History of Asbury Park
SEARCH ON FOR LONG-LOST MONUMENT
The long-lost New Era shipwreck monument, erected in Asbury Park by city founder James A. Bradley around 1893, may be lost no more if efforts by the local historical society pay off this Saturday.
Last week the City Council gave the Asbury Park Historical Society permission to search for the New Era shipwreck monument along Asbury Park’s northern beachfront this Saturday, Sept. 15, using a sophisticated ground-penetrating radar system.
The Historical Society is conducting what is probably the first-ever archeological search in the city trying to unearth an important shipwreck monument that has been lost for almost 120 years.
Around 1893, Asbury Park founder James A. Bradley erected a 12-foot-high granite monument to the 1854 New Era shipwreck, one of the most important disasters in American maritime history, and had it placed at the edge of the boardwalk at either Sixth or Seventh avenues.
However, the next year a storm damaged the boardwalk and the huge monolithic memorial, surrounded by large, metal links from the New Era’s anchor chain, fell into the sand- never to be seen again.
The famous shipwreck, which resulted in the grisly death of about 240 German immigrants, occurred right off the beach of what is now Asbury Park, near the present-day Convention Hall.
Ironically, the shipwreck occurred on the exact spot where the burned-out hull of the famous Morro Castle disaster rested exactly 80 years later. The only monument to the Morro Castle disaster, erected in 2009, is located near the Asbury Park boardwalk at the end of Fifth Avenue.
“Who knows- maybe now we’ll have another important shipwreck monument in Asbury Park,” Historical Society President Don Stine said.
The society is bringing in Ground Penetrating Radar Systems Inc., based Toledo, Ohio, to use special equipment in an attempt to locate the long-lost monument.
“If we are unable to locate such a large stone monument on Saturday then I think this will remain one of the great mysteries of Asbury Park- where is the monument?” Stine said.
He said finding the monument may be “a long shot but it’s worth a try” and that he “has his fingers crossed”
The high-tech search will begin at 10 a.m. near Sixth Avenue and is expected to continue for several hours.
“We’ll have some shovels, rakes and brooms there and see what happens. I think any prayers for our success would be good right about now,” Stine said.
Any heavy rain in the day or two before the search may postpone the date, since the water can interfere with the radar.
Local contractor Henry Vaccaro said he will supply equipment to help dig out and move the monument if it can be located.
If the monument is found, the historical society is to report back to the City Council at its Sept. 19 meeting to discuss a permanent location.
The New Era was sailing with hundreds of German immigrants when it grounded on a sand bar off the coastline of the future Asbury Park during a severe storm. Rescue attempts by local volunteers proved futile until the sea calmed the next day. Rescuers arrived on the ship only to find a grisly scene of dismembered bodies and the dead, some still lashed to the masts. Only 132 survived and about 240, more than the 137 victims on the Morro Castle, died from exposure or drowning.
The New Era shipwreck spurred great debate in Washington, DC which led to major changes to the all-volunteer life-saving service. Congress enacted new regulations immediately following the wreck, which included paying the station keepers for the first time and doubling the number of stations.
Eventually all life-saving stations were manned by paid federal personnel and the U.S. Life-Saving Service later became the U.S. Coast Guard.
The wooden hull of the new Era is still buried in the sand off of Convention Hall.