Accidental Voyage: Salmon Swetland’s Lake Erie Odyssey
Ports and Portholes, Volume 2, Issue 5
Ports and Port Holes, Volume 1, Issue 4
Ports and Port Holes, Volume 1, Issue 3
Ports and Port Holes, Issue 2
Honor the Merchant Marine in Every Port
Like all sailors, Merchant Marine sailors forge connections to each other and the ships and waterways they sail. Michael James Monahan, born in Covington, Kentucky, was no exception. The story of Merchant Marine machinist Michael James Monahan took place in different settings than Ashtabula and the Ashtabula Maritime and Surface Transportation Museum or lakeshore ports like Cleveland and Conneaut, but the connections are as solid as a ship’s anchor.
Ashtabula citizens Joe Cook and Wallace E. Wason, were two World War II veterans who were not in the Merchant Mariners, but were instrumental in creating the Merchant Marine Memorial in Point Park, a few oar strokes from the museum’s front door, and establishing the Ohio Valley Chapter of the American Merchant Marine Veterans. Cincinnati resident Bert Hinds, regional vice president of the American Merchant Marine veterans, told part of Michael James Monahan’s story in a manuscript from the Merchant Marine collection in the library of the Ashtabula Maritime and Surface Transportation Museum.
Michael James Monahan
Throughout the navigation ages, Great Lakes and ocean sailor casualties have washed home on beaches to be tenderly cared for by the people on land. Sailors in the Merchant Marine were among those casualties, especially during World War II. They laid down their lives with a will for freedom and many were fated to end their earthly voyages ashore in places that were not their original homes.
Michael James Monahan, originally from Kentucky, was one of these Merchant Marine sailors. In April 1942, his body washed up on St. Augustine Beach, and the coroner listed exposure in the Atlantic Ocean waters after a German submarine torpedoed his ship as his cause of death.
Michael James Monahan was born on June 7, 1893, in Covington, Kentucky. His father is listed in some documents as Michael James Monahan, and in others, Michael B. Monahan and his mother is listed as Mary Monahan. The same conflicting information appears for his father Michael’s birthplace. Some census records say he was born in Ireland and others in Maine. His mother Mary was born in Ohio. Michael had two sisters, Jeanette and Helen.
His World War I draft registration shows that Michael was born on June 7, 1893, in Kentucky. The registration information also reveals that he had light brown hair, blue eyes, a slender build, and was short of stature.
Census records and other documents list Michael’s birthday anywhere from 1893 to 1896. By the time Michael had completed four years of high school and was working as a machinist, the family had moved to Newport, Kentucky.
The 1920 Census puts Michael still living in Newport, Kentucky with his father Michael and his sister Jeanette. He worked as a machinist in a foundry.
By 1930, Michael had joined the Merchant Marine. The 1930 Merchant Seaman Schedule of the United States Federal Census locates his home port as Port Arthur, Texas and indicated he served on the Steamer Gulflight.
The partially sunken SS Gulflight
Launched on August 8, 1914, the Gulflight was an American tanker that the New York Shipbuilding Company of Camden, New Jersey built for the Gulf Refining Company, later to become Gulf Oil. The Gulflight left Port Arthur on April 10, 1915, with a cargo of gasoline in the tanks and barrels of lubrication oil bound for Rouen, France. A German U-boat, U-30, torpedoed the Gulflight on May 1, 1915, in the Scilly Isles, making her the first American ship to be torpedoed during World War I. The torpedoing created a diplomatic firestorm which eventually moved the United States closer to declaring war with Germany in 1917.The German government apologized for the Gulflight attack, but did not stop its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, a strategy which brought the United States into the War two years later after the sinking of the Lusitania and drastic changes in American policy.
The Gulflight did not sink, but instead her owners had her towed into port in the Scilly Isles to be evaluated and unload some of her cargo. After that, she sailed under her own power to Rouen to deliver her remaining cargo and then traveled to Newcastle-upon Tyne for repairs and returned to service.
The 1930 Merchant Seaman Schedule of the U.S. Federal Census located the Gulflight in Port Arthur Texas, and listed Michael James Monahan as associated with the ship. Somehow, he survived the torpedoing of the Gulflight.
In 1937, the Nantucket Chief SS Co. Inc of Port Arthur, Texas bought Gulflight and changed her name to SS Nantucket Chief. A year later, British registry Harris & Dixon Ltd. of London bought her, and they renamed her the SS Refast. On January 26, 1942, German U-582 torpedoed and sank the Refast south of St. Johns Newfoundland.
The 1940 Census listed Michael Monahan as living in New York City since 1935, and working as a machinist
By 1942, Michael was a crewman serving on the SS Gulfamerica. In 1942, the Benthlehem Fairfield Shipyards Inc. of Sparrow’s Point, Maryland completed its construction of the American steam tanker SS Gulfamerica. Operated by the Gulf Oil Company of New York City, she made Philadelphia her homeport. The Gulfamerica’s home voyage was scheduled to take her from Port Arthur, Texas to New York with a cargo of 101,500 barrels of oil.
On the night of April 10, 1942, she traveled unescorted about five miles off of Jacksonville, Florida. The lights of Jacksonville Beach Resort illuminated her in sharp relief, because the authorities had not imposed a blackout. Some of them had to be concerned, however, because shortly after 10 p.m., the Gulfamerica began to zigzag instead of steaming a straight course. Twenty minutes later, a German submarine U-123, Reinhard Hardegen, commander, sighted her and fired at torpedo.
