It is four bells (2 p.m) as I stand in the summer sun waiting to experience what ocean rescue was like in the late-1800s. Volunteers from all parts of the Outer Banks gather at this time on Thursdays in the summer to demonstrate how it was done when radios, cell phones, radar, and high-powered motor boats were non-existent — when the grit, determination and perseverance of the life savers tipped the scales in favor of successful rescues.
I am at Chicamacomico Life Saving Station in the village of Rodanthe on Hatteras Island. It was the first of seven lifesaving stations built in 1874, along the North Carolina coast. Pronounced: chi-ka-ma-COM-i-co) the name is thought to mean ‘the land of the sinking sands’.
Eight surfmen and the Keeper dressed in period uniforms are involved in the apparatus drill we are about to watch. Each has a specific duty to perform to accomplish a rescue and it is done today in the same way as it was in 1874. This afternoon, a young boy (who portrays the victim being rescued) rode from the wreck pole (simulating the ship in distress) in a breeches buoy to the safety of the sand. His family and the audience cheer as he gave us the thumbs up. Living history, is there a better way for us all to learn?
Prior to the formalization of the United States Coast Guard, the U.S. Life Saving Service stood ready to serve those is distress on our coasts and the great lakes. Chicamacomico LSS was one of the first to be staffed with quarters for the rescuers. Having the crew on site may have contributed to the many successful rescues here. Today, it is one of the few station museums in the U.S. open to the public.
Plenty of information on the famous rescue of the British tanker ship Mirlo in 1918, which was torpedoed by Germans during World War 1, is available. Additionally, photographs, artifacts — and the original boat used in the rescue of the Mirlo’s 42 crewmembers — are on display. This place is a treasure chest of history.
The Chicamacomico Life Saving Station is self-supporting. It is not part of the state or federal park systems. In addition to income from ticket sales and gift shop purchases, donations and grants are needed for ongoing restoration work. Salt air and nearly 150-year-old buildings and artifacts have constant needs. Consider becoming a member of the Association and support the station. Information on membership and benefits may be found at www.chicamacomico.org.
Clearly, “Honoring our heroes, preserving our past,” the motto of the Chicamacomico Life Saving Station, continues to be accomplished at this very interesting, historic site.