Group raises funds to buy “SS Atlantic hero” tombstone
A group of Americans and Canadians came together to raise money to purchase a tombstone for a Nova Scotian who played a famous role in the rescue of the SS Atlantic in 1873.
The steamboat left England for New York in March, but ran out of coal. The captain changed course to Halifax.
The huge ship ran aground near Lower Prospect, Nova Scotia, on Marrs Island.
The ship sank on the morning of April 1 and drowned 565 passengers and crew.
But hundreds survived and filled the sinking deck of the stricken ship. Crew members tied ropes to a boulder and led around 200 passengers along the 37-meter ride to safety.
However, the chief officer could not swim and clung to the mizzen rigging as waves hit the ship below him. At one point, 32 people were hanging from the rigging.
Most were rescued by locals in small boats. But the tide rose and rescuers decided it would be too dangerous to take the chief officer, a woman and a teenager until low tide.
The woman weakened from hypothermia and died, leaving two people behind.
Between the Reverend William Ancient, the Anglican priest of Terence Bay, and before that a sailor in the Royal Navy.
“He saw them in the rig. Being a man of action, he took a boat, took a few people, got out and carried out the rescue, ”explains Bob Chaulk, member of the SS Atlantic Heritage Society and author of the next book, Atlantic’s Last Stop: Courage, Madness, and Lies in White Star Line’s Worst Disaster Before the Titanic.
Ancient might have arrived around the same time as the reporters, as reporters quickly focused on his exploits, forgetting the many people who saved hundreds of survivors.
“They were still there, doing their duty after being there all night, waiting for the tide to come down. Ancient arrived just at the right time. The chief of relief had gone home to put on dry clothes. When he returned, Ancient was there – with his boat – doing the rescue. “
Ancient rowed his boat to the bow of the wreck at around 2 p.m.
The last survivors had been clinging to life for 10 hours. The teenager fell or jumped into the water and was taken to safety. There was only the chief officer left, a man who couldn’t swim.
Ancient climbed onto the sinking ship, climbed onto the rig, and performed some stunts to tie a rope around the survivor. The man fell into the water, but Ancient held the line and guided the man to the rescue boat.
Chaulk says Elder has taken it upon himself to ensure that deceased foreigners far from home get proper burials. Some 277 were buried just outside a Protestant cemetery – now the site of SS Atlantic Heritage Park – and 250 just outside the Roman Catholic cemetery.
Thirty-two years after the tragedy, Ancient returned to the site to unveil a war memorial. Ancient died three years later, in 1908, and was interred in St. John’s Cemetery in Halifax.
But no gravestone marks the Elder’s resting place.
“Maybe it was wood. Ancient wasn’t well off, so maybe the family couldn’t afford to buy stone or marble. We don’t really know,” Chaulk said.
The location of his grave was lost in the following century. It was wrong with Frank Jastrzembski, American author and historian.
He visited the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax in 2017 and saw Elder’s name in one of the exhibits. Curious about a priest in a naval rescue, he wrote down his name.
“People who are very selfless, that gives me an example in my own life of how to live,” he said.
He then contacted St. John’s Cemetery to inquire about the condition of Elder’s grave. He learned he was not marked.
Jastrzembski created a group called Shrouded Veterans a few years ago to obtain tombstones for American soldiers, often from the American Civil War of the 1860s or the Mexican-American War of the 1840s. Usually, US Veterans Affairs pays for this – but Ancient was British and Canadian, and no one offered to pay for it.
So he took care of organizing it himself from his home in Wisconsin. He learned that he needed the consent of one of Elder’s descendants to add a marker.
Surprisingly, he found a distant relative in Ontario. They got on board and sent a notarized letter granting their consent.
The black granite stone will have an engraved image of the Ancient One, and his legendary words of the rescue: “Whatever your shins, man, it’s your life we’re looking for!”
“I think that will get people to investigate. If they walk into the graveyard, they might look for it and be like, ‘Wow, that’s a powerful thing,’” he said.
Jastrzembski estimates that he has obtained gravestones for 40 or 50 graves in the past two years. Ancient is his second Canadian project: he created a tombstone for William Britt, a Union general buried in Quebec. He is raising funds to install it.
He must collect about $ 1,000 more to pay for the Ancient Stone.
“I would love to do that before the end of the year. We would love to have the stone placed or at least dedicate the stone to the anniversary of the Atlantic shipwreck. I think that would be super cool,” he said. .
He hopes to return to Nova Scotia to see him installed.