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The Wreck of the Milton S. Lankford


Bay Ship rams schooner
S.S. State of Maryland Rams Schooner off Potomac's Mouth
Searchlights Played on Water For Hour in Vain Effort to Save Men
Source: The Evening Sun, Baltimore, MD - Wednesday, August 4, 1932; pgs. 1 & 3

Three men were missing today after a small schooner bound for Baltimore with a cargo of watermelons had been rammed and sunk by the Old Bay Line steamer State of Maryland four miles off Smith's Point, at the mouth of the Potomac.  Four other men were rescued.

The crash occurred shortly before 1 A.M.  It was raining and a heavy sea was running.  The State of Maryland, only slightly damaged, continued on to Norfolk with two of the schooner's survivors.  The City of  Baltimore, of the Chesapeake Line, picked up the other two men and landed them in Norfolk.

Those missing are:

The master of the schooner, Capt. E. W. Midgette, and Gus Shavender, of  Pantego, were rescued by the State of Maryland.   H. G. Shavender, of Belhaven, N. C. , and G. W. Aycock, of Pantego, were picked up by the City of BaltimoreAycock was taken to the Norfolk Marine Hospital.  Three of his ribs were fractured and he appeared to have been injured internally.

The State of Maryland, commanded by Capt. W. S. Almy, and the City of Baltimore, commanded by Capt. Charles O. Brooks, both pulled out of their Light Street piers for Norfolk at 6:30 o'clock last night.

In Sight of Each Other

They were proceeding down the bay within sight of each other when, ten minutes before one, the Old Bay liner crashed into the schooner.

Heavily loaded with a cargo of about 3,500 watermelons, many of them piled on her deck, the schooner rolled over and broke in two.  As her two sections sank, watermelons, tangled rigging and wooden wreckage bobbed about on the surface of the water.

Passengers on Deck

The collision brought out all the steamer's passengers, as well as Captain Almy, who had turned in for the night, leaving the first mate in command.

The steamer's engines had been reversed to full speed astern, but her headway was sufficient to carry her through the wreckage of the schooner.

Blasts of the Old Bay liner's whistle called the City of Baltimore to the scene.  Searchlights swept the water.  Four men were sighted, one by one.  A boat lowered from the City of Baltimore picked up two of the men and a boat from the State of Maryland rescued the other two.

From the survivors it was learned that the schooner was the Milton S. Lankford bound to Baltimore from Elizabeth City, N. C.

It had been feared at first that the State of Maryland might have been seriously damaged in the collision and while officers were inspecting her, preparations were begun to take off her passengers if necessary.

Satisfied that their own vessel was not in any immediate danger, the officers of the State of Maryland then bent all their efforts on rescuing the schooner's crew.  Both the Old Bay Liner and the City of Baltimore stood by the wreckage for more than an hour after the accident.

Father at Wheel

"My father was at the wheel when the crash came, " Capt. E. W. Midgette said after going ashore at Norfolk from the State of Maryland.  "The schooner capsized after she was struck.  All of us were thrown into the bay.  The last I saw of my father was when someone threw him a lifebelt from one of the steamers.  I think he caught it."

"I never saw my brother at all.  I'm afraid he was killed outright.  When I found myself in the water I  looked around for the other boys and saw some of them hanging onto what was left of the schooner."

"I swam back to it and I was the last to leave it, looking around as best I could for the others.  In the darkness I couldn't see who had been rescued, and I didn't know for sure that my father and brother were missing until I got into Norfolk.  I don't know how I'm going home without them."

Saw Two Men

"When we got our searchlights on the wreckage we could see the heads of two men,"  said Captain Brooks, in his story of the accident after the City of Baltimore had docked at Norfolk this morning.

"Our boat was launched as speedily as possible and we picked them up.  We hailed the boat of the State of Maryland and we understood them to say they had picked up three."

"At Hampton we telephoned the Marine Hospital at Norfolk and told them to have an ambulance waiting for us when we got in.  Shavender--the man with the broken ribs--appeared to be hurt rather badly.  The ambulance was waiting for us when we got here and they took him to the hospital."

Seven Men Aboard

"Young Aycock . . the other fellow we picked up, said he had been a passenger on the schooner, and was just making the trip for the fun of it.  He told me there were seven men on the schooner when she was struck."

