First Image of Historic Shipwrecks Released on 100th Anniversary of Palmer-Crary Loss
December 16, 2002

Frank A. Palmer was largest four-masted schooner ever built

Ships bringing coal to Boston to relieve energy crisis

Contact: Anne Smrcina, 781-545-8026 x204

NOAA 02-R449

NOAA's Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary has released the first image of the historic shipwrecks, the schooners Frank A. Palmer and Louise B. Crary, which crashed and sank together 100 years ago this week. The wrecks are located within the boundaries of the Sanctuary just off the Massachusetts coast. The side scan sonar image clearly shows the hulls of the two large sailing vessels still locked at their bows. The Palmer was the largest four-masted schooner ever built (274.5 ft.) while the Crary was a similarly sized five-masted vessel (267 ft).

The Palmer and Crary were colliers (coal carriers), which plied regular routes between the coal-producing region in the mid-Atlantic and the energy needy northeast. In 1902 a record cold snap in December (temperatures reached below 0 degrees) and a series of coastal storms created a serious energy crisis in the Boston area. The Palmer, based out of Portland, Maine and the Crary out of New York City were two of a fleet of vessels that were bringing coal to the beleaguered city and environs.

According to the Crary Captain's testimony as reported by the Boston Globe and Herald immediately after the accident, a miscalculation on the part of the Crary's first mate, who was at the helm, led to the unfortunate collision during the clear but cold evening of December 17, 1902. The bow of the Crary plowed into the port (left) side of the Palmer, leaving both vessels fatally damaged. Reports show that the vessels disappeared from view quickly, with some crew unable to abandon the ships before they sank.

Of the 21 crew of both schooners, only 15 made it into one of the Palmer's lifeboats. Among this group, four died from exposure and one committed suicide by jumping overboard, according to survivors. Lack of communications prevented rescuers from learning of the crash, with the lifeboat drifting for four days until a fishing boat spotted it off Cape Cod.

The Palmer-Crary shipwrecks were originally located by John Fish and Arnold Carr of American Underwater Search and Survey over 13 years ago in their search for the steamship Portland, however good images were not available at that time. As they did with the Portland wreck, the AUSS team generously provided the coordinates to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. A series of summer and fall research cruises were used to image both the Portland and Palmer-Crary wreck sites.

The location of the wrecks within the sanctuary's boundaries provides protection unavailable in other federal and international waters off Massachusetts. Sanctuary regulations prohibit moving, removing or injuring, or any attempt to move, remove, or injure any submerged cultural or historical resources, including artifacts and pieces from shipwrecks. Anyone violating this regulation is subject to civil penalties.

Congress designated the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in 1992 as "an area of special national significance." Virtually the size of the state of Rhode Island, the sanctuary stretches between Cape Ann and Cape Cod in federal waters off of Massachusetts. The sanctuary is renowned as a major feeding area for marine mammals, particularly humpback whales, and supports an ecosystem of diverse wildlife.

NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program seeks to increase the public awareness of America's maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration, and educational programs. Today, 13 national marine sanctuaries encompass more than 18,000 square miles of America's ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources.

NOAA's Ocean Service (NOS) manages the National Marine Sanctuary Program and is dedicated to exploring, understanding, conserving, and restoring the nation's coasts and oceans. NOS balances environmental protection with economic prosperity in fulfilling its mission of promoting safe navigation, supporting coastal communities, sustaining coastal habitats and mitigating coastal hazards. To learn more about NOS and the National Marine Sanctuary Program, please visit

For the side scan image showing the shipwrecks click here

For historic images of the Frank A. Palmer click here

For an image of the Louise B. Crary click here

For an image of a side scan sonar deployment click here

MEDIA -- for high resolution historic images, contact the Sanctuary at 781-545-8026 x204 for directions to the web location for those images

A series of backgrounders for media are also available from the Sanctuary.



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