Monday, October 05, 2009

New Cape library features exhibit on shipwrecks

By ROB SPAHR, Staff Writer Press of Atlantic City, 609-272-7283
Posted: Monday, October 5, 2009

Capt. Ronald Sinn, left, and Paul Anselm, of the Ocean City Historical Museum, introduced the exhibit on local shipwrecks Saturday 10/3/09 at the Schiavo Library in Strathmere, Upper Township.
For a list of New Jersey shipwrecks, visit:

.. UPPER TOWNSHIP - Less than a mile east of the Schiavo Library in Strathmere, the wreckage of the General Slocum - which was involved in one of the most notorious maritime disasters in U.S. history - lies beneath the sea.

Several miles northwest of that shipwreck, the remains of the Sindia sit under the sand of Ocean City's 17th Street beach.

They are only two of the thousands of known shipwrecks off the coast of New Jersey, which has the highest number of shipwrecks per square mile in the nation, but they are undeniably two of the most famous.

The newly opened Schiavo Library, a privately funded library at Putnam and Commonwealth avenues in memory of the late Dr. Rita C. Schiavo, unveiled a small exhibit of these shipwrecks Saturday night that is expected to be on display for most of the winter.

"Strathmere is a community whose people do a lot of boating, sport fishing, surfing and scuba diving. They are water-type people," said Marion Ingram, a volunteer at the library. "And since one of our main goals here is to promote New Jersey history, an exhibit of shipwrecks seemed fitting. Especially considering one of them is right off the coast from us."

Maritime safety expert Ronald Sinn and Paul Anselm, the past president of the Ocean City Historical Museum, helped introduce the exhibit by discussing the General Slocum and Sindia shipwrecks, respectively.

According to Sinn, the General Slocum, a steam excursion boat, was carrying a boatful of parishioners from St. Mark's Lutheran Church in New York when it caught fire in New York's East River on June 15, 1904.

More than 1,000 people - mostly women and children - died as a result of several safety-related problems, including faulty life preservers.

Sinn said what was left of the General Slocum was converted into a barge named The Maryland that sank off Strathmere's coast while hauling coal Dec. 4, 1911.

"We wouldn't care about it, if it weren't for that tragedy. It would just be some barge that sank," said Sinn, who is attempting to get the wreckage put on the National Historical Register. "But more than 1,000 people lost their lives in that fire. Five generations later, that basically translates to 50,000 people who never existed because of it."

While Sinn is attempting to get the General Slocum the recognition he feels it deserves, Anselm said the Sindia is already a "big deal" in Ocean City and mentioned on the National Historic Register.

"That's probably because it has always been a mystery on how it ran aground, and also because it was still visible on the beach up until 1985," said Anselm, adding a beach replenishment project covered the ship's remains.

The four-masted, steel-hulled Sindia ran aground Dec. 15, 1901, as it neared the end of a five-month voyage from Japan to New York.

There are many rumors surrounding the cause of Sindia's crash, Anselm said, including the crew being drunk, poor navigation and even a scenario involving the ship crashing while attempting to unload goods and materials from Asia that were hard to get in the U.S. during the Boxer Rebellion.

"As technology moves forward, with computers and everything, we're getting a better idea of what really happened," Anselm said.

And even though the exhibit gives just a small glimpse into the rich history of these wrecks, Anselm said it could help those who see it gain an appreciation that could inspire them to seek out more information about them.

"It gives people a chance to see a piece of history they haven't seen before," Anselm said. "And what better place to do that, then a brand-new facility such as this."

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