Editor’s note: On February 4, 1918, the Cross Rip Lightship LV-6 broke her mooring off in Nantucket Sound Massachusetts and was carried away, held fast in field ice. The following article was published in the Boston Sunday Post on February 17, 1918.
Cross Rip Lightship has been “lost” at sea. But down at Dennis on the Cape, the women of the men of the lost lightship are keeping a tearful vigil. Day by day, Hope is being crushed by Fear. They pick up the newspaper with dread. They tremble at a knock on the door.
Their bravery is pathetic as they wipe away their tears and eagerly grasp at the reassuring words of an old sea captain visitor. And their eyes glisten as he tells of how the “Pollock Rip Lightship was gone two weeks and more afore they found her,” and they smile for the moment as he enlarges upon the solid oak construction of their men’s ship – “better’n a whaler in the ice.”
Not even “Auntie,” the old prophetess of Dennis, believed in by the women, can relax the tension of that never-ceasing vigil, and she has closed her eyes, looked off out to sea and “seen that the lightship is safe.”
Insignificant in comparison with the Titanic tragedy across seas is that of the missing lightship, but the whole country, as well as the women of Dennis, are tremendously concerned in its fate. More than a week ago, the irresistible drive of the field ice swept the lightship away from her mooring, some 10 miles south of Hyannis in Nantucket Sound.
A week ago Wednesday, the keeper of Sankaty Light on the easternmost point of Nantucket, saw the lightship moving out to sea clutched tight in the grip of the ice. Her captain, “Dick” Phillips, had gone ashore the day before she broke away.
As the Sunday Post man opened the gate of the home of Mate Henry F. Joy, he saw in the bay window the bent, gray-haired figure of a woman. Before he could knock on the door, she had opened it and before he had spoken, she eagerly inquired: “Have they been found?”
Grief, unutterable, filled the mild blue eyes of the old lady when the reporter replied gently, “Not yet, but they still hope.” There was no need of asking if she was the wife of the mate as her broken figure turned and she gestured an invitation to enter. It was noticeable at once as she walked straight to the chair by the window, that there, she had been keeping a long vigil.
One hand parted the curtains that she might better see, the other clasped a dampened handkerchief, and with eyes gazing intently out and along the road by which any message would come, Mrs. Joy talked.
“The men tell me she’s a sound ship and that the chances are far more that she’ll be saved than lost. Indeed, it was the last thing that my husband spoke of on his last trip ashore – how sound she was. He and Captain Phillips had gone all over the ship and aside from a small cut in her hull, there was nothing wrong with her. Not a bucket of water in her and she’d been in the ice for weeks, then.
“But she hasn’t been seen since she passed Sankaty. The rescue ships could not see a single ship on the Georges where she probably would have drifted. And look at this clipping – it says they’re given up as lost.” Mrs. Joy burst into tears, heedless of the reporter’s attempts to comfort her.
The door opened suddenly. A robust young women entered the room quickly. This was no time for the niceties of etiquette. She flung the question at the reporter: “Have they been found?”
The newcomer was Mrs. Sarah Gage, one of the old lady’s two married daughters. More self-contained than her mother, she accepted the negative news with resignation. But she, too, is keeping the vigil no less sternly than her mother, as she revealed, when she went on to say: “I saw you come here from the kitchen of my home below, and I thought you were bringing news. Naturally, any news would come to mother first, and every time I see anyone at the door, I drop everything and run over. Mother has been taking it very hard –”
“We’ve been married 40 years,” interrupted Mrs. Joy, speaking more to herself and still gazing out the window. “Do you honestly think there is any hope? Frankly, we do not,” said Mrs. Gage. The reporter replied that he did, and gave his reasons, but these women of the Cape know the dangers of the shoals too well to be consoled by mere opinions.
As the chauffeur cranked up his machine for the trip to North Harwich, where the family of William Rose, the cook of the lightship lives, the reporter had a last glance at the parlor window of the Joy home. There sat Mrs. Joy, with eyes intent on the open road, unseeing, the noisy machine without, hopeless, but keeping the vigil.
