Bay Reflections

 Vol. 10, No. 32

August 8-14, 2002

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Chesapeake Memories: August 12, 1955
The Last Hours of the Levin J. Marvel
by Vernon R. Gingell and Bruce Bauer

An Eye Witness Account
The morning of Friday, August 12, 1955, was pretty much the same as any other August morning — except that Hurricane Connie was approaching Chesapeake Bay just east of Herring Bay. This meant that certain storm-necessitated precautions must be taken on shore, including making sure that all small boats were beached.

Since sea nettles mysteriously disappear when these types of phenomena occur, several other hardy young men and I decided to swim in the storm-ravaged waters of Herring Bay one-quarter mile off the beach at Owings Cliffs. The wind was building from the east-northeast, and it was exciting to play dolphin-like in the two- to three-foot waves.

As this small group of men frolicked in the surf, we noticed, to our surprise, a three-masted ship appear out of the misty haze just east off Holland Point. She seemed to be under sail, a small sail on her bow quarter, and moved ever so slowly northward parallel to the shore. Each of us swimmers gazed in awe and puzzlement at the sight. We rationalized that this large sailing craft must have been trying to make port in Deale or, failing that, to anchor in the shallows of Long Bar, about one mile off the entrance to Rockhold Creek, and ride out the storm.

The winds were building, and our mystery boat was plodding northward in heavy seas. We judged by then that the waves where she was were perhaps five to eight feet crest to trough, whereas the waves we were swimming in must have been by then three to six feet.

As she moved ever so slowly northward, she stopped her forward progress and appeared to lower her sails. By this time, approximately 2pm, we judged, for we had no timepiece, the heavy winds were driving rain, which had become downpours at times, to such an extent that the ship vanished from our vision.

Plummeted by the heavy rains, our small swimming party decided to go ashore. As we gathered on the beach, there was much discussion about what ship we had seen and, above everything else, its fate.

An Ill-Timed Voyage
Gingell’s mystery ship was the Levin J. Marvel, a 64-year-old, 125-foot-long, three-masted ram schooner refitted as a Bay passenger-cruiser. Twenty-four passengers had boarded that Monday, sailing around Tilghman Island to Oxford, then up the Choptank to Cambridge. When Connie struck the Bay earlier than anticipated, the ship had turned up the Bay for Annapolis. Rather than return to the Choptank, Captain John H. Meckling turned southwest across the open Bay.

For the rest of the story, we turn to Bruce Bauer, a sea captain, who wrote the story of the sinking of the Levin J. Marvel for Bay Weekly’s (then New Bay Times) first volume, August 12, 1993.

At 2:30pm, Marvel lay on her starboard side less than a mile off a heavily populated shore.

“She just split open like a watermelon,” remembers Ned Crandall, an eyewitness from what is now Town Point Marina on the south shore of Rockhold Creek.

About 5pm, the first survivor washed ashore near North Beach, a remarkable four miles south, and reported the sinking. Billy McWilliams and George ‘Buck’ Kellam commandeered a 14-foot boat and made perilous runs into the surf to save six people, including the captain, John H. Meckling. Fourteen people drowned.

Editor’s note: Vern Gingell, who died at 82 on July 2 this year, wrote his eye-witness account in reply to Bauer. Part of both narratives combine for this Chesapeake Memory.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly