Finding Sandy's lost treasures

Shannon Pryor with items recovered after the storm. Her Facebook page links finders and seekers."All of these things mean something to the people they belong to," she says.
Shannon Pryor with items recovered after the storm. Her Facebook page links finders and seekers."All of these things mean something to the people they belong to," she says. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 08, 2013

TOMS RIVER, N.J. - It was only a small rectangle made of bronze.

And compared with all she lost in the last several years - her husband to a car accident, their Mantoloking beach house to Hurricane Sandy - the loss of the bronze could have seemed insignificant.

But to Lori Juliano-Slack it was everything, a touchstone to her husband's memory that had been placed on the wooden railing along their beach pathway by the town. So it was heartbreaking when the commemorative plague honoring Steven F. Slack'stragic 2007 passing washed away in the storm.

Then she got the call.

Two months after the Oct. 29 superstorm, the plaque had been found still attached to a 10-foot piece of railing sticking up out of the sand and leaning against a wrecked house several miles away in Lavalette. A picture of the plaque had been posted on a Facebook page created to link finders with seekers of items lost during Sandy and noticed by a friend of Juliano-Slack's. It reads:

Peace and Serenity by the Sea In Memory of Steven F. Slack March 27, 1960 June 15, 2007

"I sank to my knees and started crying. . . . It was amazing," said Juliano-Slack, 49, who was in Florida with her new husband when she learned of the find. "To me that plaque represented [her late husband's] tombstone. . . . It was like a miracle."

Hers was among so many personal treasures - daguerreotype photos of the old Shore; newer photo albums of proms, graduations, weddings, and holidays by the sea; ribbon-tied packs of love letters; paintings; house signs; antique jewelry; china teacups; and even entire boats - that had been scattered like flotsam up and down the coast after Sandy literally tore Shore homes to shreds.

And because so many of the homes are multigenerational repositories for the souvenirs of memory, each of the items found since the storm likely has significance to someone.

"It occurred to us as we were helping with the weekend beach sweeps that all of these things mean something to the people they belong to," said Shannon Pryor, 25, of Toms River, who with her friend Holly Sprick, 24, of Franklin, Sussex County, created the free Facebook page "Hurricane Sandy's Lost Treasures" to "reunite those found treasures with their rightful owners."

As it turned out, Pryor was the one who found Juliano-Slack's plaque on a New Year's Day beach walk in Lavalette.

"Knowing that something so small could mean everything to someone who lost a whole house . . . it just makes us feel so good to have done that," Pryor said. "I think the site inspires people to realize that if they see something, they shouldn't just throw it out. What means nothing to them could mean the world to someone else."

Pryor said items were still being found washed up on the beach, beneath docks, in boats, and even inside random homes, where seawater littered with other people's belongings may have washed in during flooding and then receded, leaving the items behind like seashells on the beach.

Many of the items that have been found look battered: hundreds of faded, saltwater-stained photographs, an old varsity letter jacket dirtied by sand and muck, a mildewed captain's hat, a rusted letter opener. Some things, though, are remarkably intact, like a single mother-of-pearl teacup, a commemorative Staffordshire china plate, a carved folk-art sailor.

And some are much bigger, like Jeremy Fellgraff's 26-foot Angler center-console boat, from which the 37-year-old Toms River resident operates a fishing charter business. Fellgraff's home, a one-story beach cottage in the Ocean Beach section of the township, was destroyed and his boat washed away from its lagoon mooring at a nearby marina during the storm.

He spent nearly two months combing marinas, parking lots, lagoons, and marshes in the area searching for the vessel. Fifty-five days after the storm, a picture of the boat appeared on the Lost Treasures website after someone spotted it in dry dock at the Brick Township marina several miles from where Fellgraff last saw it. It was damaged but repairable, he said.

"No one can tell me how it ended up there," said Fellgraff, "but I'm just glad it was found.

"I can't say enough good things about that Facebook page, because without it I would have no boat, and that boat is my livelihood," said Fellgraff, who had to take a job in a lumber yard to supplement his income. When repairs, estimated at $25,000, are complete, said the captain, he plans to relocate to the Florida Keys.

Some items are brought by the finders to Pryor and Sprick for safekeeping until an owner can be located. Others are kept by whoever found them until someone makes a claim of ownership. Everything gets posted on the site www.facebook.com/HurricaneSandysLostTreasures until claimed and arrangements are made to return them.

For items of particular value, the women make efforts to confirm ownership. A Tiffany silver baby spoon that is engraved with initials, for example, was listed on the website without mentioning the initials. A bona fide claimant would know them.

No one is charged for using the site, nor are rewards or finder's fees allowed. Currently there are about 4,000 people using the site, creating a unique online finders/seekers community, Pryor said.

One of the more touching items found was a pack of love letters sent in 1952 by Joseph Ward to his bride, Ellin, while he was away, training as an engineer.

Ward would later become an internationally known geotechnical and forensic engineer whose firm worked on projects as high profile as the original Giants Stadium and the World Trade Center. In the years following their marriage, the couple had six sons and five daughters. The large family lived in Montclair but summered in the Normandy Beach section of Brick Township until Sandy claimed the home.

Ward died in 1994, but his personal effects, including the letters, remained boxed in the attic of the large, two-story home that was sliced in half when a house from across the street was smashed into it by the storm, said his daughter Mary.

Months later, a battered shoe box - half water-soaked, half dry - turned up on the beach several blocks from the family home. It contained the packet of letters saved all these years by the family's matriarch, Ellin, who is now 86.

"I think those letters coming back to my mother showed us that love can endure through all kinds of situations," said Mary Ward, "even something as devastating as Sandy."


Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo

at 609-652-8382 or jurgo@phillynews.com. Read the Jersey Shore blog "Downashore"

at philly.com/downashore.

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