His­tory be­neath the wa­ters at Mal­lows Bay

County holds event com­mem­o­rat­ing start of World War I, ship­wreck grave­yard

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

Hun­dreds of ships lie in and be­neath Mal­lows Bay, ar­ti­facts of an ear­lier age. Arthur Wil­lett, 91, has been on some of those ships.

“My first work ex­pe­ri­ence in my life be­gan on that ship there,” Wil­lett said, point­ing to a pic­ture of one of the ships.

Wil­lett spoke about his ex­pe­ri­ences, at age 10, in the “ship grave­yard” at Mal­lows Bay in Nan­je­moy, dur­ing Charles County’s 100th com­mem­o­ra­tion of the start of World War I. The event, at Mal­lows Bay Satur­day, fea­tured photos of the bay’s his­tory,

kayak­ing, bird­watch­ing, in­ter­ac­tive ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties and more.

The start of Amer­i­can in­volve­ment in World War I led to a mas­sive ship­build­ing en­ter­prise, in­volv­ing more than 40 ship­yards in 17 states.

More than 100 of the ships were wooden steamships, which never saw use and were ob­so­lete by the end of the war. The ships were towed to Mal­lows Bay, where they were even­tu­ally burned and scut­tled.

In 1936, Wil­lett said his fa­ther was part of a group of men paid to sal­vage what they could from the wrecked ships. Wil­lett said he is the last liv­ing per­son to have been on the ships scut­tled in Mal­lows Bay.

“From 1932 to 1936, it was a place of em­ploy­ment for about three and a half years,” Wil­lett said. “It was dur­ing the De­pres­sion era, and peo­ple had no work, so this was a great place for them.”

Wil­lett, 10 years old at the time, ac­com­pa­nied his fa­ther.

“Hav­ing noth­ing to do but stay out of the way, I found an 8-pound piece of brass, and, as brass was sell­ing for five cents a pound, I made 40 cents off these ships,” Wil­lett said, laugh­ing.

Wil­lett, a na­tive of Nan­je­moy, said the his­tory of Mal­lows Bay has been of in­ter­est to him since 1936.

“I’ve been to the mar­itime mu­seum, Na­tional Archives, any­where I could find out more about it,” Wil­lett said. “This is a great spot.”

Mal­lows Bay used to be known as Marlow’s Bay, Wil­lett said.

“When I grew up, it was Marlow’s Bay, and it be­came Mal­lows Bay be­cause some­body mis­spelled it,” Wil­lett said.

The Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places ap­pli­ca­tion form records the first use of “Mal­lows Bay” rather than “Marlow’s Bay” in 1928 in War Depart­ment doc­u­ments.

Other ships in Mal­lows Bay date back to the Civil War.

The old ship­wrecks, some of which are not com­pletely sub­merged, have be­come habi­tat for nu­mer­ous na­tive wildlife, in­clud­ing osprey, herons, bats, fish, tur­tles and more.

Lynne Wheeler, pres­i­dent of the South­ern Mary­land Audubon So­ci­ety, said nu­mer­ous avians make their home tem­po­rar­ily and year-round at Mal­lows Bay.

“It’s great habi­tat, for mul­ti­ple species,” Wheeler said. “We re­ally do want to pro­tect it — this is our her­itage.”

The Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion, or NOAA, has pro­posed declar­ing Mal­lows Bay a Na­tional Ma­rine Sanc­tu­ary.

Kirk Pierce, vol­un­teer diver with the In­sti­tute of Mar­itime His­tory, said there’s a rich his­tory hid­den un­der the wa­ters of Mal­lows Bay.

“There are a num­ber of wrecks there,” Pierce said.

The In­sti­tute of Mar­itime His­tory is a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to the preser­va­tion and doc­u­men­ta­tion of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­mains re­lated to mar­itime his­tory, ac­cord­ing to its web­site.

“We’re a vol­un­teer group, and we sup­port the pro­fes­sional ar­chae­ol­o­gists, pri­mar­ily Susan Lan­g­ley, the state un­der­wa­ter ar­chae­ol­o­gist,” Pierce said. “So we’re mostly Scuba divers, but there’s plenty of vol­un­teer op­por­tu­ni­ties for non-divers, and the whole idea, is if we find some­thing, we’ll report it to her.”

Pierce said vol­un­teer divers mark out the re­mains of un­der­wa­ter ship­wrecks, and note the lo­ca­tion and type of ar­ti­facts found.

“We don’t dis­turb any of the ar­ti­facts,” Pierce said. “If we find some­thing, not be­ing ex­perts, we don’t nec­es­sar­ily know if it’s im­por­tant, so to be on the safe side, we don’t touch it. We de­scribe it, or take pic­tures, if the con­di­tions are good.”


Above, Nan­je­moy na­tive Arthur Wil­lett points to one of the ships in his col­lec­tion of his­toric photos of the ship grave­yard at Mal­lows Bay Satur­day. Be­low, Lynne Wheeler, right, pres­i­dent of the South­ern Mary­land Audubon So­ci­ety, leads a bird watch­ing tour at Mal­lows Bay Satur­day.

Nan­je­moy na­tive Arthur Wil­lett shared his­toric photos and sto­ries about the “ship grave­yard” at Mal­lows Bay dur­ing a World War I cen­ten­nial com­mem­o­ra­tion Satur­day.


One of the many ship­wrecks in Mal­lows Bay.

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