Mysterious Chappaquiddick Shipwreck – Edgartown, Massachusetts - Atlas Obscura
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Edgartown, Massachusetts

Mysterious Chappaquiddick Shipwreck

The scarce remains of a sunken ship peek out from the sand on East Beach. 

In the winter of 1866, a severe blizzard tore through Martha’s Vineyard and the surrounding islands. “The wind has driven around us wildly, and the snow has come in overpowering, blinding blasts,” reported the Vineyard Gazette in January of that year. “Many disasters must have occurred to the fleet of coasting vessels.” 

Indeed, the Christina, a schooner out at sea on her way to Boston from New York, was carrying cement and five crew members when she was obliterated by gale-force winds and capsized off the coast of Chappaquiddick Island. Four of the men perished by the time help could reach the vessel four days later, and the lone survivor miraculously clung to the ship’s mast for 56 hours, after which both of his feet and his fingers required amputation.

More than 150 years on, an assemblage of wooden planks and rusty iron bolts were found poking out of East Beach on Chappaquiddick Island. The subtle structure emerged parallel to the shoreline after Hurricane Sandy displaced untold quantities of sand, but it was soon buried out of sight for another two years. Upon reappearing in the aftermath of a storm in 2014, the strange construction caught the eye of Arnold Carr, a local marine biologist and diver who specializes in retrieving wreckage from keeled ships and crashed planes. 

Carr began aggregating regional archival materials in earnest, and from his research, he put forth a hypothesis. He suggested the formation, over 60 feet long and 40 feet wide where it meets the eye, could quite possibly be the ruined hull of the Christina. But the location of the wreckage didn’t quite match Carr’s calculations for where the Christina would have likely washed up, and he subsequently postulated that the remnants could also belong to the Silver Bell, another ill-fated mid-19th-century schooner.  Eventually, Carr and his fellow researchers came full circle. The investigation continues, but it is presently believed that the mysterious shipwreck is most likely the Christina.

Know Before You Go

Take the ferry from Martha's Vineyard to Chappaquiddick Island. You'll cross the Dike Bridge (of Ted Kennedy fame) to get to East Beach, a long stretch of sand on the eastern edge of the island, between the Wasque Reservation and the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge. The wreckage can be seen just barely peeking out above the sand.

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