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In spite of being informally loved as the land of boardwalks and summer beaches, Cape May in New Jersey is actually full of historical points of interest — and travelers can't go within its radar without passing a few pieces of past stories along the way.

A drive down Sunset Boulevard welcomes visitors with signposts that direct to Cape May Point, which was once a religious retreat and now a rich speck on the state's map entirely sufficient of itself, mostly thanks to its beauty, amenities, and, of course, its historical landmarks.

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In fact, getting a little closer to this pinpoint allows visitors to view the World War II Lookout Tower alongside a bizarrely placed parking lot — a reminder of the magnesite plant dating back to 1941 that once stood in its place.

Sure, for most locals and visitors, Sunset Boulevard is simply a way to reach the beautiful Sunset Beach — indeed, the best place to watch the sun set into Delaware Bay.

On any given day, beach-goers can be seen combing for shells, laying on the sands, and paddling in the water, while gift shops stocked with stones, seashells, and souvenirs attract tourists to buy keepsakes of their day out.

Additionally, a flag-lowering ceremony takes place every night in the summertime to the tune of Taps — a New Jersey tradition that’s lasted for over four decades. The mini-golf course nearby also draws in a crowd, while the enticing aroma of good ol' American burgers and fries from the Grille wafts down to the beach to tempt hungry folks.

This picture sounds like the perfect day at the seaside — and it is, hence the popularity of this stunning spot on The Garden State's glorious coastline.

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Where Did The SS Atlantus Sink?

Located in Lower Township at the very end of Sunset Boulevard, this part of New Jersey in question played a significant part in history across various eras — much of it hidden that few residents know about even today.

Granted, the state is famed for its pirating past, and most locals have heard all about Morristown’s prominent role in the Revolutionary War. Many are even unaware that WWI ceased near the Somerville Circle Shopping Center, where a monument marks the event, which a lot of people seem to unknowingly pass by.

Yet, despite all of these intriguing stories of a bygone age set in this spectacular space on New Jersey's coast, none of them are quite as apparent as the one that juts out of the ocean just off the shore of Cape May.

Visitors to the area will notice something sticking out of the water when they're passing or basking on the sands of Sunset Beach — one that, upon closer inspection, reveals itself to be no feat of nature.

Situated out in the ocean past the stone jetty and outwards from the bay, an eerie skeletal structure awaits, one that looks marginally underwhelming from a distance yet boasts a heavy history that's as fascinating as the ghostly seaside feature beckons questions.

When the tide is at its lowest, even more of the heap is exposed, showcasing stone and metal frameworks covered in green algae and roosting seagulls. Signs on the sands tell the story of what visitors are looking at, though without them, the public may not even clock they're gazing out at the wreck of a famous WWI ship.

This enormous mass off the shore is the famed SS Atlantus shipwreck, a concrete vessel that ran aground in 1926 during a vigorous storm — a disastrous natural event resulting in her demise.

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The History Of The SS Atlantus Ship

The SS Atlantus's history is short and sweet but still an interesting story for anyone in her presence at Sunset Beach. Built for a war in which she never took part, the concrete experimental ship grounded less than a decade after her construction.

Today, she's a monument to that challenging time in history, one that's slowly disappearing into the sea as nature claims her deteriorating concrete corpse.

Her concrete structure was (and still is) unusual. Concrete ships were experimental during her time and later on were deemed impractical because of their gargantuan weight.

At the time, they were built to compensate for a steel shortage plaguing industry in 1917; as such, the SS Atlantus story begins when she was crafted to transport American troops back from Europe after the First World War.

Although smaller vessels had been made from concrete since the mid-1800s, larger cargo-style ships were a fairly fresh idea. A Norseman named Nikolay Fougener had already built the Namsenfjord in his home country, which, impressively, was the very first self-propelled concrete vessel intended for the ocean.

With a keen interest in his work and to overcome the lack of steel, the U.S government invited Fougener to undertake a study of the feasibility of bigger concrete ships.

Unsurprisingly, his study endorsed the manufacture of concrete vessels in the United States, and the U.S. commissioned a grand total of 24 concrete ships in a bid to assist the post-war efforts. Though 24 were planned, only 12 were actually built — the Atlantus being the first and most famous of them all.

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Despite the war having ended, many American troops remained stranded overseas — and that's where the big and bold SS Atlantus came in to save the day. During her inaugural and only year of active duty, she completed at least two trips to France to retrieve U.S servicemen.

Following that, she shuttled coal up to New England for a short time; however, the experimental ships of her time quickly became a burden, given that the war was over and steel had become readily available once again.