Striking the number seven tank on the starboard side, the torpedo created an explosion and fire. The captain ordered the engines stopped and the ship abandoned and the Gulfamerica sent distress calls. The U-123 fired about twelve shells into the engine room on the port side with her deck gun, trying to destroy the radio antenna and the anticraft gun.
The abandoning ship turned into chaos, one lifeboat capsizing while another with the master and ten crewmen pulled away within ten minutes. Ten minutes later, another boat left holding just three men, while three others abandoned ship on a life raft. Later it, picked up two men from the water.
The torpedo blast and gunfire killed five men and fourteen more men drowned after they jumped into the water. Two officers, two armed guards, and fifteen crewmen were killed in the sinking and twenty-four crew members, and five Navy Armed Guard survived the torpedoing.
United States Coast Guard patrol boats rescued the survivors, taking them to Mayport, Florida. The Gulfamerica settled by her stern with a 40-degree list to starboard, but she did not sink until April 16.
Michael James Monahan was not one of the survivors. His body washed ashore, and papers found on his body identified him. After the coroner finished identifying Michael Monahan, he was buried in an unmarked grave in St. Lorenzo Cemetery in St Augustine.
The sinking of the Gulfamerica jolted complacent business as usual 1942 authorities to think blackout measures. The U.S. government had been tardy declaring lights out, but Florida Gov. Spessard Holland acted quickly. On April 11, he decreed a “screenout” for coastal lights. By the end of 1942, blackouts and covered car headlights were part of America’s wartime routine.
The Grave with No Marker Acquires Markers and Memory
Five decades and three years passed, and the story of Michael James Monahan was nearly forgotten as was the service of Merchant Marine sailors either forgotten or unrecognized. Then another Michael, Michael Grogan, a reporter for the St. Augustine Record, happened to be digging through some old newspaper files, and he found brief articles about a man’s body washed ashore on St. Augustine Beach and buried in San Lorenzo Cemetery.
His curiosity piqued, Michael Grogan visited St. Lorenzo Cemetery, and found the grave, but no marker. He visited the funeral home, found the old death certificate, and wrote a short article about the grave with no tombstone. One of the members of the St. Johns River Chapter of the American Merchant Marine Veterans living in St. Augustine read the story and sent it to John Lockhart, a director of the St. Johns Chapter. John Lockhart researched and discovered that Michael James Monahan had been a machinist on the SS Gulf America.
The funeral home personnel also read Mike Grogan’s story in the St. Augustine Record, and they placed a temporary marker on the grave of Michael James Monahan which the government later replaced with a permanent marker.
To further recognize Michael James Monahan, the U.S. Maritime Commission and the War Shipping Administration named a Liberty Ship built at the J.A. Jones Construction Company yard in Panama City, Florida the SS Michael James Monahan.
The stories of Michael James Monahan and Michael Grogan impressed yet another Michael, Michael Gannon, a professor at the University of Florida. Professor Gannon found the stories of Merchant Marine Michael Monahan and newspaper reporter Michael Grogan so interesting that he traveled to Germany where he found and interviewed Reinhard Hardegen who lived in Bremen, Germany. Professor Gannon continued his research until he had enough material to write a book that he titled Operation Drumbeat.
Interviewing Reinhard Hardegen
Professor Gannon’s interview with Commander Reinhard Hardegen gave additional perspective to the story. Commander Hardegen told Professor Gannon that after the torpedo struck the Gulfamerica, he closed in and used his deck gun to finish off the ship. He noticed that large crowds had gathered on the beach to watch the sinking and its aftermath. Onlookers soon thronged the highways leading from Jacksonville trying to get to the beach for a closer look.
In a hazardous move, Reinhard Hardegen decided to maneuver around the tanker and attack from the landside, although silhouetted by the shore lights, the U-123 a perfect target for defensive fire. The shallow water also made it imperative for the U -boat to lie only 820 feet from the Gulfamerica which opened up the possibility of return fire or getting swept up in the burning oil fire. After spending some time firing the deck gun, with the Gulfamerica burning fiercely, Reinhard Hardegen decided to leave. Now planes droned overhead, trying to find the submarine with parachute flares and a destroyer and several patrol boats closed in on the water.
The aircraft forced the U-123 to crash dive to the bottom, only sixty-six feet down, and the destroyer USS Dahlgren dropped six depth charges. The submarine sustained heavy damages and convinced the destroyer would return for another attack, Commander Hardegen ordered the secret codes and machinery destroyed and his U-boat abandoned.
As the commander, his orders were to open the tower hatch so the crew could escape using escape gear, but he was paralyzed with fear and could not finish the evacuation. Fortunately for Commander Hardegen and for unknown reasons, the Dahlgren did not drop any more depth charges and moved away. The U-123 made emergency repairs and limped away into deeper waters. Commander Hardegen told Professor Gannon, “Only because I was too scared was, I not captured.”
Bert Hinds, regional vice president of the American Merchant Marine veterans, who told part of Michael James Monahan’s story reported the belief of an anonymous Navy Armed Guard survivor who claimed that the real reason Commander Hardegen brought the U-123 about was that an offshore breeze blew the burning oil towards his submarine and by bringing the U-123 about, he kept his ship up wind of the burning oil.
