The Eternal Beachcomber
This painting of Zipporah – “Zippy” Lewis was painted by artist, David O. Bunting and it hangs in the Dunes Manor Hotel in Ocean City. It’s created from his imagination as there were never any pictures of the famous beachcomber. She was born around 1812 in Delaware – probably near Fenwick Island. She married Jonathan Lewis when she was sixteen and they lived in a shack on the beach. Jonathan was a sailor.
In1847 Jonathan and Zippy had five children. Jonathan went out to sea, but never returned. Zippy walked the beach for years looking out for his ship on the horizon … hoping he would find his way home. As a widow left with 5 children, she struggled financially.
As she watched for Jonathan she’d comb the beach picking up pieces of junk that had washed up from old shipwrecks. She’d load the junk onto an oxcart and take it into Bishopville and sell it. This eventually became the way she supported herself and her children.
Zippy had more tragedies. Her eldest son was lost at sea and another son drowned. Later her house caught fire and she died – some legends say she burned in the house – unable to get out in time, and other legends say she threw herself into the fire putting an end to unbearable loneliness and financial struggles.
After Zippy died, the lighthouse keepers said they’d see a woman who looked like her combing the beaches near Fenwick. Eventually, the locals saw the same image of a woman dressed in a bonnet with an apron combing the beach with a basket in hand just after sunrise. She appears only for an instant and then fades away.
No one knows where Zippy is buried. Her son and some of her grandchildren are buried in Bishopville, but if she is, it’s in an unmarked grave.