"He and Shavender and young Noll Midgette were sitting in the cabin on a locker before the crash came.  He said he had just got on deck when the schooner was cut in two, right through the middle, and it seemed as if they were rolled under the steamer's keel and that she passed over them."

"He and Shavender and young Midgette were jammed together in the wreckage of the cabin.  My first officer said he threw a life belt to one of them who looked like a rather old man, and saw him grab it.  If that's right the old captain may be picked up yet, because a life buoy will keep a man up for hours."

All Belongings Lost

The four rescued men lost all their belongings in the crash.

"I don't even own these clothes I got on,"  Captain Midgette said at the Norfolk offices of the Old Bay Line, where he went to see officials of the steamboat company after landing.

The company arranged for the transportation of the captain and the other three men to Belhaven, N. C., by train.  They started for their homes early this afternoon.

The Milton S. Lankford was an auxiliary schooner 65 feet 5 inches long and 17 feet 6 inches broad, built thirty years ago in Oriole, Md.  She was powered with a fifty horsepower gasoline engine.

Usually Carried Two

Owned by I. W. Williams, of Elizabeth City, she ordinarily carried a crew of only two men.  She visited Baltimore for the last time about a year ago with a cargo of watermelons, tying up at Long Dock for a week while she disposed of her load and then returned to her home port.

Skippers  Stirred

News of the accident caused great excitement among the skippers and  crews of other sailing craft of the watermelon fleet tied up at Long Dock.

Capt. Lonnie L. Hodges, of the Mildred Hodges, also of Elizabeth City, said he had passed the Lankford last Sunday night this side of Elizabeth City while she was taking her watermelon cargo aboard.  At that time there were only three men on the schooner.  He said he recognized two of them as Midgetts, but that the third man had been a stranger to him.

[A picture of Capt.  Charles O. Brooks accompanied this article.  The caption below it reads:  Captain Brooks is the commander of the Chesapeake Line's steamship City of Baltimore which last night rescued two of several men whose watermelon boat from Elizabeth City, N. C. had been run down by a ship in the bay.  The craft that was run down was the Milton S. Lankford.]

CREW ABANDONS BLAZING CRAFT OFF LOVE POINT
Bay Crash Yesterday Fatal To Three, Laid To Lack of Lights
Ship Officers Say Bugeye was Dark
Three Escape In Tender In Fire Today, Watch Vessel Sink
Source: The Evening Sun, Baltimore, MD - Thursday, August 5, 1932; pgs. 15 & 30

A charge that the running lights on the sailing vessel Milton S. Lankford were not in use when the ship was rammed and sunk with a loss of three men yesterday was made today at hearings on the disaster before the United States Steamboat Inspectors here.

The hearings began shortly after reports reached Baltimore of the destruction by fire early today of another Chesapeake Bay vessel, the Mary and Elizabeth, of Salisbury, and the narrow escape of the crew, off Love Point.

Watch Vessel Burn

Driven back by the spread of flames that broke out in the engine room, Capt. C. C. Banks, the master of the Mary and Elizabeth, and his crew of two, were forced to abandon their ship and watch it burn to the water's edge from a life boat.  The flames attracted a party of Baltimore fishermen who picked up Captain Banks and Benjamin Hurley and Robert Drummond, his crew, and landed them at Love Point.

Officers and seamen of the Old Bay Line ship, the State of Maryland, made the charge before the steamboat inspectors that the vessel rammed yesterday off the mouth of the Potomac was operating without running lights.

Four Are Rescued

John L. Marshall, first officer of the State of Maryland, who was in command of that ship at the time: Patrick L. Parker, the second officer: Clarence E. Purcell, the quartermaster: Edward Purcell, the lookout, and Eugene A. Lankford, a watchman, joined in the statement that no running lights were visible on the sailing vessel when the State of Maryland came upon it in the early morning darkness, rammed and sank it.  Four of those aboard the sailing vessel, an auxiliary bugeye which was running watermelons to Baltimore from Elizabeth City, N. C., were rescued by the State of Maryland and by the City of Baltimore.