Whatever his reasoning, Commander Hardegen did not fire on civilians and lived to tell his sea story.
The SS Michael James Monahan
In 1993, military authorities were concerned that time had made ammunition from World War II, the Korean War, and some cold war ammunition unstable, and they needed to destroy it. They created Operation Chase to achieve their goal. The U.S. Navy acquired several surplus Liberty ships which were loaded with surplus ammunition and missiles from the Military Sea Transport Service.
The Navy scuttled the first ship, the SS John Shafroth, west of the Golden Gate in deep water. The second Operation Chase ship, originally named Joseph N. Dinand, but renamed the SS Village, was also a Liberty Ship. It exploded shortly after sinking, registering on seismic charts of the Atomic Energy Commission and the U.S. Office of Naval Research.
After these perilous beginnings, all the sinking ships in Operation Chase were fitted with charges to ensure that the cargo of the ships detonated, and these trials convinced officials to distinguish between manmade convention explosions, nuclear explosions, and natural seismic earthquake shocks.
The remaining vessels used in Operation Chase were Liberty ships: The SS Santiago; the SS Iglasias; the SS Isaac Van Zandt; the SS Horace Greely; the SS Corporal Eric G. Gibson; the SS Robert Louis Stevenson; and the SS Michael J. Monahan. The Michael J. Monahan was loaded with overaged Polaris missiles that had been stored at Charleston, West Virginia.
The Navy learned invaluable information about underground/underwater nuclear explosions from these tests and they conceivably could have been a deciding factor in keeping the Cold War contained.
Seaman Michael James Monahan
There are many ironies in the story of Seaman Michael James Monahan. He survived one torpedo explosion, he did not survive another torpedo explosion, and his namesake ship sank in another explosion. He washed up onto a Florida beach as a stranger, and the hands of kind strangers buried him. Strangers told his story and became his friends. Michael James Monahan’s story makes him a lasting friend to Merchant Seaman because it became part of the campaign to persuade the United States government to recognize merchant seamen as veterans, which it finally did in 1988.
Seaman Michael James Monahan, part of a brotherhood of mariners with stories to be told and retold.
The peace of St. Augustine Beach
(This article was inspired by information taken from Honoring the U.S. Merchant Marine and the U.S Navy Armed Guard of World War II
A Collection of the 40 Manuscripts about the U. S. Merchant Marine and U.S Navy Armed Guard during World War II published in Joe Cook’s Weekly column in the Ashtabula Star Beacon from May 9, 1997 through February 6, 1998.
Autographed front cover: Best wishes to Wally Wason, co-founder of the Northeast Ohio chapter of the American Merchant Marine Veterans.
Joe Cook, September 14, 2000. This collection can be found in the library of the Ashtabula Maritime and Surface Transportation Museum.)
Value Your Freedom, Honor a Veteran
Photo by Holly Mindrup
Ageless, endless, Partner of war,
Dangling life and death – cold metal core,
Number and letters etched and aloof,
Until someone reads them for person proof!
Ashtabula Star Beacon March 16, 2001
Merchant Marine series sails again in bound collection of columns
By CARL E. FEATHER Lifestyle Editor
ASHTABULA — Harbor newspaper columnist and shopkeeper Joe Cook is offering some background reading for the new Merchant Marines Memorial planned for Point Park. Cook recently pulled together into a bound publication his 40-column series on the U.S Merchant Marine and U.S. Navy Armed Guard of World War II.
The manuscripts were published in the Star Beacon from May 9, 1997, through Feb. 6, 1998. The 212-page, photocopied collection sells for $25 at Crystal View Gifts on Bridge Street. Cook said a portion of the proceeds will be used to purchase copies for the county’s libraries. “My whole purpose in doing this is to honor these guys,” Cook said. “I believe a lot of veterans in all branches of the service don’t realize what these men went through to get the goods to us around the world.”
Cook served in the Army during World War II and fought in the European Theater. Like his comrades, he did not give much thought as to how the food, clothing, ammunition and fuel got across the ocean to the front. The Merchant Marine was a civilian volunteer organization charged with the task of transporting materiel. During the war, 868 Merchant Marine ships were lost to enemy action. More than 6,875 seamen were killed and thousands more were wounded, burned or disabled. More than six hundred of them were taken as prisoners of war.
Cook said some GIs did not hold the Merchant Marine in high esteem because they were civilians and received a higher rate of pay than an enlisted man. The pay difference became a moot point when a Nazi torpedo made contact with a Merchant Marine ship laden with fuel or ammunition. “When you read through this, you’ll see a heck of a lot of guys went through hell to accomplish what had to be accomplished,” Cook said.
His series covered a variety of stories, including profiles of ships that were lost and seamen who were honored for their distinguished service. He tells the story of the hastily built Liberty ships, which were thrown together in huge numbers by largely inexperienced workers. He includes numerous survival stories by Merchant Marines whose ships were destroyed, as well as accounts of the abuse suffered by prisoners of wars.
About halfway through writing his series, Cook, along with Don Palm and Wally Wason, found the Northeast Ohio chapter of the American Merchant Marines Veterans. The group, which encompasses Lake, Ashtabula and Erie counties, organized with forty-three charter members. Another product of the series was an effort to raise at least $5,000 for a local memorial to members of the U.S. Maritime Service, U.S. Merchant Marine and U.S. Navy Armed Guard.
