Remembering the Lutzen
Recalling the freighter that went aground in a heavy fog off Chatham in 1939
In February of 1939, Lewis W. Eldredge, 23, of Orleans went down to Nauset Beach to see what all the fuss was about. “A fellow asked me if I wanted a box of blueberries,” Eldredge recalled in an oral history interview conducted by the Orleans Historical Society in 1977. “Well, I thought I was getting a little quart of blueberries. Lord, he brought—it must have had 20 quarts or more . . . ”
The blueberries represented the biggest part of the cargo on the Canadian freighter Lutzen, which ran aground near Nauset Beach in a heavy fog during the early morning hours of Friday, February 3, 1939. The ship was on its way from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to New York City loaded with frozen salmon, 100 barrels of cod liver oil, and 230 tons of frozen blueberries.
In the aftermath, one seaman perished. Baxter Bailey of Trinity, Newfoundland, drowned when the lifeboat he was in capsized shortly after being lowered. Another crewmember in the boat—Newton Halsyard, 33, of St. John’s, Newfoundland, the mate of the Lutzen—was pulled to safety. Stories suggest that the two were headed to shore to get help.
The captain of the ship, Robert J. Randell, 34, blamed the fog, a strong westerly current, and magnetic forces for the crash. He said he passed by Highland Light in Truro and Nauset Light in Eastham in heavy fog without seeing either one. The area was known for being hazardous. An article in the Daily Boston Globe on February 3 noted that, “the Lutzen grounded in the vicinity of several other wrecks where particularly dangerous bars are located.” And the Chatham Monitor reported that, “the tragedy occurred within 100 yards of the spot where the Boston trawler, Andover, grounded in late December .”
The wreck of the Lutzen, a 155-foot steel-hulled refrigerator craft, drew spectators to the Cape Cod coast for days as attempts were made to pull the ship back out to sea and, failing that, to save the precious cargo.
It seems the blueberries, from St. John’s, New Brunswick, were considered the prize part of the cargo; on the second day after the ship ran aground, the cod liver oil barrels were broken open and tossed overboard to lighten the load. On February 5, 1,000 pounds of frozen fish were removed. Strong winds, though, made it impossible to run a line from the stranded vessel to two Coast Guard cutters waiting offshore to pull it back out to sea.