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The Blueberry Boat

Originally published by Cape Cod Chronicle, December 2017

In preparation for the work being done in our building starting in January, we are having to move every single piece of the collection to another part of the building. As might be expected, there have been some surprises after only two days of this. Some pleasant- a beautiful silver chest painted by Vernon Smith that was a wedding present. The keepers box belonging to the chief of the Orleans Life Saving Station during the U-boat attack. A scrapbook of photos from 1890 of which we only had poor copies.

And then, some discoveries not as fun. Such as when a volunteer called me over and asked “why is there Tupperware in here?” The brave volunteer then opened it and inside was a mason jar filled with an almost black liquid around some solid materials. Kinda scary. But the mason jar had a number on it, so we looked it up in the database as clearly it had been accepted into the collection.

The search result came back with “jar of blueberries from the Lutzen.” Blueberries? What? Why? And a bit of research unveiled a story that could only have happened here on the Cape when the “Blueberry Boat” ran ashore.

Having lost its way in heavy fog (and some theorize navigational errors), on the night of February 3, 1939, the Canadian refrigerated ship Lutzen ran aground off Nauset Beach. It hit about 100 yards from where another ship had grounded the previous month. The Lutzen was en route from Nova Scotia to New York City with a cargo of frozen salmon, 100 barrels of cod liver oil, and 230 tons of frozen blueberries.

For several days, attempts were made to refloat the ship, all failing until a nor'easter finally halted efforts when it drove the ship higher onto the beach. It was decided that while the ship was a loss, the cargo could still be saved. Not all of it though- the cod liver oil had been thrown overboard early on in an attempt to lighten the ship.

Local men were hired to unload the salmon and blueberries from the ship, making 75 cents an hour. The plan was they would unload the precious cargo directly into freezer trucks which would then deliver it to local freezers to be kept until arrangements could be made. On the first day, they unloaded the fish and they began on the blueberries on the next. The men unloaded half the blueberries but the plan fell apart when the unseasonably warm weather meant that the blueberries were thawing and the sand was too soft for the heavy trucks to drive to the cargo. So despite very careful guarding of the cargo by the Coast Guard and government officials, many crates of blueberries did not make it all way to the trucks and freezers. Cape shipwreck historian William Quinn theorized “many of the berries ended up in Outer Cape blueberry pies.” In an oral history Lewis W. Eldredge recorded with OHS in 1977, he recalled the shipwreck that has happened when he was a teen “A fellow asked me if I wanted a box of blueberries. Well, I thought I was getting a little quart of blueberries. Lord, he brought—it must have had 20 quarts or more . . . ”

The ship capsized on February 6- some say because of heavy seas, others that the men had unloaded blueberries from only one side of the ship, unbalancing it. She gradually sunk under the sand until last fall when storms started unveiling her remains 400 yards directly east of the northernmost tip of Strong Island. But unlike the treasures people dream of finding in other shipwrecks, “the Blueberry Boat” only has blueberries. but you can stay dry and see them at the Historical Society! When we reopen in the spring.

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