Saturday, July 13, 2024

Low tide exposes famous 1919 shipwreck, site of murder – or suicide – mystery, on beach in Surf City

The 3-masted schooner William H. Sumner, which ran aground in 1919 while carrying phosphate rock from Puerto Rico to New York, was uncovered by low tides.

Tides uncovered the William H. Sumner, shipwrecked in 1919 in New Topsail Inlet. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Allan Libby)
Tides uncovered the William H. Sumner, shipwrecked in 1919 in New Topsail Inlet. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Allan Libby)

SURF CITY — Low tides and washed out sand have apparently exposed a piece of the William H. Sumner, shipwrecked in 1919 in Topsail Inlet.

Surf City Director of Tourism Alan Libby said he found the remnants of the old three-masted schooner along the beach on Monday afternoon — the fourth time he has seen it dating back to 2012.

“It wasn’t as exposed yesterday as it usually is,” Libby said. “You can see it when the tide’s about halfway out.”

On Monday Libby posted his discovery on the town’s Facebook page.

“This afternoon, we see the remains of the William H. Sumner, which is about 150 yards north of the old Barnacle Bill’s Pier in Surf City. It usually ‘uncovers’ once or twice a year. Please remember, shipwrecks are protected by the state, so removing or damaging the remains is a violation of state law,” the post stated.

Libby said the social media message gained a lot more attention than he expected — by Tuesday afternoon it had more than 650 shares and 160 comments.

According to Libby, the wreckage can be found during low tide — if you’re lucky — by crossing over the beach access near the intersection of Shell and Dolphin Streets.

“When you cross over, you’ll see a piling sticking out of the water — that’s a piling from the old Barnacle Bill’s pier, which was taken out during [Hurricane] Fran,” Libby said. “The wreck is about 150 feet north of that.”

Remnants of the William H. Sumner, which shipwrecked in New Topsail Inlet in 1919, was attempting to transport rock from Puerto Rico to New York when it ran aground. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Allan Libby)
Remnants of the William H. Sumner, which shipwrecked in New Topsail Inlet in 1919, was attempting to transport rock from Puerto Rico to New York when it ran aground. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Allan Libby)

Libby believes the wreckage is well preserved because it is usually covered by sand. He said there are large, rusted pegs — maybe 1-inch in diameter — in the pieces of old timber.

According to an article that appeared in The Daily Times of Wilson, North Carolina, on September 9, 1919, Captain Robie Cochran, 24, committed suicide inside his quarters on the ship after the schooner ran aground in Topsail Inlet.

(Editor’s note: The captain’s name appears as “Cochran,” “Corkrum,” and “Corkum” by The Daily Times and other papers).

“The vessel came too close in on a calm sea. She was on her way from San Juan, Porto Rico, to New York,” the article read.

The ship, owned by a Puerto Rican firm and under charter by a company in New York, was carrying a load of phosphate rock up the eastern seaboard when it wrecked.

But on September 16, the Times wrote that a mate of the captain was implicated in Corkrum’s murder after three members of the crew confessed to an agent of the Department of Justice.

“According to their story, the skipper was shot to death at 7:45 o’clock on last Monday morning, the fatal shot being fired with Corckrum’s revolver, which Lacey had secured during the night,” the Times reported.

According to The Chattanooga News, out of Tennessee, on Nov. 21, 1919, a jury trial in Wilmington failed to reach a verdict. Lacey was eventually found not guilty.


Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com

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