Six little olive-skinned faces were glued to the windows of the little house of the Roses, perched high up on a sandy hill, as the auto pulled up into their front yard. Before the reporter could alight, they had surrounded the machine, clamoring: “Any news from Papa?”
Stoics all were the children. They compressed their lips grimly. They would not respond to the reporter’s cheering words. All filed back into the house and prepared to go to school.
Inside, the reporter found Mrs. Rose. Several of her Portuguese neighbors sat with her in the kitchen. One of the younger women, highly intelligent and speaking perfect English, acted as spokeswoman.
“Ever since the news came, she has been sitting there by the window on watch,” the latter explained. “We cannot persuade her to lie down. At night, she leaps up at the slightest sound on the road outside. She fears the worst, but she won’t give her man up as lost until they get some trace of the ship. It’s the terrible uncertainty that’s killing her. She’ll stand and watch at that window until she breaks down altogether unless word, one way or another, comes.”
Mrs. Rose spoke to the younger woman. “She wants to know if you have any hope and begs you won’t give her any false hope,” the younger woman interpreted. Mrs. Rose nodded without enthusiasm at the reporter’s lengthy relation of the more hopeful aspects of the situation.
“She says to thank you, but that her man has been to sea all his life and she believes that this time, he will never get back. We tried to work on her superstitious side by telling her about the result of our visit to a certain old woman in the village who has all her life been supposed to have supernormal powers.
“Well, it consoled us a whole lot, even though we are not believers in such revelations. Women, I guess, take much more stock in such things than do the men who laughed at our report of the visit.”
The auto whirled off down the hill. A backward glance saw Mrs. Rose still at the window. The home of Mrs. Joy was passed on the way back. There, at the window, sat the lone watcher.
A long drive across country to South Harwich, and the home of machinist Frank M. Johnson was reached. A tall, slender woman, with fine brown eyes and features that told of the beauty of earlier days, announced that she was Mrs. Johnson.
“I’m waiting for good news. I’m hoping for the very best, but it looks as though my husband has been lost with his ship,” she declared simply. “I’m quite convinced of that, but I shall not break down before the blow. My husband would want me to make the best of the first sorrow that has come into my married life of 35-odd years, and I shall do so. I thank the Lord that our nine children have grown up and will give me the strength to bear up under it all. No, I haven’t given up hope altogether. The woman who could look upon the bright side of the chances of the missing ship, however, would be an unnatural one.”
Mrs. Johnson smiled goodbye, but as the reporter walked slowly around the house to the road, muffled sobs could be heard from within. Curious, he stopped. Mrs. Johnson was sitting at the front window with her handkerchief to her eyes. “Sits thar, all the time,” the old gentleman next door volunteered.
Mrs. Wixon, wife of seaman Wixon, was ill and could not be seen. The other members of the crew of the lightship are unmarried.
It’s a tearful vigil the women of Dennis down on the Cape are keeping, and it’s a vigil that thousands of Cape women have kept for years and years before while their men have gone down to the sea in ships.
Epilogue: The Cross Rip Lightship LV-6 was never found, save a piece of its rudder on March 7, 1918, definitively ending the wives’ lonely vigil for news of their husbands. All hands were lost at sea.
The Captain Gives Hope
In the same newspaper on the same day, the following article was published:
“Once before Cross Rip Lightship broke away and was given up for lost,” said Captain “Dick” Phillips, discussing the fate of his lightship. “And by curious coincidence, her captain went ashore the day before, the same as I did last week.
“The last time was on the night of December 27, 1867, when she parted her cable in a heavy hurricane and drifted out to sea. Two small sails gave her steerage way, but she sprang a leak. Fortunately, a steamer sighted her distress signals three days later and rescued the men aboard. A few hours later, the lightship sank.
“I do not expect any such fate for my lightship, however. She’s a sturdy craft – oak all the way through. She’s well coaled, well provisioned and tight as a drum. The field ice has undoubtedly carried her out to sea and another factor in her favor is that there hasn’t been a single storm since she was last sighted.
“Never fear. She’s heading out east by southeast, I should judge, and sooner or later will be picked up.”
This story appeared in the
Sep/Oct 2021 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
All contents copyright © 1995-2024 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest. For contact information, click here.