Raining At Time Of Crash

Mate Marshall said he picked the Lankford out of the darkness first as a dim and indistinguishable object about 900 feet ahead and a few points off the bow of the State of Maryland.  He said the weather was rainy at the time but the visibility was fair.  Capt. W. S. Almy, master of the State of Maryland, told the inspectors that he turned in before the collision and was only called to the deck after the Lankford had been struck.

Walter T. Pugh, a mail clerk on the State of Maryland, also was called and told the inspectors, Capt. Paul H. Tyler and David C. Young, that he could see no lights on the bugeye.

"I flashed my searchlight on the object as soon as I saw it, at the same time ordering the wheel hard a-port," the mate testified.  "The light picked up the sailboat immediately and I gave the order for full speed astern.  The sailboat was headed across our bow and in a moment we struck it and it passed down our starboard side."

"Holding the wheel hard over so we could circle back as quickly as possible, I sent word to Captain Almy.  He came to the bridge right away and took command."

Hunted Wreckage In Dark

Marshall told of playing the searchlight over the water in an attempt to pick up the wreckage.  A lifeboat in command of Second Officer Parker, was put overboard.  After about fifteen minutes the capsized sailboat was located and two men were seen aboard.  The State of Maryland was brought as near alongside as possible and a line was thrown  to one of the men  who was hauled aboard through the forward gangway.  The lifeboat, which was operating on the other side of the steamer, was brought around to the wreckage and it took the second man off.

Says Man Slipped Off

Captain Brooks, of the City of Baltimore, described the rescue when he returned to Baltimore today, and said that one of those lost from the Lankford slipped into the water from floating wreckage just before help reached him.

"We heard cries for help for twenty minutes before we were able to locate their source," he related.  "Then the searchlight with which I was sweeping the water, picked up a bit of wreckage as it rose to the top of a wave.  Three men were clinging to it.

Lifeboat Astern

"Our lifeboat was quite a distance astern and I was afraid it couldn't be brought up in time, so I swung my vessel around so that we could drop a line from the bow to the wreckage."

"First Officer George Clater made a loop in the line and it fell over the shoulders of one of the men.  He pulled it under his arms and we hauled him aboard.  This was G. W. Aycock, the one who was injured.

"Before we could get another line down the old man, Captain Midgett, father of the master of the sail boat, slipped off the wreckage and was carried around our prow and out of sight.  Someone said they had seen him put a life belt on before he was washed away.  The third man was brought over the side safely.  He was H. G. Shavender."

Passengers On Deck

Captain Brooks, who was routed from his bed to assist in the rescue, said nearly all of his passengers came up on deck, most of them in their night clothes.  They didn't seem to mind the rain as they ran about trying to locate the sources of the cries for help that came up from the darkness of the pitching seas.

Two Others Picked Up

The accident occurred as the State of Maryland was on her regular run to Norfolk.  The bugeye was coming to Baltimore from Elizabeth City, N. C., with a load of watermelons.  In addition to the two rescued by the State of Maryland, two others were picked up from floating wreckage by the City of Baltimore, commanded by Capt. Charles  O. Brooks.

These two were H. G. Shavender and G. W. Aycock.  The three missing are Capt. R. N. Midgett, 60 years old, father of the master of the vessel, R. N. Midgett, Jr., and  William Gregory.  Little hope is held that they will be found alive.  Coast Guard patrol boats went from Norfolk to the scene of the collision.

THREE STILL MISSING IN SHIP COLLISION
Four Others Rescued When Schooner Is Cut In Two By Steamer
Source:  The Morning Sun, Baltimore, Md. - Wednesday, Aug. 4, 1932

Norfolk, Va., Aug. 3 (AP) - Mourning the loss of three companions, four survivors of a ship collision near the mouth of the Potomac River arrived here today, thankful for their rescue from waves whipped high by a midnight rainstorm.

Capt. R. N. Midgette, 60; R. N., Midgette, Jr., and Bill Gregory, of Coinjock, N. C., are believed to have drowned after the 63-foot gas schooner Milton S. Lankford was cut in two by the Old Bay Line steamer Sate of Maryland early this morning.

Capt. E. W. Midgette, in command of the schooner, and Guy Shavender, of Pantego, N. C., were picked up and brought here by the Maryland, while the Chesapeake line steamer City of Baltimore, which arrived soon after the collision, brought in George Aycock and Herman Shavender.

