Light from the Castagna



Over a century ago, on February 17, 1914, the Italian bark Castagna was thrown on the backside of Cape Cod near the Marconi Lifesaving Station. See Italian bark Castagna comes a cropper on the Marconi Station beach and Shipwrecks on South Wellfleet’s Shore.

There’s a large photo of the Castagna in the Wellfleet Post Office and the general story is well known. But there’s a side to it that not many people know.

The Castagna was bound from Montevideo for Weymouth loaded with guano. It struck ground during a blinding snowstorm and northwest gale. Lifesaving crews shot three lines for breeches buoys across the Castagna’s deck, but the sailors were so cold that they were unable to handle the tackle. The skipper of the Castagna was washed overboard, four men froze to death in the rigging and one died in the lifeboat on the way to shore. The loss of life was the largest in a wreck on Cape Cod in 12 years.

The Life Line, Winslow Homer, 1884

The Life Line, Winslow Homer, 1884

My Great Uncle Jack Whorf, had just turned 13 years old. When he heard about the ship going aground, he and a friend decided that going to see the wreck would be more interesting than whatever was planned for school that day. When they arrived at the ocean, they saw the crews from the Nauset and Cahoon’s Hollow stations set up with their beach gear.

The crews had managed to rescue the ship’s cook with a breeches buoy. Presumably he had survived in part from being in the warm galley, rather than up in the rigging. He was set up in a chair on the beach. Jack and his friend were told to rub his arms to keep him alive.

The next day, Jack and his friend scavenged some teak from the wreck and made a desk lamp from the wood. A Wellfleet lampshade maker painted a Cape Cod map and a picture of the ship on the shade. He and Great Aunt Polly used that lamp in their den. For them it was a quite ordinary fixture; for me, it was a talisman to adventure and tragedy.

2 thoughts on “Light from the Castagna

  1. I hoped that the lamp had stayed in the possession of the family, but as far as I can tell it was somehow lost along the way. Fortunately, I can at least picture it vividly in my mind. We’re looking though old photos now to see whether we have at least a photographic record of it.


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