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Recalling the Fireworks

Recalling the Fireworks, Annual 2017 Cape Cod Life |

The SS James Longstreet was named for Confederate general James Longstreet (1821-1904), who served under General Robert E. Lee during the Civil War.

According to local newspaper reports, sentiment began to turn against the practice following an accident in 1970. On May 30, 1970, a bomb removed from the target ship by several Dedham youths exploded, causing one 17-year-old boy to lose his finger, according to an article in the next day’s Sunday Cape Cod Standard-Times. Wellfleet police reported that five boys had gone out to the ship in a motorboat and returned to shore with five bombs. While one of the boys was trying to dismantle a bomb using a hammer and screwdriver, it exploded, severing a finger. An ordnance team from Quonset Naval Air Station in Rhode Island was dispatched to clear the ship of explosives.

In a follow-up article published a week later, the newspaper quoted Lt. C. D.  Santelle, public affairs officer at Quonset Point, as saying that most bombs dropped on the target ship were of a low charge. He described some as “steel bombs with a charge the size of a 10-gauge shotgun shell” and said that others “have charges of black powder ranging from three to five pounds.”

On June 10, the newspaper reported that Navy Commander Daniel Buckley, weapons officer, said that the charge in the head of the practice bombs “is only enough to make a puff of smoke to determine where the bomb landed.” Practice bombs could be loaded with plaster, water, or sand; when they struck, the spotter charge was ignited, so the pilots could determine whether or not there was a strike, according to the story.

A few days later, an editorial in the Cape Cod Standard-Times noted that the Longstreet posed a continuing threat to pleasure craft and had long been a popular teen sea rendezvous (posted warnings notwithstanding), then asked the pointed question: “T-ship: a dangerous dud?”

What finally wiped the Longstreet off the map was the April Fool’s Day Blizzard of 1997. The intense storm sank the rusty ship, which now lies in about 22 feet of water off Eastham in Cape Cod Bay.

Ellen Albanese is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Waquoit.

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