It’s hard to know just how rare a document is when you don’t know what’s in the hands of private collectors.
But Geoffrey K. Fleming, director of the Southold Historical Society, thinks the Journal of Ditch Plains Life Saving Station Number 4 — the station which covered the area around Montauk Point — is rare, if not unique.
That’s because it is complete and undamaged, a record of everything important or mundane that took place between Dec. 1, 1873, and Feb. 9, 1878.
“It was never altered, it was never cut apart, there were no loose bits and pieces,” Fleming said.
The journal will be on public display next summer, when the society again opens its Horton Point lighthouse. Access will be by contacting the historical society.
There were once 30 lifesaving stations dotting Long Island’s shores, but most of their records are gone, some to private collectors, many more simply abandoned.
“There was no requirement to save them,” Fleming said. “Some got tossed ... some were just taken home by the last man to leave.”
The Ditch Plains journal has every detail the life station crew thought was worth noting — storms and freezing rain, training exercises and patrols, wrecks and rescues and bodies found on the beach.
It includes the story of the Circassian, a large cargo ship blown onto a sandbar by a gale on Dec. 11, 1876. The crew waited helplessly as rescue effort after rescue effort failed until — finally — a mortar shot out a line with a rescue device attached that took one man at a time off the ship.
The journal was in the hands of a private collector in Hampton Bays after the Ditch Plains station burned down, and ended up in the possession of a dealer in New England.
He offered to sell it to the Southold Historical Society, but did not want to wait for them to raise the several thousand dollars it cost.