THREE MISSING AFTER SCHOONER RAMMED IN BAY; BELIEVED DROWNED
Milton S. Lankford Familiar Sight At Main Street Dock
Source: The Daily Advance,  Elizabeth City, N. C. - Wed. evening, Aug. 3, 1932

The Milton S. Lankford has been a familiar sight here for a number of years and was to be seen throughout the oyster season tied up each week-end at the foot of Main Street.  It was operated by Captain Ike Williams and still is owned by Mrs. Williams who lives on First Street.  She was much shocked when informed of the tragedy in the Chesapeake.

The Lankford was one of the few perfect types of Chesapeake Bay bugeye which operate in these waters.

G. W. Aycock of Pantego, passenger on the Milton S. Lankford who was rescued by the City of Baltimore, is a brother of Mrs. W. H. Weatherly, Jr., of this city.  Mr. Aycock, according to advices received here, passed through here on the noon train en route to Pantego where Mrs. Weatherly and her son are now on a visit.


OLD BAY LINER, STATE OF MARYLAND, CRASHES INTO SCHOONER, MILTON S. LANKFORD, OF ELIZABETH CITY
Coinjock Man Missing
Bill Gregory of Coinjock, Captain R. N. Midgette and Son Not Found in Wreckage of Schooner

Norfolk, Va., Aug. 3 - (AP) - Three members of the crew of the Milton S. Lankford, of Elizabeth City, N. C., are believed to have drowned following a collision last night with the Old Bay liner State of Maryland.

Reports received here today following arrival of the steamer indicated that the schooner was run down around midnight about four miles off the mouth of the Potomac River, the little craft being rolled under the larger vessel's keel and smashed into shapeless wreckage.  The State of Maryland was only slightly damaged.

Two of the crew of the little schooner, a bugeye, loaded with 3,500 watermelons, were picked up by the State of Maryland and two more by the Chesapeake Bay liner, City of Baltimore, Captain Charles O. Brooks, which came up after the crash and  also arrived in Norfolk today.

The three missing men are:  Captain R. N. Midgette, 60 years old, father of the skipper of the schooner, R. N. Midgette, Jr., of Pantego, N. C., and  Bill Gregory of Coinjock, N. C.

The men picked up by the State of Maryland are:  Guy Shavender of Pantego, N. C., and Captain E. W. Midgette, who was in command of the schooner.

Captain Brooks said it was raining at the time and that there was a high sea running but that the weather  was not particularly foggy.

"We got our searchlight on a piece of wreckage," said Captain Brooks.  "We see the heads of two men.  Our boat was launched as speedily as possible and we picked up two men.  We hailed the boat of the State of Maryland and we understood them to say they had picked up three.

"The men we picked up gave their names as H. G. Shavender, of Belhaven, N. C., and G. W. Aycock, of Pantego, N. C.  Shavender appeared to be badly hurt.  Blood was flowing from his mouth and he seemed injured internally.  We found that two or three ribs were fractured.

"At Hampton we telephoned the Marine Hospital to have an ambulance waiting and he was taken to the hospital upon our arrival here.

"Young Aycock, who was a passenger just making the trip for the fun of it, as I understand, left the ship soon after we had docked.

"He told me that there were seven aboard the schooner, when she was struck.

"He with Shavender and Noll Midgette, father of the captain of the schooner, were in the cabin, seated on a locker, he said, just before the crash came.  He said that he had just got on deck when the schooner was cut down.  The schooner, he said, seemed to be cut in two, divided in the middle, and it seemed as if they were rolled under the keep and that the liner passed over them.

"The three were rammed together in the wreck of the cabin.  My first officer said that he threw a life belt down to one, who is supposed to be Noll Midgette and he saw him grab it.  If so he may be said for a life buoy will keep a man up for hours."

Throughout the graphic recital of the story of the crash the mental sufferings of Captain Midgette were revealed in tone as he spoke of the two members of his immediate family and a friend whom he thinks perished in the waters of Chesapeake Bay.  Shortly after the interview he and his two friends left for North Carolina, going by train to Belhaven.

"My father was at the wheel when the crash came,"   Captain Midgette said.  "The schooner capsized after being struck, hurling all of us into the bay.  The last I saw of my father was when someone threw him a lifebelt from one of the steamers.  I think he caught it."

