An Unexpected Visit to the USCGC Richard Etheridge: A special time to remember the rescue of the E.S. Newman - October 11, 2023
On Saturday, October 9th, the Pea Island Preservation Society, Inc., (PIPSI) held two events to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the October 11, 1896, daring and heroic and rescue of the schooner, E.S. Newman, during hurricane conditions by Keeper Richard Etheridge and the Pea Island Lifesavers - one in the morning at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island and the other in the afternoon at Haven Creek Baptist Church located in Manteo. The cloudy, misty, morning, with the potential of heavy rain forecasted throughout the day, did not stop a well attended crowd at the popular live program, Freedman, Surfmen, Heroes held at the Aquarium in the morning, followed by a short wreath ceremony at the Etheridge gravesite which is located at the Aquarium’s entrance. The pouring rain later in the day also did not stop the main afternoon event when the decision was made to move the event, originally planned to be outdoors at the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum, indoors to Haven Creek Baptist Church located just a couple of blocks away. At both events, the surprise announcement was made that Governor Roy Cooper had proclaimed, October 11, 2021, as “Pea Island Lifesavers Day” in the State of North Carolina and commended its observance to all citizens. The surprise announcement generated much applause and excitement at both affairs. Both well attended programs included two very special guests - Dwight Meekins, the grandson of the Theodore Meekins, the Pea Island surfman who first spotted the E.S. Newman, and Daniel Gardiner, the grandson of Sylvester Gardiner, the captain of the wrecked ship. Meekins and Gardiner placed a wreath at the Etheridge gravesite after the morning Aquarium program and both spoke at the afternoon Haven Creek Baptist Church program. Others who provided remarks at the afternoon program included the keynote speaker, David Wright Falade, who co-authored the book Fire on the Beach: The Lost Story of Keeper Richard Etheridge and the Pea Island Lifesavers, Captain Matthew Baer, the USCG Commander of Sector North Carolina, and Retired Rear Admiral Stephen Rochon who spearheaded the US Coast Guard’s Gold Life-Saving Medal posthumously awarded to Etheridge and his crew in March 1996 for the E. S. Newman rescue. Rochon also earlier said a prayer at the wreath ceremony. During the afternoon program, Captain Baer presented a replica of the Gold Lifesaving Medal to several community children who participated in the program representing Keeper Richard Etheridge and the Pea Island Lifesavers who never lived to know of or proudly wear gold medals on their chests. One of the community youth, Kamila Brooks, who is a descendant of the Pea Island Lifesavers, also helped to open the afternoon program by singing a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem. The Governor’s proclamation made a moving and successful day, albiet cloudy, misty, and rainy throughout, that much more special. The proclamation was requested by the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, the place where Keeper Richard Etheridge and his family are buried. It is also the location where PIPSI kick started its popular live program, Freedmen, Surfmen, Heroes which tells the unique story of the all-black US Life-Saving Service Station using vivid imagery and historical interpretation by Board members who are also descendants of the Pea Island Lifesavers. The Governor’s proclamation is yet another important milestone in PIPSI’s mission to make the history of Keeper Richard Etheridge and the Pea Island Lifesavers broadly known.