The Rescue of the Frozen Lovers
Owls Head Lighthouse, Owls Head, Maine
One of the most famous rescues in New England's maritime history occurred at Owls Head in Maine, during the winter storm of December 22, 1850. Five vessels went aground in this storm between Rockland Harbor and Spruce Head.
At a wharf near Rockland, a small schooner from Massachusetts was anchored, ready for a morning start for Boston the next morning. The captain had gone ashore, leaving Seaman Roger Elliott, the mate, Richard B. Ingraham, and passenger Lydia Dyer, who was Ingraham’s fiancé, aboard.
Late in the evening around midnight, the storm was getting stronger and the gusts were intensifying. The cables holding the schooner vessel snapped and the heavy winds caused the boat to drift toward Owls Head, where it smashed into the rocky ledges just south of the lighthouse.
The three huddled together on the deck and were soon overcome with hypothermia from the frozen surf pounding on the deck. They used whatever blankets and provisions they could find to stay covered and somewhat dry.
As the schooner started to break apart, Seaman Elliott jumped off the vessel to try to find help for the couple, and managed to climb over the ice-covered rocks to the shore. Practically overcome with exhaustion and exposure to the freezing cold, he reached the road to Owls Head lighthouse. Luckily, Keeper Henry Achorn just happened to be riding by in his sleigh, and he took the exhausted Elliott to the Keeper's house. Overcome with hypothermia and barely able to speak, Elliott was still able to tell the Keeper about Richard Ingraham and Lydia Dyer still on the schooner. Keeper Achorn quickly rounded up a group of neighbors and they headed to the shoreline, sighting the schooner on the rocks.
When they eventually reached the schooner, they found both Ingraham and Dyer clinging together inside a blanket covered with a thick coating of ice. It looked from all appearances that the couple had perished, but Keeper Achorn was determined to bring them back to the Keeper’s house and try to save them. The men brought the ice covered Ingraham and Dyer inside to the kitchen of the Keeper's house. While keeping the pair in cold water, they carefully chipped away at the ice, removing what they could, and then slowly raised the temperature of the water. Keeper Achorn was convinced they still had to be alive, feeling what he believed to be a very faint pulse.
The men took turns massaging and exercising Ingraham and Dyer’s cold, limp, arms and legs. After almost two hours of exercising and massaging limbs, they were astonished to find Lydia Dyer showing signs of life. They kept vigorously on their tasks. Another hour passed and Ingraham miraculously opened his eyes and said, "What is all this? Where are we?"
The following day, Dyer and Ingraham had survived the ordeal and were able to eat a little, but it was many months before they were fully recovered. They eventually married and had four children. Seaman Roger Elliott was never able to recover from exposure trying to save the pair and died soon afterwards, but his struggle to stay alive and inform Keeper Achorn resulted in the miraculous rescue of Lydia Dyer and Richard Ingraham.
Some Great References
New England Lighthouses: Maine to Long Island Sound By Ray Jones, Bruce Roberts
Lighthouses of Maine: A Guidebook and Keepsake By Bruce Roberts, Ray Jones