The Rehoboth Beach Museum is opening an exciting exhibit Saturday, May 27, chronicling the impact of storms on the beach area, telling the story of famous shipwrecks, and demonstrating how the community responded with lighthouses, lifesaving stations, and rebuilding efforts.
The exhibit, entitled “Angry Water,” will use photographs, documents and lectures to show the dangers that severe weather brought to residents of Rehoboth Beach, shippers plying the coastal waters, and people facing the challenges of building – and then rebuilding - the Rehoboth Beach community.
Rehoboth Beach Museum Director Nancy Alexander said, “While many current residents know some of the history of the famous 1962 nor’easter, they may find our interactive quiz quite a challenge.” Both residents and visitors will learn about how many times the boardwalk has been rebuilt because of storm damage, how Coin Beach got its name, and how the Cape Henlopen Light House and local Life Saving Stations came to be built.
The Storms section will describe how Native Americans and European settlers coped with local hurricanes and nor’easters in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. It will also show the impact of the 1914 storm on the new city of Rehoboth and how the 1933 storm caused Silver Lake to overflow. Finally, it will look at the 1944 nor’easter that shipwrecked the oil tanker Thomas Tracy at the end of Brooklyn Avenue as well as the devastating 1962 storm that obliterated the shoreline.
The Shipwrecks section will feature the 1785 sinking of the Faithful Steward. It will also describe the 1918 sinking of the Merrimac so deep in the sand at the foot of Brooklyn Avenue that it could not be refloated; the 1956 demise of the yacht Black Spoonbill, (owned by the late singer Burl Ives); and the grounding of the oil barge Hess Hustler.
The Lighthouse section will feature the history of the Cape Henlopen Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1765, after Philadelphia merchants organized a lottery to fund its construction to guide ships into Delaware Bay, and how it was used and renovated over the years until it succumbed to erosion and fell into the sea in 1926.
The Life Saving Station section will go back to the story of how Congress established the United States Life Saving Service that set up 250 stations on the Atlantic Coast, including stations at Cape Henlopen, Dewey Beach, and Indian River inlet. Using rowboats, and a cannon-propelled rope and pulley device, the Delmarva stations collectively rescued 7,500 people, before the service was folded into the new U.S. Coast Guard.
The Restoration section will focus on modern efforts to replenish the beach, rebuild the boardwalk and clean up after an oil spill.
Museum Director Alexander said, “Shipwrecks, heroic rescues, and severe storms have been the subject of legends and novels many of us have known and read since childhood. The Delaware experience has been equally famous and infamous, and the Museum is excited to gather these stories and history into this new exhibit. We look forward to sharing it with the public,” she said.
The Museum is located at 511 Rehoboth Avenue, next to the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center. It is currently operating winter/spring hours: Friday from 10-4, and Saturday and Sunday from 11-3. Beginning on Memorial Day, the Museum will be open Mondays through Fridays 10-4, and Saturdays and Sundays 11-3. Admission is by voluntary donation. For more information visit its website at www.rehobothbeachmuseum.org or call (302) 227-7310.
(Photo: Onlookers gather near Singer Burl Ives’ yacht, the Black Spoonbill, grounded at Rehoboth Beach in October, 1957.)