The memorial, a 44-square foot black granite monument, will be placed at the end of Walnut Boulevard at Point Park. A dedication for the new memorial is planned for 3 p.m. April 29.
Cook said the men who served in these civilian groups did not receive veteran status from the government until 1988. He hopes that his columns and the monument will bring that recognition to a grassroots level. “I just felt something had to be done to honor these guys,” he said. “That was my whole emphasis.”
Harbor Man Gives An Account of the SS Robert Bacon Sinking
SS. John W. Brown on the Great Lakes in 2000. John W. Brown is one of only two surviving World War II Liberty Ships. The SS Jeremiah O’Brien is the other.
Wallace E. Wason of Ashtabula, was in the Merchant Marine and held the position of Third Engineer on board the SS Robert Bacon at the time it was torpedoed by a German submarine on July 13, 1943 about 50 miles off the coast of Mozambique. Her complement was 44 merchant crew and 27 Navy Armed Guard. Of that number, 3 three crew members and 2 of the Navy Armed Guard were lost.
SS Robert Bacon Sinking Remembered
By Wallace E. Wason
When the first torpedo struck on the starboard side, I was off watch and in my cabin on the boat deck level. My emergency station was command of lifeboat #2 on the starboard main deck level. I rushed to the station only to find the lifeboat and launching gear completely smashed from the torpedo that had exploded almost directly under the lifeboat location.
I returned to the boat deck and advised the bridge of the condition of the forward lifeboats. While discussing the condition of the ship, the Captain, Clyde Henderson asked the Chief Engineer, William C. Rudiger, to make one last appraisal of the ability to get under way. The Chief Engineer ordered me to go back to the engine room for an inspection.
We were down to the second landing and found broken fuel lines and smashed pumps from the torpedoing. While we were there, the Captain ordered blowing the “Abandon Ship” signal, so we rushed back up the ladder to the boat deck. When we reached the boat deck, the Chief Engineer went to the port side, and I went to the starboard.
The boats had been launched and the deck was abandoned. Running to the main deck aft where #3 boat bobbed alongside, I jumped and landed in a tangle of men already in the lifeboat.
We managed to get some oars out and propelled the lifeboat clear of the ship. As we safely cleared, a second torpedo hit the engine room amidships area and the boiler blew up.
We worked further from the ship until a third torpedo sent her under with the stern section the last to go under.
The Robert Bacon was a brand-new EC-2 or “Liberty” ship built in New Orleans at a shipyard created in 1942. Contrary to reports, the emergency built “Liberties” were a vast improvement over prewar ships and were absolutely essential to the war effort. We had delivered a full cargo to the British 8th Army in Egypt and were on our way home when we were hit.
After the ship went under, we rigged a sea anchor to keep the lifeboat headed into the considerable swells that were running. We wanted to wait for daylight to locate other boats or rafts from the ship.
While we waited, the submarine surfaced and brought the bow of the sub against the bow or our lifeboat. As I was in the boat of the lifeboat, I found myself standing to fend off the boat of the sub as we surged on our sea anchor.
Looking Down the Barrel of Sub Machine Gun
Looking up over the shear of the sub’s hull, I found myself looking at a German sailor in shorts and pointing a sub machine gun in my direction With no place to turn, I assumed that I was not going to make it back to Ashtabula Harbor.
The gun toting sailor turned out to be a precautionary measure as a German officer, speaking excellent English, asked questions of our Captain, who did not identify himself and gave evasive answers. The German officer finally said, “Land is 50 miles away – head west, and Hope you make it all right. The sub left running on the surface, and we were relieved.
We waited for daylight only to find an empty ocean with no sign of other survivors. Our lifeboat was equipped with a mast and sail, so we rigged our gear and were able to make headway into a fairly heavy swell and were able to find our way to the Portuguese East African port of Lumbo. We were helped into the port by a launch that towed us into the harbor after we got into the lea of the land.
Wally Wason held the rank of Lt Commander when he retired from the Merchant Marine. He said they were in the lifeboat about 24 hours. Henry Sisco and his fellow survivors were on their raft for 15 days before reaching land.
Message From Beira Dated July 16, 1943
N. 27 the SS Robert Bacon, 4,360 tons net American sunk 12.35 GI time July 14. Its report latitude 15D20M south longitude 41D13M east Lumbo. British Vice Counsel has reported 40 survivors at this port presumably for the names of the 14 survivors at Beira now please refer to my telegram No. 28. Signed, Vandearend
From Beira to CNO Dated 19 July 1943
14 survivors SS Robert Bacon landed Beira other survivors believed at Mozambique . Following Navy Gun Crew: Royse, Wallace, Manning, Webster. Merchant Crew: Guidry, Johnson, Crawford, Moore, Dukes, Campbell, Delenghics, Hogan, Leahy, Hudgins.
Message From Aluslo Durban 3 Aug. 1943
Additional 40 survivors SS Robert Bacon arrived Durban August 1 Navy Gun Crew: Cantrell, Richard Wanen, Thrasher, Thornton, Wade, Wardenburg, Williamson, Carl Wagner, West, Ainsworth, Dameron, Henderson, Wells, Winder, Merchant, Henderson, Tate, Hessemer, Callaway, Sandes, Johnsen, Dillman, Watson, Robinson, Church, Hastings, Lopez, Reese, Romani, Celprit, Adrian Collins, Joose, Giavotella, William Collins, Joyce. Amcon Beira reports 7 survivors landed there July 29. Navy: Harris, White Horse, Timm, Ebymond, Wallace, Shantz, Merchant, O’Connell, Colton, Missing: Navy: Ensign Hamilton, Henry Sisco.