These colossal concrete behemoths were impressive, but they moved too slowly, guzzled far too much fuel, and they weren’t suited to trans-Atlantic voyages.

Plus, the sailors onboard didn't particularly care for them either; a number of them called the vessels 'floating tombstones' and were suspicious of the technology behind such questionable ocean cruisers.

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By 1920, she had served her purpose and was retired, after which she was sent off to the ship’s boneyard at Pig’s Point in Norfolk, Virginia, to be salvaged for scrap. Her engines were removed, her useful parts sold on, and what remained of her was left floating and for sale, waiting for a buyer.

Six years later, in 1926, Colonel Jesse Rosenfeld purchased her remains, but not for trips or logistics; rather, as a major piece of his grand plan to link Delaware and New Jersey. A Baltimore native, Rosenfield intended to launch a ferry line between Cape May and Cape Henlopen — and to do that, he needed the concrete ship, which would not transport passengers but would instead serve as the first part of a new concrete boating dock.

After all the necessary repairs were finished for her new purpose, the SS Atlantus was towed from Virginia up to Cape May to start her new life as a ferry wharf.

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Why Did The SS Atlantus Sink?

In March 1926, the town's celebration of the budding ferry enterprise took the shape of an elaborate ceremony in its honor — but fate decided the SS Atlantus's role was not to be.

A mere three months later, on June 8th of the same year, the ship broke free of her moorings during an early summer storm, drifted out into the bay, struck a sandbar, and ran aground around 150 feet from the shoreline.

Although the vessel no longer had an engine, she still had a caretaker working onboard to keep pace with minor repairs, who went on deck and waved a white sheet as she ventured seaward. Joe Trolli, a worker at the nearby sand plant, witnessed the caretaker's distress signal and rowed out to the ship, thus saving the caretaker and his beloved cat.

In the following years, several rescue attempts of the Atlantus were unsuccessful. Logically, moving a 3,000-ton ocean titan of solid concrete is by no measure a simple task, so, be it by decision or Mother Nature's will in which she removed all choice from humans, it was decided the ship would be left in the hands of the waves just offshore.

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The SS Atlantus Today

Engineers warned the ship would disintegrate, and they were correct in their predictions; however, she has endured the elements and the ocean's unforgiving power for much longer than expected, lasting beyond what was previously thought. In the aftermath of her ill fate, the SS Atlantus listed slightly to the left — but her gradual crumbling would continue until she was a shadow of her former self.

In 1937, a seam in her hull split open, which began to come apart in the mid-50s. By 1961, her hull split in two, and though today's SS Atlantus pictures look completely different from what they once did all those decades ago, she's still a dominating coastal feature worthy of appreciation — one with an incredible backstory.

Now, at present, the shipwreck is divided into three parts, most of her resting below the surface; her stern is still visible, and much of her concrete body washed away to reveal her steel girding underneath.

Although the vessel's mid-section is fully submerged, leaving only the stern visible most of the day, her bow appears above the waterline at low tide.

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Even as a wreck, the SS Atlantus has drawn in crowds for decades and subsequently became an important attraction in New Jersey. For years upon years, she attracted visitors and has even been painted with commercial advertisements.

Furthermore, brave adventurers have also had a keen eye for the ship throughout her amassed time as an abandoned shipwreck; thrill-seekers would swim out to her and dive under the water to enjoy a closer look — that is until a man drowned while attempting to do so.

Because of safety concerns, leisurely subaquatic exploration of the Atlantus is unadvised, but visitors can enjoy viewing the structure from the shore or get up and close on a kayak.

Occasionally, scuba divers have explored the underwater sections of the wreck at slack tide to observe what's left of her — a giant covered in mussel beds and said to house ample marine species like striper and sea bass. If rumors are to be believed, some say she even harbors huge sand-polished Cape May Diamonds the size of baseballs.

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  • The SS Atlantus Coordinates: 38.9443° N, 74.9721° W

Visiting the ship in its current form might not be the most visually exciting; yet, only those who know the story of the SS Atlantus over the years can truly rebuild her crumbling concrete and rusted steel latticework into the dignitary maritime monster she was when she began her duties.

Still, if in her vicinity, a visit to this ghost of the past is a memorable experience — not solely due to her large, decaying presence oozing post-apocalyptic mystery but also thanks to her eventful history and her many mishaps along the way.

The S. S. Atlantus can be seen at Sunset Beach in Cape May, NJ

Address: Sunset Blvd, Cape May, NJ 08204, USA