Eight men, and perhaps others, paid the toll in a tragedy of the sea in Vineyard Sound last Friday morning, during a thick fog.

At six o’clock that morning, the fog lifting for a short while, the Cuttyhunk Coast Guard crew observed a distress signal at the masthead of a steamer of apparently 125 or 150 feet length, midway in the Sound between the Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands.

It seemed as if the davits were swung outward and the empty falls were dangling free. The Coast Guard men put out, but the craft sank before they reached the spot. There was no sign of the crew or boats.

The Coast Guards at Gay Head had also seen the steamer with decks awash, but they, too, arrived too late to find anyone.

An observer reported that as the early morning fog lifted he saw two steamers approaching each other, but that only one passed along.

Coast guards and fishermen searched all day Friday for the mystery wreck or clues to the missing men.

Late Friday afternoon Capt. Edward Dalen of Menemsha picked up a life preserver marked, “John Dwight, New York.” Others found about the same time a suit case and an ice chest.

The theory most generally held by coast guards and fishermen on Saturday was that the John Dwight, which left Newport, R. I., with New York as her immediate announced destination last Wednesday, went to the eastward instead and picked up a cargo from a rum-running mother ship, turned back to make her trip to New York and was anchored in Vineyard Sound without lights as is the rum-trade practice, when she was run down in the thick fog.

On Saturday eight bodies were found on the western Vineyard shore, seven of which were wrapped in life preservers bearing the name, “John Dwight.” The eighth was face down in a small boat, apparently having fallen from exhaustion and drowned by the water in the bottom of the boat.

This man had made an ingenious and a hard fight for his life. There was neither oar nor oarlock in the sailless boat, but he had fashioned sweeps from strips of board which he tore from the inside of the boat, locks out of strips of canvas torn from a belt, and arranged a working combination in which to row. The improvised oars and stays were worked hard. The man seemed to have exhausted himself at his labors and fell to the bottom of his boat, where the waters that had leaked in drowned him.

A score of barrels of bottled ale were retrieved.

The eight bodies were taken on Saturday to Vineyard Haven after Medical Examiner Edward P. Worth had examined them and pronounced death due to drowning in each case. The bodies were cared for by Hinckley & Renear, undertakers, at their undertaking rooms, and held for identification if possible.

On several of the men were found papers that may lead to their identification. One, said by the doctor to have been between 50 and 60 years of age, had a membership card from the King’s County Republican Club in the name of James H. Nelson, 220 Patchen avenue, Brooklyn, N. Y.

A letter addressed to “Mr. James Craig, care of T. Wilson, Kennedy Towing Line, 31 South street, New York City,” was found in the clothing of another body, that of a young man, five feet five inches in height, and weighing about 160 pounds. A World War veteran’s emblem, and the name “Harriet” tattooed on the right forearm, were identifying marks on this body.

A letter addressed M. Nolan, 231 Eckford street, Brooklyn, N. Y., was found on the body of a man from 40 to 45 years old.

A card with address “Mrs. P. Solomon, 56 Attorney street, city,” was found on another body, that of a man six feet tall, weighing 200 pounds, and about 30 years old.

Cuttyhunk Mail Boat Had Spoken Steamer

New Bedford, April 7 - Capt. Wallace Loveridge, who operates the mail boat between this port and Cuttyhunk, reports he sighted the John Dwight, about 1:30 P. M., Thursday, anchored about one mile north of Quick’s Hole, within two or three miles of where she went down. Thinking the steamer was in distress, Capt. Loveridge ran toward her. As he approached all those on board ducked under cover. Coming alongside, he called out to offer aid, and, after waiting two or three minutes, one man came on deck. He told the captain that they had met with a little engine trouble, but expected to get away within a few minutes.

Capt. Loveridge said the steamer appeared to be loaded down.

Dwight Wintered at Newport

Newport, R. I., April 7 - The steam lighter John Dwight, which sank yesterday in Vineyard Sound, had provided a waterfront mystery here for several days before news came of her loss. Tied up at a dock since early January, the steamer began to show signs of activity a week ago when Capt. Carmichael, an old towboat captain, appeared here with credentials and took her over. Early this week a crew arrived, made up of men unknown here. They would not talk. During Wednesday night, the John Dwight slipped out of the harbor, nobody knew wither.

The waterfront theory was that the vessel had gone out on rum business. The arrival of the silent crew of strangers, eight or nine men in all, served to strengthen the impression. The new captain was a familiar figure here, having worked out of Newport on towboats for many years. But nobody seemed to know his first name.

The Dwight, owned by the Navy during the war, later was purchased by Capt. Lewis N. Blix of New York, well known in yachting circles. Last Fall the vessel was used in salvaging coal from sunken barges off Point Judith. When the weather grew too rough for the work she was tied up here, and John K. Sullivan, a Newport contractor, who had been the partner of Blix in the coal salvaging enterprise, took charge of her throughout the winter. A week ago Carmichael came here and showed Sullivan papers giving him charge of the steamer.

The John Dwight cast off Wednesday but returned to port shortly afterward, owing to the dense fog. On Thursday morning she was gone, having moved out quietly in the night.

Two Captains Believed Among the Lost

The developments this week led to the belief that at least ten lives were lost in the disaster which came to the steam lighter John Dwight which sank in Vineyard Sound Friday morning. Men who knew Captain John F. King of New York and Captain Malcolm Carmichael of Jersey City, both of whom were believed to have been on board the John Dwight on her last trip, viewed the bodies of the eight men recovered from the waters of the sound, and failed to recognize either man.

Captain King left his home at 124 Jefferson avenue, Brooklyn, N. Y., last Tuesday with his son, Harry, it became known at Vineyard Haven, but it could not be positively learned whether he was on board. Captain Carmichael, whose home is believed to be No. 4 Duncan court, Jersey City, was believed to have shipped aboard the John Dwight as a seaman, but it was thought that authority on board was shared between the two captains.

The men who viewed the bodies of the seamen and failed to identify either captain were Captain Robert P. Moon and his mate, Patrick E. McMurray of the tug T. J. Hooper, from Norfolk to Boston with barges. Captain Moon said that when between Block Island and the entrance to Vineyard Sound last Friday he passed an open boat of the dory type as well as a life preserver without a name.

A flurry of excitement resulted Sunday when it was reported that three men had reached Edgartown from Nomansland, a small island south of the Vineyard. At first it was supposed that the men were survivors of the John Dwight’s crew, but it was learned later that they had come from some vessel anchored near Nomansland with a piece of machinery to be repaired.

Six Bodies Identified

Six of the eight bodies picked up in Vineyard Sound after the mysterious sinking of the steamer John Dwight have been shipped from Vineyard Haven to relatives. This leaves but two bodies now held unidentified. It is still thought there are others who perished in the disaster of Friday morning, including Capt. King and Capt. Carmichael.

Many cases of liquor have been picked up in the Sound, including ale and Scotch whiskey.

Whether one or two vessels went to the bottom of Vineyard Sound on that fateful Friday morning, with a larger loss of life than has yet been ascertained, is a question that may soon be solved, or it may remain a mystery for a long time to come.