"I never saw my brother at all.  I am afraid he was killed outright.  I made my way back to the schooner, which I saw had not sunk.  I did not do this until I had looked about for some of the boys and noticed some hanging onto the schooner.

"I was the last to leave the wrecked boat, looking as best I could out upon the waters for some sight of members of the crew.  Of course I did not know, in the darkness broken only by lights from the two boats, who had been rescued and it was only after arriving in Norfolk that I knew definitely that my father and brother were not aboard."

BEGIN PROBE OF SCHOONER SINKING
Source: The  Daily Advance,  Elizabeth City. N. C. - Aug. 4, 1932

Baltimore, Aug. 4 -(AP) - An investigation of the sinking of the Milton S. Lankford near the mouth of the Potomac River early yesterday was begun here this morning by Paul H. Tyler, United States steamship inspector.

Captain W. S. Almy, commander of the Bay Line steamer State of Maryland which was in collision with the schooner, was summoned together with members of the crew.

Three men are believed to have drowned after the State of Maryland struck the schooner loaded with watermelons from North Carolina, and split in half.   They are: Captain R. N. Midgette, 60; R. N. Midgette, Jr.; and Bill Gregory of Coinjock, N. C.


WEBB WILLIAMS SAW TRAGEDY OF MILTON LANKFORD

F. Webb Williams of this city as a passenger on the State of Maryland coming down the Bay to Norfolk Tuesday night was a spectator to the scenes immediately following the running down and sinking of the bugeye Milton S. LankfordMr. Williams heard a cry of "Look out!"  immediately followed by a reversing of the engines which shook the steamer from stem to stern and reached the deck in time to hear a grinding noise and see the masts of the Lankford pass along the side of the steamer shearing off about 50 feet of her railing in front of him, so that he had to leap back into the doorway to escape injury.

The searchlights quickly picked up the wreck which was lying on its side, masts extending out over the water.  Mr. Williams says that he could distinguish four or five men swimming amidst the bobbing watermelons which made it appear as if there were hundreds of others.  He believes that he saw two of those lost give up and go down.  Two who reached the wreck and clung to it were picked up by his ship and two more by the City of Baltimore, which was following close behind.

The two steamers remained at the scene for about an hour, the wreck sinking in the meantime.

BODY OF MAN IS TAKEN FROM THE CHESAPEAKE BAY
Second Victim of Schooner Milton S. Lankford Which Was Sunk In Bay, Washed Ashore Was About 60
Thumb Nail Missing Was The Outstanding Mark On Body, Inquest Held And Body Buried
Source: The Daily Advance,  Elizabeth City, N. C. - Aug. 9, 1932

Cambridge, Md., Aug. 9, 1932 - News of the discovery yesterday of a man's body in the Chesapeake Bay near Hooper's Island was brought here today, causing the belief that the second of three victims of the sinking of the North Carolina schooner Milton S. Lankford, had been washed ashore.

Another body was found near Crisfield, Md., yesterday.

The Milton S. Lankford, loaded with watermelons from Elizabeth City, N. C., was run down and sunk by the Old Bay Line steamer State of Maryland off the mouth of the Potomac River last Wednesday.

The body found off Hooper's Island had no marks by which it could be immediately identified.  A missing thumb nail on the right hand was the outstanding mark.  The man apparently had been about 60 years of age, five feet 8 inches tall and was clad in overalls, a blue shirt and black shoes.  [Note: This body is believed to be that of Bill Gregory of Jarvisburg, N. C.  Family sources indicate that his thumbnail was missing due to a logging accident, and a description of the clothes Bill Gregory was wearing when he left  on the trip to Baltimore, given by Willard Wilson, are identical.  Willard Wilson lives in Camden, is 85 years old, is the  nephew of Carrie Crain Gregory and her husband, Bill Gregory, and helped  load the watermelon boat that day.  Watermelons were hauled from the fields in Jarvisburg in Bill Gregory's flatbed truck to be loaded on the schooner  which was moored in Coinjock Canal.  (Roy E. Sawyer, Jr.)]

A coroner's inquest was held at once, and a verdict of accidental drowning.  The man was buried near the Wingate Point Wharf.

