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 an example of the treasures given up from the sea that are on display at the museum, and some of the stories behind the objects:

  • 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.
  • The artifacts of the 2114-ton vessel remain on display yearround 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.

Pitcher from G. A. Kohler

The four-masted schooner G.A. Kohler was grounded during the August hurricane of 1922. On Aug. 23, she was seen stranded a mile south of the Gull Shoal Life-Saving Station, enduring the worst of the storm.

Gull Shoal and Chicamacomico Life-Saving Stations were both nearby. Despite seeing signs of distress, the lifesavers had to wait until there was a lull in the storm the next day to put a line on board the ship. They rescued eight men and one woman.

The schooner sat proudly on the beach beyond the tides for years before she was burned in WWII to salvage her scrap iron for war. The remains of what was one of the last large sailing vessels are occasionally uncovered onshore and photographed by area lens-folk, a more humble reminder of her days of glory. A covered metal pitcher from the ship is part of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum’s permanent collection.

Antique fog bell 

It was Aug. 6, 1918, and Hatteras Island residents could hear naval gunfire off the coast. World War I was at their doorstep.

Diamond Shoals Lightship No. 71 was in service as she had been since being assigned to Hatteras in 1898. The 122-foot long vessel, with its wooden hull and steel keel and braces, spotted enemy action.

The nearby American cargo ship USS Merak was being attacked with torpedoes and deck guns by U-140. The crew from the sinking vessel were saved by LV-71.

The lightship subsequently sent out a warning that was intercepted by the U-boat. U-140 set its sights on the lightship, after letting its 12-member crew and Merak survivors row to safety. The vessel from the United States Lighthouse Service, which aided mariners for two decades, was sunk.

Diamond Shoals Lightship No. 71 was built in 1897, by Bath Iron Works in Maine. She was outfitted with electric lens lanterns mounted in a gallery at each masthead. She was equipped with a telegraph in 1904, and a searchlight in 1905.

The lightship sported a 12-inch chime whistle, and a hand-operated fog bell weighing 1,000 pounds. Her bell was recovered and is on display in the lobby of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras Village.

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.

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