October 22, 2018
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Ownership of iconic Wiscasset shipwreck artifact remains in question after nearly four decades

Abigail Adams | LCN
Abigail Adams | LCN
The bow of Hesper outside the Wiscasset Town Office Nov. 17. Ownership of the bow is now in question with Westport Island resident Jay Siegars telling selectmen he salvaged it approximately 35 years ago.

The recently rediscovered remains of Wiscasset’s historic four-mast schooners Luther Little and Hesper revived a decades-old dispute about the ownership of the salvaged remains. Jay Siegars, of Westport Island, was on hand at the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen meeting Tuesday, Nov. 17 to lay claim to the bow of the Hesper , which was recently unearthed at the town’s old landfill.

According to Siegars, a few days after the Hesper caught fire on July 4, 1978, he found the bow of theHesper adrift on the Sheepscot River, past the Westport Island bridge, and personally transported it to shore, where the town took control of it.

Despite several calls and visits to former First Selectman Larry Gordon, a call to an attorney, and conversations with the leader of the organization that was working, at the time, to preserve the ships, Siegars’ efforts to recover the bow were unsuccessful.

After 35 years, Siegars has not forgotten the Hesper remains he said he salvaged, even after the rest of the town has. Luther Little and Hesper were among the last four-mast schooners constructed in Massachusetts in the early 1900s.

The schooners were brought to Wiscasset in 1932 by resident Frank Winter, who planned to restore them and use them for commercial purposes, according to the Associated Press. For the next 60 years, they would remain beached in the Sheepscot River and become an unanticipated tourist attraction and element of Wiscasset’s identity.

In 1998, the ships were dismantled, salvaged parts were stored at Wiscasset’s old landfill for a to-be-determined use, and the iconic ships Wiscasset had become known for faded into obscurity. Many members of Wiscasset’s younger generation have never laid eyes on the ship, Wiscasset historian Phil Di Vece wrote in his 2012 book “Wiscasset and Its Times.”

A Wiscasset Public Works crew recently uncovered the seemingly forgotten remains at the old landfill. The remains were brought to the selectmen’s Nov. 17 meeting to discuss how to reintroduce them to the public eye. Among the pieces was the bow from Hesper with its name still visible in the wood.

The conversation at the selectmen’s meeting changed when Siegars came forward to discuss his claim of ownership. Siegars was 17 years old when the Hesper caught fire on July 4, 1978 and he spent that night shuttling firefighters to and from the ship in his small boat, he said.

It is a night Chair Ben Rines remembers as one of the best Fourth of Julys Wiscasset ever had. “Hundreds of people were down at the waterfront,” Rines said. “We had fireworks going off over one shoulder and the ship on fire over the other. It was very exciting.” Fellow selectmen reminded Rines the ships seemed to catch fire just about every Fourth of July.

According to Siegars, no one was interested in finding salvaged parts of Hesper that fell off the ship after the fire. By happenstance, he came across pieces from the bow in the Sheepscot River a few days later and spent hours hauling it to shore, he said. According to maritime law, the salvaged remains are his.

His claim of ownership was ignored, he said. Thirty-five years later, Siegars still wants his piece of Wiscasset’s history.

Selectmen agreed the ownership claim was worth looking into and instructed Town Manager Marian Anderson to find out more before selectmen make a decision on what to do with the remains.

Anderson asked Siegars if he would be agreeable to the town putting the piece on display if his role in salvaging it was credited. Siegars said it was something he would have to think about.

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