The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras is named in honor of the thousands of shipwrecks that have sunk in the waters off North Carolina’s coast, and is dedicated to the preservation and presentation of the state’s maritime history and culture with an emphasis on shipwrecks.
Exhibits include those dedicated to the Civil War on Hatteras Island, lifesaving, notable shipwrecks including USS Monitor and Queen Anne’s Revenge, the history of diving, and charter boat fishing.
The museum has remnants of the earliest known shipwreck found in North Carolina waters, dating to 1650.
Following is a sampling of the treasures given up from the sea that are on display at the museum:
A rare Enigma Machine, with technology that once baffled Allied code breakers, holds silent court at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. But its history speaks volumes about the role it played in thwarting Allied forces during World WAR II. The machine is rare because its ship origin is known and it is a four-wheel model with new reflector that was introduced after February 1, 1942. It’s unusual to know the ship from which it came as German sailors were instructed to throw the machine overboard if capture was imminent. To find such a machine on a submarine and one sporting the four wheels – three-wheel machines were more common – is quite a coup. This model was used exclusively by Atlantic U-boat groups.
On July 3, 2001, the Enigma Machine (Enigma M2946) was recovered from U-85, the first U-boat to sink off the Outer Banks during World War II. Divers Jim Bunch, and Roger and Richard Hunting, labored to locate and remove the instrument, and subsequently donated it to the Museum through an agreement with the Federal Republic of Germany. The part of the machine on display has already been conserved, and the remainder is in the process.
In April, 1942, U-boats were wreaking havoc on shipping off the Outer Banks. In a three-month period, they sank 50 large ships with no loss to themselves. The tide was about to change come April 14 when the destroyer Jesse Roper dodged a torpedo just south of Wimble Shoals. She opened fire with her deck guns and did great damage to U-85 while it was attempting to submerge.
Jesse Roper used her depth charges to finish off the vessel. While bodies were recovered from the submarine, a plane circling Jesse Roper kept watch from above. Twenty-nine bodies were picked up and later interred at Hampton National Cemetery in Virginia.
Additional artifacts from U-85 are on display at the museum including an escape vest, oxygen tank, escape goggles and harbor guide.
An elaborately engraved silver flask crafted in a repousse, art nouveau design sits in an acrylic case in the main gallery. A handsome ship’s bell is exhibited nearby, and through a massive glass window, a capstan can be seen. These are artifacts from a five-masted schooner that represents one of the Outer Banks most curious mysteries.
On January 31, 1921, Carroll A. Deering — now known as The Ghost Ship of Diamond Shoals — was spotted on Diamond Shoals, with her sails set. The ship eventually washed ashore but not before lifesavers from Hatteras Inlet, Creeds Hill, Cape Hatteras and Big Kinnakeet Life-Saving Stations attempted to reach her.
The rescuers came within a quarter of a mile but were unable to see her name or signs of life. The lifeboats were missing from the ship. Lifesavers assumed her abandoned. It took four days for the seas to calm down enough to board the vessel. When reached, her seams were split apart and her hull full of water. Food was on the stove, and charts were scattered about. Wreckers took off what they could remove. She eventually was dynamited.
Much speculation surrounds the mystery of Carroll A. Deering, including abandonment, piracy, and mutiny. Her wreckage floated up onto a beach near Hatteras.
The artifacts of the 2114-ton vessel remain on display year round at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum to keep us wondering about the destiny of the crew who disappeared in a wintry storm nearly a century ago.
Mary Ellen Riddle is the education curator at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. Her latest book is “Outer Banks Shipwrecks: Graveyard of the Atlantic,” published by Arcadia Publishing and released in April 2017.