Survivors of Bacon Give Statements
- The Robert Bacon was torpedoed without warning, first at 2335 GMT 13 July 1943, position 1525S- 41: 13E Second at 2355 GNT, and third at 0030 GMT 14 July 1943. Ship sailed from Mombasa 11 July 1943, enroute to Cape Town, independently, in ballast, draft forward 9 feet, aft 20 feet. Ship sank at approximately 0040 GMT 14 July 1943, same position, plunging by the stern.
- Ship was on course 180 degrees. True speed 10 knots, not zigzagging Had been zigzagging all day until nightfall, blacked out, radio silent. 10 lookouts forward fling bridge, lower bridge, forward gun, 1 on each machine gun, 1 on each flying bridge, 2 at after gun. Weather clear, heavy swells and combers on sea, wind S, force 4, partial moonlight, visibility good ( 7 miles). No other ships in sight.
- At 2335 GMT 13 July 1943, torpedo struck shop on port side forward. This was second torpedo fired at ship – the first about a minute earlier missing ship by a few feet. Ship took about 10-degree list to starboard but did not appear to be sinking. Crew’s quarters filled with cordite fumes, flash from explosion unusually high. Deck plates buckled, booms jammed, radio aerial destroyed. All auxiliary and steam lines parted, fuel pumps blown off foundation. No fire; flooding slow; ship completely out of commission. At approximately 2355 GMT after ship had been abandoned, second torpedo struck ship amidships, starboard side. At 0030 GMT 14 July 1943, third torpedo struck ship on starboard side aft. Impossible to send distress signal because of damage to radio. Two shots fired as counter offensive – no hits. Ship seen to sink at approximately 0040 GMT plunging by bow. Confidential codes dropped over side by Captain in weighted perforated box.
- Abandon ship signal given by Captain and crew left at 0050 GMT in #3, #4, and #6 lifeboats and life rafts. Nos 1 and 2 lifeboats found to be filled with water and fuel oil, and #5 lifeboat lost when forward fall carried away. Captain left in #3 boat, the last to be launched. For men picked up from water by this boat. Captain’s boat remained at scene of sinking until 0430 GMT, then set course for Mozambique. Towed into Mozambique by tug-arriving 1130 GMT. Other survivors picked up by English Prince and by British tanker and landed at Beira. Further survivors landed at Durban. Ship’s complement 71 including 33 merchant crew and 27Armed Guard, 66 survivors- 1 merchant crew member died after landing, 2 missing, 2-Armed Guard members missing.
- Sub surfaced at 0200 GMT, came alongside #4 lifeboat and asked for Captain. Commander of sub was told that Captain must be in another lifeboat as he was not in that one. Sub Commander then asked name of vessel, tonnage and nationality. He then told survivors that they were about 50 miles from land and wished them luck. Captain stated that from speech of crew, sub appeared to be German. Sub was described as large – approximately 300 to 350 feet long and an estimated 1,600 tons. It was new, painted light gray with no numbers. Two guns visible fore and aft. Several survivors stated that there was also an anti-aircraft gun in egg-shaped conning tower. No tack, no masts, heavy cables running from conning tower to bow and stern, clipper bow; motor sounded like heavy duty diesel; estimated speed 20 knots on the surface. Sub circled scene of sinking for about 30 minutes and was last seen submerging and steaming in southwest direction.
- Armed Guard survivors stated that blackout curtains on ship were in poor repair. Also stated that merchant crew officers were in the habit of smoking on the bridge during watch. B.A. Conard, Ensign, W-V (S) USNR
The Merchant Marine
By Edgar A. Guest
We seldom get to know their name,
In spite of all they do,
They’re merely mentioned in the press,
“As members of the crew.”
Yet, they’re the men whose courage,
Arms and clothes, equips and feeds,
They boys in every battle scene
Who do the glorious deeds.
We speak of them as Merchant Men,
Yet when once they set out,
No matter where their course may run,
Death follows them about.
They’re stalked by death from port to port,
When once the anchor is weighed,
From Master down to cabin boy,
They’re Sailors unafraid.
They know the lurking submarines,
They’ve seen them break the wave,
And still with little means to fight,
The cruel odds they brave.
Sometimes they are struck in the dead of night,
And into rafts they fall-
And drift about and pray to God
To save them all.
We think of them as Merchant Men,
But when the war is won,
They too must share the pride,
For duty nobly done.
Stowaway Pup on SS Bacon Became a Heroine
A chow-spitz mixture dog. Suzy or a close relative?
A Dog Named Suzy
In his account of the sinking of the SS Robert Bacon, Henry Sisco described what happened as the seamen were preparing to abandon the Bacon. “During that time, amid all the confusion and with no one in command, we were scurrying about on the ship looking for a way off the ship when one of the fellows thrust our ship’s mascot, a dog named Suzy (named after the Suez Canal where she came aboard our ship from another ship we were tied up to for a short time) into my arms and asked if I would take care of her.
Of course at that time I didn’t need anything like a dog to weigh me down. Well, we managed to launch #4 raft and we all slid down a rope to the raft. The dog was tossed down to the raft from the main deck by one of the last fellows aboard the stricken ship.