The three men lost in the sinking of the Milton S. Lankford were R. M. Midgett, the captain, and ;his son, L. T. Midgett, of Pantego, N. C., and William Gregory of Coinjock, N. C.

There were no marks of identification on the body found near Crisfield.

DECISION TO WAIT IN SINKING OF SHIP
Inspectors Hold Hearing In Case Of Schooner Milton S. Lankford
Source: The Morning Sun,  Baltimore, Md. - probably Aug. 4, 1932 (date based upon dates of adjacent article)

Decision as to responsibility for the ramming and sinking, Wednesday, of the schooner Milton S. Lankford by the Old Bay Line steamer State of Maryland, in which three lives were lost, will be handed down within two weeks by local steamboat inspectors.

At a hearing yesterday before Paul H. Tyler and David C. Young, steamboat inspectors, officers and members of the crew of the State of Maryland testified the sailing craft was carrying no lights and that it had not been seen until it was too late to avoid striking it.

Four Men Rescued

Three men were lost when the schooner, which was carrying watermelons from Elizabeth City, N. C., its home port, to Baltimore, went down off the mouth of the Potomac River.

Two of the seven men on the sailing vessel were rescued by the Norfolk-bound State of Maryland, while two others were picked up by the City of Baltimore, of the Chesapeake Line, also bound for Norfolk.

Survivors To Be Examined

After the hearing, Mr. Tyler said the steamboat inspectors at Norfolk, where the survivors of the Milton S. Lankford were landed, would be asked to examine these men, and send a transcript of that hearing to Baltimore.

When the transcript reaches here, it will be studied before a decision is handed down, Mr. Tyler explained.

Those lost in the disaster were Capt. R. N. Midgette and R. N. Midgette, Jr., Pantego, N. C., and William Gregory, Coinjock, N. C.

SECOND BODY FOUND ON EASTERN SHORE
Both Believed To Be Victims Of Wreck of Schooner Milton S. Lankford
Source: The Evening Sun,  Baltimore, Md. - Aug. 9, 1932

Cambridge, Md., Aug. 9 (AP) - News of the discovery yesterday of a man's body in the Chesapeake Bay near Hooper's Island was brought here today, causing the belief that the second of the three victims of the sinking of the North Carolina schooner, the Milton S. Lankford, had been washed ashore.  Another body, identified, was found near Crisfield yesterday.

The Milton S. Lankford, loaded with watermelons from Elizabeth City, N. C., was run down and sunk by the Old Bay Line steamer State of Maryland off the mouth of the Potomac river Wednesday.

Thumbnail Missing

The body found off Hooper's Island had no marks by which it could be immediately identified.   A missing thumbnail on the right hand was the outstanding mark.  The man apparently was about 60 years old.

The three men lost in the sinking of the schooner were R. M. Midgett (in all other newspaper articles it is R. N. Midgett), the captain, and his son L. T. Midgett (this should be R. N. Midgett, Jr.), of Pantego, N. C., and William Gregory, of Coinjock, N. C. (the logical explanation for Bill Gregory's address being constantly given as Coinjock is that is where the watermelon boat was loaded and set sail from--it should have been Jarvisburg, N. C.)

[All of the above information was transcribed & submitted by Roy E. Sawyer, Jr. from photocopies provided by Mark Roberts that he researched in Baltimore, Md.  Mark Roberts is the grandson of Eva Gregory Roberts, who was the daughter of William "Bill" Gregory and Carrie Crain Gregory, of Jarvisburg, NC.  Bill Gregory lost his life in the collision of the Milton S. Lankford with the State of Maryland at approximately ten minutes before 1a.m. near the mouth of the Potomac River in the Chesapeake Bay on August 3, 1932.]


Photo in possession of Mark Roberts


This photograph was submitted by Carol Smith, the daughter of Marion Virginia Doxey Talbot, who as a small child was taken in by Mr. Bill and Mrs. Carrie Gregory for several years and was in their home at the time of the Lankford accident.  Marion Virginia is standing beside Mrs. Gregory.  Three of the other children are Marion's siblings.  Mr. Bill Gregory is standing at the far right.  The date on this photograph is obviously wrong since the shipwreck happened on August 3, 1932, the day Bill Gregory lost his life.


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