ledger for its Horton Point Lighthouse Museum after it was offered for sale by a private collector.
“We were contacted by a dealer who acquired it. He contacted a number of institutions. It was in excellent condition. We have collections related to the U.S. Life Saving Service,” said Geoffrey Fleming, director of the Horton Light museum.
The Life Saving Service operated stations all along the coast. It was one of the Coast Guard’s precursor agencies.
Mr. Fleming said his museum bought the log last summer at a cost “in the low thousands,” along with a number of photographs of East End lifesaving stations. He said the book details a number of rescues, maintenance information, and shipwrecks, of which the most tragic was surely the wreck of the Circassian off Bridgehampton. On Jan 1, The New York Times reported that “the search for the bodies of the unfortunate men of the ship Circassian was rewarded yesterday afternoon by the discovery of three corpses which were thrown up on the shore about four miles [west] of Montauk Point. The wind did not abate until nightfall, yet it was not so keen as to drive off the patrolling men of the Life Saving Service.”
The lifesaving station was certainly the Ditch Plain Station. The bodies were those of three crewman, all of whom were Shinnecock Indians. The wreck itself occurred on the stormy night of Dec. 11.
Mr. Fleming said that yes, he had been contacted after the sale by a representative of the Montauk Lighthouse Museum. Tricia Wood, the Montauk museum’s site manager, said Tuesday that while the Horton Light museum was not interested in selling the book, it would consider lending it to Montauk sometime in the future.
More information about the ledger can be found on the Southold Historical Society’s Web site, southoldhistoricalsociety.org.