Henry and his wife, Naomi, followed up on Suzy’s fate. They traced a newspaper article about Suzy which ran in The Canton (Ohio) Repository on November 28, 1943. They learned from another of the Armed Guard survivors, Bill Timm, that the newspaper article about Suzy appeared in the Canton paper. Naomi and Henry learned that they might be able to obtain a copy of the article from the Stark County District Library, They contacted Bill Techantz, who promptly went to the library and, within 15 minutes, he had the copy of the article which he sent to Naomi and Henry.
This account appeared with a photo of Suzy and Bill’s niece Kay Ann Techantz in the Canton Repository:
14 Days Adrift at Sea No Ordeal for Suzy
Seaman Suzy Doodle is rested now and rarin’ to go to sea again. Refusing to comment about her 14 days on a raft in the Indian Ocean, Suzy admitted this week that she was becoming more and more lonesome for her pals in the Navy gun crew, that she longed for the smell of salt water, and detested Canton’s grimy smog which was turning her lustrous black fur to an even darker hue.
Suzy’s fond of her Canton friends of course, but she’s growing a little restive under civilian routine now that her master, William T. Tachantz, seaman first class, has returned to New York to await assignment with another Navy Armed Guard unit
Now a guest in the home of Seaman Techantz’ brother, B.W. Techantz, the dog which her master thinks is a cross between a chow and a spitz, was only a few weeks old when she was given to Bill in Louisiana last spring five months after Bill had joined the Navy.
She had to be a stowaway at first and when the captain of the merchant ship found out about her, he ordered the dog put ashore. Later, however, the relented and when the ship sailed the puppy was along. She was just named Pooch until they neared their destination and then the gun crew agreed it would be a good idea to name her for the Suez Canal. The Doodle, of course, indicates she’s a member of a prominent Yankee family.
Suzy met her first misfortune soon afterward. Ashore one day with a couple of her companions, she was stepped on suffered a fractured leg, and in response to the pleading of Bill and his friends, was admitted for treatment to the U.S. Army Hospital. The leg mended in time for her to sail for home with the ship.
Suzy has official papers bearing her own paw print to prove the authenticity of her next adventure. The document, issued at the office of the American consulate in Beira, Portuguese South Africa, asserts Suzy Doodle has been on a raft for 14 days after having lost her ship due to enemy action…”
It happened in July 1943, when they were just three days out on their return trip. Members of the gun crew reported that Suzy took no part in the battle other than to do some lusty barking at the enemy submarine which sent three torpedoes into the merchant ship.
When the orders to abandon ship came, she was wrapped in a blanket, dropped over the side and handed into a life raft occupied by her master and six other seamen.
So began their two weeks afloat. For a time two rafts bearing 13 men in all were tried together. But finally men on the one grew discouraged with their progress and cast off.
At first Suzy tried to supplement her daily ration of five ounces of water by sticking her head over the side and lapping up a bit of ocean. It didn’t take many slaps on her intelligent black face, though, to teach her that good sailors let salt water alone.
Her ration of hardtack was in the same amount as that doled out to the men. Toward the last, some of the men found the hardtack less and less desirable and fed more and more to the dog. They finally were rescued by a British tanker and landed in South Africa.
Though it all, Seaman Suzy was a perfect model of behavior, and when she finally arrived back at the Armed Guard Center in Brooklyn, she was accorded a heroine’s reception.
Arrangements have been made for Seaman Techantz’ sister, Mrs. H.A. Anderson, to take Suzy east to rejoin her master as soon as he resumes his Navy Armed Guard duty.
(From Honoring the U.S. Merchant Marine and the U.S Navy Armed Guard of World War II
A Collection of the 40 Manuscripts about the Merchant Marine and U.S Navy Armed Guard during World War II published in Joe Cook’s Weekly column in the Ashtabula Star Beacon from May 9, 1997 through February 6, 1998.
Autographed front cover: Best wishes to Wally Wason, co-founder of the Northeast Ohio chapter of the American Merchant Marine Veterans. Joe Cook, September 14, 2000
The Ashtabula Maritime and Surface Transportation Museum Research has this book and several others about the Merchant Marine and World War II in its Research Library).
We Are Vintage, But Still Voyaging Vigorously and Growing
Bob and Anne Frisbie
By Bob Frisbie and Many of Our Museum Friends
Can you believe we will be at over 37 years in existence as of June 2nd this year of 2021? Well, it is true!!! What a wild and wonderful ride our museum has had! All the volunteers have made this museum a success over the years. It has been very easy because of them.
The Museum started out as The Great Lakes Marine & Coast Guard Memorial Museum (Ashtabula Maritime Museum) in 1984.
A few years ago the Museum’s name was changed to Ashtabula Maritime & Surface Transportation Museum (Ashtabula Maritime Museum). We had several railroads in the harbor and they played a big role in our harbor too. Our Museum now features not only maritime history, but includes the railroads and the large part they play in our economy.
OUR FOUNDING FATHERS AND MOTHERS
Paul and Josephine Petros were two of our museum’s great founders. Their son Ray, was very active in the Museum after they passed their torch of interest on to him.
Duff and Jane Brace were two more of our Museum’s great founders. Their son-in-law Don Orqvist, CPA, is still very active in the Museum after they passed their torch of interest on to him.
