August 16, 2018, will be an iconic day on Hatteras Island, as it marks the 100th anniversary of the rescue of the British tanker Mirlo, which is easily one of the most famous rescues in local history.
As fitting for such a once-in-a-lifetime occasion, the Chicamacomico Historical Association is planning a week of events to coincide with the anniversary, complete with art auctions and shows, rare exhibits and artifacts, tours, local fare, entertainment, and even a flyover from the U.S. Coast Guard Station Elizabeth City. (And that’s just a sample of what’s slated for the celebration.)
The orchestrating of such an event is no small undertaking, and the Chicamacomico Historical Association has been hard at work for more than a year fitting all of the pieces into place. Recently, they partnered with Carl Curnutte, Executive Director for the Elizabethan Gardens and longtime major event planner, for a little guidance, and the event is starting to take a noticeable shape.
“Now it’s crunch time, so we brought in the big guns,” said Chicamacomico Historical Association President John Griffin. “Carl has been instrumental for a lot of events like the annual Seafood Festival, and he graciously agreed to help us get this together.”
There are a lot of moving parts to consider, as well. U.S. Coast Guard officers are planning to attend and / or address the crowd during the celebration, however there’s always the possibility that a hurricane that needs their attention will add an extra obstacle.
But despite these small and possible last-minute adjustments, the event on the whole is shaping up to be one to remember.
It’s essential to understand how groundbreaking the Mirlo Rescue was. Occurring on August 16, 1918, the rescue involved six life-savers heading off the coast of Rodanthe to rescue 42 crew members of the British oil tanker, which was torpedoed by a German U-Boat. The endeavor, which was spearheaded by Capt. John Allen Midgett, required rowing to the stranded crew members through a literal ocean of flames.
“It’s a very important day in our history,” said Griffin. “The Life-Saving Service merged [with the United States Revenue Cutter Service] to form the U.S. Coast Guard in 1915, and the Mirlo rescue took place in 1918. A lot of people don’t know that submarine warfare goes back to WWI, and the Coast Guard had just started – It was a brand new outfit, and then a bunch of local guys go out and rescue 42 British seamen in an ocean that’s on fire. It’s pretty dramatic.”
“It’s certainly one of the most significant rescues in Coast Guard history, and one of the most significant rescues on the Outer Banks,” he added. “It was the first big publicity that the Coast Guard received – no one even knew what the Coast Guard was, as it has just started three years before.”
The Chicamacomico crew received accolades for the rescue from all over the country, as well as the world. Across the pond, King George V of the United Kingdom struck six special medals for the crew members – the only six medals of its kind in existence. In addition, the six men received the Grand Cross of the American Cross of Honor. To date, only eleven Grand Cross of the American Cross of Honor awards have been bestowed in the history of the United States, with six being given to the members of the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station.
A complete set of medals will actually be on display during the 100th Anniversary event, which includes the King George medal as well as the Grand Cross of the American Cross of Honor. Other special exhibits that will be borrowed from the descendants of the crew for the celebration include a compass from one of the lifeboats, a lantern and pair of binoculars from the Mirlo, and a silver cup that Capt. Midgett was awarded by the British.
And the descendants of the original six surfmen will hopefully be in attendance as well. A special dinner for the descendants is being planned during the week, which includes invitations to more than 90 families.
“There’s one person who is a direct child of one of the rescuers, then nine grandchildren, and then great grandchildren, great-great grandchildren, and even great-great-great grandchildren,” said Griffin. “We’ve identified 96 families that will get family invitations to that dinner, so that dinner should be quite a blast.”
Another highlight of the week is a Monday auction of 100 one-of-a-kind artworks that were painted by local artists on shingles that are derived from the original station. “There are 100 artists, who are contributing 100 cedar shakes for the 100th anniversary, and the bidding will start at 100 dollars for each shake,” said Griffin.
The event is certainly coming together, but the call is still going out for sponsors and donations. Advertisements in the 100th Anniversary program are currently available until June 15, and sponsors and donors of all varieties continue to be welcome for the massive event.
“Diversity is [something to consider] for folks buying an ad or becoming a sponsor,” said Griffin. “People who go to the Arts Council aren’t neccesarily the same people who go to the History Center or the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. This will attract a unique [and varied] crowd.”
Donations of all sizes are welcome, too, for anyone who wants to help with the milestone event.
And for folks who love history – or just Hatteras Island in general – an added bonus of sponsoring the celebration is the ability to be a unique piece of truly legendary local history.
“If you’re a sponsor, you’re doing this because you care about the people,” said Griffin. “It gives you a chance to show that you’re supporting our community.”