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Wreck of One of America's Most Storied Ships Found

US Revenue Cutter Bear served in Alaskan waters for decades
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 25, 2021 7:50 PM CDT
Wreck of One of America's Most Storied Ships Found
In this July 1908 photograph provided by the US Coast Guard Historian's Office, the US Revenue Cutter Bear sits at anchor while on Bering Sea Patrol off Alaska.   (U.S. Coast Guard Historian's Office via AP)

(Newser) – The wreckage of one of the most storied vessels in American history has been found in Canadian waters northeast of Boston, almost 60 years after it sank while being towed to Philadelphia. The US Revenue Cutter Bear, built as a sealing ship in Scotland in 1874, was bought by the US in 1884 and took part in the Arctic search for the Greely expedition. In the following decades, Bear, as part of the Revenue Cutter Service, a forerunner to the Coast Guard, served in Alaskan waters. Its many duties included Arctic rescues, law enforcement, carrying supplies to remote areas, and serving as a floating courthouse. It brought relief to San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, and patrolled Arctic waters for the Navy in World War I.

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"During Bear's 40-year career in Alaska, the cutter performed some of the most daring and successful Arctic rescues in history," says William Thiesen, the Coast Guard Atlantic Area’s official historian, per the AP. "And when malnourished Native Americans needed food, Bear brought it. When stranded whalers needed rescue, Bear saved them. One hundred years ago when thousands of Alaskans contracted the Spanish flu during the pandemic, Bear brought doctors and medicine." In 1926, it became a museum ship in Oakland and appeared in the 1930 movie The Sea-Wolf. In 1934, it returned to icy waters for an Antarctic mission and in World War II, it returned to Navy service and helped capture a German spy ship.

The Bear's captain from 1886 until 1895, Michael "Hell Roaring Mike" Healy, was "the first person of African American descent to command a ship of the US Government," the NOAA said in a blog post confirming that the wreck had been found. Bear sank while it was being towed from Nova Scotia in 1963 to become a floating restaurant in Philadelphia. The NOAA says the ship's bow is largely intact, but the hull has experienced "the ravages of time"—and fishing gear.

Assorted groups have been searching for Bear since the late 1970s, LiveScience reports. Brad Barr, mission coordinator for the NOAA's Maritime Heritage Program, says a search with the Coast Guard and other partners identified its possible resting place in 2019, and the find was confirmed with a remotely operated vehicle in September. He says the wreck's exact location is being kept secret and talks with the Canadian government on protecting the site are underway. (Read more shipwreck stories.)

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