A look outside tells us spring is coming and that means our Museums will soon be open. I can’t help but think back when Paul Petros, Duff Brace, Clint Ekensten, and Tom Hubbard would sit and talk about opening day. Those were exciting times for the founders of each museum. I don’t think any of them realized what a major operation all of this would become. I’m sure all of them are looking down at us and feeling very proud of what they started.
These two founders, along with their loving wives, were the two driving forces that once they had the museum started, they gave so many more the reason to keep it going!
Now that everything is ready, let’s open the doors and show the visitors what great museums we have in Ashtabula.
Bob Frisbie, Director
OLD RAILROAD CERTIFICATES AND OTHER MOMENTS
Ron Depue donated these old railroad stock certificates. Bob Frisbie is mimicking Kilroy was here!!
Maritime Memory: Captain John Paul Perkins
Legacy of the “Sweet Water Seas”
By Captain J.P. Perkins, Retired
Legacy of the “Sweet Water Seas”
By Captain J.P. Perkins, Retired
A Brief History of the Great Lakes
A great many people living along the shores of the Great Lakes tend to take these magnificent bodies of fresh water as common place, when in fact, the “Sweet Water Seas” are steeped in romance and history.
Over the waters of this chain of lakes flow huge tonnages of commodities carried in the bellies of Great Lakes freighters of all types. Bulk cargos such as iron ore, coal, grain, and limestone are listed in millions of tons. Let it be known that the Saint Mary’s Falls Canal, commonly known as the Sault (Soo) Locks accommodates more shipping tonnage than the Panama and Suez canals combined. During the navigation season there is a constant stream of ships plying the waters of these Inland Seas.
Years ago, after much fussing and many collisions, separate up and downbound courses on every lake wee prescribed by The Lake Carrier’s Association. This fact saved many a ship from trouble. With the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the idea of separate courses was hard to enforce on the foreign ships (commonly called “Salties”) who when on the oceans, sail where they please.
The surface area of the Great Lakes is over 95,000 square miles draining a basin of approximately 198,000 square miles. There are five lakes in this chain consisting of Lake Ontario (the smallest); Lake Erie (the shallowest); Lake Huron; Lake Michigan (the only one whose borders are entirely within the United States; and Lake Superior (the largest and the deepest). Lake Superior is also the largest body of fresh water in the world by surface area.
These lakes are connected by four great rivers: the St. Mary’s, the St Clair; including Lake St. Clair; the Detroit; and the Niagara. Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are connected by the Straits of Mackinac, pronounced Mackinaw. The St. Lawrence River carries the water from the lakes to the ocean. Eight of our northern states and the Province of Ontario touch on the shores of these lakes, having a shoreline of more than 8,300 miles. Ocean freighters can now sail as far west as the port of Duluth, Minnesota. However, the length and depth of these vessels are controlled by the length of the locks and draft of water in the rivers and narrow channels.
History gives Samuel De Champlain credit for being the first white man to set eyes on the waters of the Great Lakes, when on one July day in the year 1615, his canoe left the waters of the French River and poled its nose out onto Georgian Bay, an arm of Lake Huron There were others who saw thee waters before Champlain, but they kept little or no records, so the honor of discovery goes to Champlain.
Etienne Brule was one of these explorers and was later hired by Champlain as an interpreter because of his fluent use of various Indian languages. Brule was sent on ahead by Champlain to converse with the Indian Tribes along the route. Father Le Caron is another who probably saw this freshwater sea before Champlain.
Brule may very well have seen all the Great Lakes with the exception of Lake Michigan before history credits other explorers with discovery. Because of his irresponsibility and illiteracy with no written records, no credit was given Brule for his discoveries except for Lake Ontario. Brule is given credit by historians for discovering Lake Ontario in 1615 while on his way to Chesapeake Bay. Etienne Brule was finally killed in a drunken brawl and eaten by his Indian associates.
It was only a matter of time before the early explorers and missionaries pushed on to the waters of Lake Superior, the mighty Gitchy Gummi of Hiawatha fame. One must remember that all this exploration essentially was the search for a Northwest Passage to the Orient.
The Jesuit and other missionaries were of course, interested in saving the souls of the native Indians. These early travelers were forced to take a northern route out of Montreal up the Ottawa River, across Lake Nipissing and down the French River into Georgian Bay because of the ferocity of the Iroquois Indian Confederacy. This union of Indian tribes was so fierce that no white man or other Indians dared enter or travel through the land south of Lake Erie. Two tribes, the Eries and the Niagaras, disappeared from the face of the earth, annihilated by the Confederacy.
Meanwhile, Lake Michigan was discovered in 1634 by Jean Nicolet, and he was quickly followed by Father Marquette, La Salle, and a hoard of other explorers and missionaries. The Iroquois Nation was finally conquered by the Marquis de Tracy who burned the Indian villages and killed all their inhabitants. After this, Lake Erie was finally discovered by Louis Joliet in October 1669.
This then is a brief history of the Great Lakes upon whose waters I was to spend the better part of 41 years of my life.
John Paul Perkins Begins His Career on the Lakes
It all began back in March 1928, when after a hard day at work I decided that I was not cut out to spend my life in the heat and smoke of a steel mill. Consequently, I signed to go aboard the steamer James McNaughton as coal passer. This American ship was at that time in her winter berth in Midland, Ontario. I was not really sure that I wanted to “Go Sailing” as it was called in those days. I had refused jobs on the ships for several years.
