Vanished: The Disappearance of Luke C. P. James

Memorial to Luke James, IOOF Cemetery, Salisbury

I had arrived in Salisbury to pay my respects to Sergeant Mark Prynn, who lost his life due to a tragic accident. As I walked among the stones to his memorial, a nearby stone caught my attention and I knew I had to stop at before leaving. After I finished paying my respects to Sergeant Prynn, I walked over to the smaller stone that had caught my attention. Note: More about Prynn’s death can be found here: Mark Prynn.

As I stood before the stone, I realized what had initially caught my attention was the lichen growth on the stone. However, as I read the stone, my curiosity was captured by the words on the stone. “In Memory of / Luke C.P. James / Dec. 4, 1899 /Nov. 23, 1945 / Lost his life in the / Potomac River.”

I studied the stone for a couple minutes before walking back to the vehicle. “What did you find?” my mother asked as I sat down.

“I’m not sure,” I replied. “He’s obviously a drowning victim, but let’s see what I can find about him.” I repeated the information on the stone to my parents as I searched the internet for information.

“I believe it is a cenotaph His body was never recovered – or at least I can’t find any mention his body had been recovered.”

The November 29, 1945 edition of The Republic (Meyersdale, Pa) ran the headline “Luke James Lost Overboard in the Potomac,” which shares the information sent to his mother-in-law, Emily Farner.

Luke Colenso Penwell James was born December 4, 1899, the son of George and Elizabeth James. He would marry Jean Farner and they would have five children. Luke James was described as a well-known man in the Salisbury region and was a partner in Dickey & James. A veteran of World War One, Luke and his youngest son, Joseph, joined the Merchant Marines in July 1944. With the two of them joining the Merchant Marines, Luke and all five of his sons were involved in one of the military branches during World War Two. In addition, Luke’s wife Jean, would work in a local factory to support the war effort.

During the closing year of the war, Luke crossed the Atlantic successfully with no incidents. After the war ended in September 1945, Luke continued with the Merchant Marines, mostly making trips sailing between Baltimore and New York. In late November 1945, Luke disappeared from the barge he was working on.

On the evening of Saturday November 23, 1945, around eight in the evening, Luke disappeared and the saddest part, it was not known exactly when or where he disappeared. What is recorded is he disappeared while on the Potomac. It is believed to have happened when Luke was in the process of moving between one boat to another. While crossing over, he slipped off the plank and fell into the river and drowned.

However, this is only what is believed happened, because nobody knew exactly sure when Luke vanished. The Republic states that there were no witnesses to Luke James falling into the Potomac River, so exactly when and where Luke went missing is not known. Though a search for his body was immediately underway, searchers could not easily narrow down the location where he went missing because nobody noticed him gone at the time. The newspaper article in The Republic hints that a length of time had passed between the time it was believed he disappeared and the time he was actually noticed as missing.

Note Although it is not clear where he disappeared from, all that is mentioned is it happened on the Potomac. With the mention he normally was sailing between Baltimore and New York, I believe it happened in the vicinity of the mouth of the Potomac.

The last time the search is mentioned is in mid-December, with the announcement his son Thomas was in Baltimore to search for his father.

I finished reading the information, I could find little about the tragedy that claimed the life of Luke James, who lost his life on the Potomac. We left the cemetery, knowing that the tragic death of Luke James would not be forgotten.

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