Captain Casto and the Schooner “Alberta”

(Permission granted to reprint this article from imPULSE, a periodic newsletter of  Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, Issue 13, published March, 2008.)

Descendants of first gold-medal awardee pay tribute at graveside, install marker

Descendants of the first recipient of a gold Carnegie Medal gathered in December in a Daytona Beach, Fla., cemetery to remember their patriarch, Capt. Mark Casto. Among the moss-draped cedars, they placed a commemorative marker in the likeness of the medal on his gravestone.  “The influence of the heroic effort of Capt. Casto in 1906 and the subsequent recognition by the Hero Fund are ongoing in our families,” said one of the awardee’s grandchildren, also named Mark Casto, of Ormond Beach, Fla. Capt. Casto was a 36-year-old commercial fisherman from Pleasantville, N.J., who ran a 58-foot, 10-ton fishing schooner, the Alberta, out of Atlantic City. On Jan. 14, 1906, a 2,256-ton freighter with 54 persons aboard went aground on the Brigantine shoals in the Atlantic Ocean and was taking on water. Casto and a six-man volunteer crew took the Alberta through 25-foot seas to the rescue.

After the schooner went to within 200 feet of the freighter, its crew launched two dories, but one was smashed on the deck by a large wave, and the other, with Casto aboard, was broken apart when it hit the side of the freighter. Having conferred with the captain of the freighter, Casto returned to his boat in one of the freighter’s lifeboats, taking with him one end of a secured line. By means of that line, the Alberta was pulled closer to the freighter.

Another lifeboat from the freighter was secured by lines affixed to the vessels, and, in 12 trips, it shuttled the 54 crew and passengers from the freighter to the schooner. The Alberta returned to shore under sail, as its engine was then disabled. For his efforts, Casto was awarded the gold medal later that year, and accompanying financial grants were used to pay the mortgage on the Alberta and assume schooling costs for his son, Mark Jacob Casto. The younger Casto was trained as an engineer at Carnegie Institute of Technology, which is now Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh. In 2004, the Casto family donated the medal to the university’s archival collection.

Capt. Casto continued fishing out of Atlantic City until the 1920s, when he and his family moved to Stuart, Fla., where he then ferried yachts. He retired from boating in 1939 and became a caretaker for a Coast Guard auxiliary facility. “He was never more than 100 yards from the sea,” his grandson said. Casto died in 1946 after a brief illness. The family’s visit to the gravesite provided the opportunity for some of the younger members to learn about their ancestor and for the older ones to pass on stories and remembrances, according to grandson Mark. In attendance were Casto’s four grandchildren and representatives of the next three generations, as well as spouses and friends