Those days, if you were big enough, you were old enough. No labor laws or regulations existed. My affinity for water was practically nil. Even the customary Saturday evening bath was an ordeal in my younger days. My mother was the only person I know of that could place a washcloth on her index finger and push it clear through my head in her efforts to keep us clean.
Early knowledge of waterways was obtained through living on the banks of the Conoquenessing Creek at Ellwood City, Pa. Then the Beaver and Ohio Rivers were familiar also. My first venture out on the water was in a rowboat when my cousins coerced me into the craft and rowed out onto the lake behind Frisco Dam at Ellwood. This was not bad until my cousins rocked the boat and scared the hell out of me.
I came to the shores of Lake Erie when my parents moved to a farm south of Conneaut, Ohio. This event occurred on July 2, 1920. Even then, I never saw Lake Erie close up until the advent of the Sunday School Picnic in August of that year. This picnic was held at Eagley’s Grove in nearby Pennsylvania. My first view of the lake was rather awesome. It was quite some time before I would even go wade in the water.
The long-awaited day came when my friend and I boarded a Nickle Plate train enroute to Buffalo, New York, then a change to a Canadian road for Midland. The train ride to the ship was one of the many many such rides that occurred throughout the years. Going to the ship, sad; coming home, glad. These train rides were stories in themselves.
A Few Train Tales
One incident I recall was in 1951 after a long and successful year, a group of sailors left Superior, Wisconsin on a Chicago bound train. After laying-up the club car, all retired to their respective roomettes. These roomettes were really something. On this train, the upper bunks folded down and the lower bunk pulled out like a drawer. Well, to make a long story short, Captain Harbottle was safely asleep in a lower bunk or so he thought. It seems that the bouncing of the car (the roadbed was terrible) unlatched the Captain’s drawer type bunk and it started closing into the wall. Such screaming hollering you never heard. After the Captain was rescued, someone found a jug, and no one got any sleep the balance of that night.
On another occasion, the same type of a group left Milwaukee for home. In Chicago, several other ship officers boarded the train for Ohio. Again, the club car was the meeting place until the bar closed at the Indiana state line. Everyone stayed in the car and the chef agreed to serve us food. I do not believe I ever had a better tasting ham sandwich. Of course, those little miniature items so popular on trains seemed to come out of the walls. Our train chugged on through Indiana and into Ohio. One captain was so occupied that he failed to get off at Toledo, Ohio, and journeyed on to Conneaut. His wife put him on the next train bound for Toledo as said captain had to put on of his company’s ships in drydock there.
Maybe one more story before we go on This one took place as I was leaving home. It is always hectic when a sailor leaves home to board a ship. This time I had been home for a weekend and had to leave on Sunday afternoon via New York Central. It was near train time and my wife Ruth, and I were scurrying around getting set to go. Meanwhile, our youngest daughter Jan (just a baby) had grabbed a leaf from the geranium plant and devoured it. Just as Ruth went out the door to the car, the baby upchucked down the front of her mother’s dress. Oh my! A quick wash and a change and we were off for the train. Of course, we had to wait for a long Nickle Plate freight. As we pulled up to the depot, the train was just pulling out. I made one of those “Dagwood Dashes” and swung aboard and was on my way. That is the way it was, hectic. The popularity of traveling by plane really took away all the excitement of going to the ship and coming home again.
Back on the Boat
Let us see, where were we? Oh yes, still in Georgia Bay aboard the McNaughton We left there on the morning of May 3, 1928. Spring was late and bay waters choked with ice. The ships course for Lake Huron passed through many islands among whose names Flowerpot and Bear’s Rump appeared. Look it up! After seeing the brilliant spring sun shining on such beautiful scenery, we were hooked. On we went up the St. Mary’s River and through the heavy ice in Whitefish Bay into Lake Superior. Our destination, Fort William, Ontario, to load a cargo of grain for Buffalo.
In the parlance of lake jargon, a ship is never sent to a port, it is named in there. A cargo is never loaded from a dock, it is always loaded over a dock. Why is it that a commodity loaded into a ship is called a cargo and that loaded into a rail car is called a shipment? There is never a stairway, it is a companionway, never a ceiling, it is an overhead, never a wall, it is a bulkhead, and never a basement, but below. These are some of the expressions that probably a landlubber never hears. Time is told by bells and these bells strike every half hour. 0030 hours (12:30 a.m.) is one bell, then so on for each and every half hour until eight bells is reached; four-eight-twelve, and then the sequence begins again This goes on and on and on. I think we made twenty-two trips that year of 1928 and eighteen of them were into Conneaut.
Other years and other ships came, and the years rolled on. After a season and a half of passing coal and firing, we decided that the fire hold on a ship was not much better than a steel mill. Especially was this so after we encountered our first big storm. This took place on Lake Superior. We departed a coal unloading dock in the Portage Canal and entered Lake Superior where a storm was raging. We only had to cross the lake to Fort William, but this put us into the trough of the seas.
Probably that storm was not as bad as I thought. It was then that I had a violent attack of mal de mar (seasickness) and man that was something. Down in that smokey hot fire hold with decks heaving and tossing, even yet I shiver to think of it. At first, I thought I would die, then after an hour or so I was afraid I would not die! But eventually the watch was over, and I made it to bed. Never again did I become as sick as this first time.
We became used to the movement of the ship and over the years we weathered some “Jim Dandy” storms. Such terms as taking blue water across the deck or rolling the rails under became very familiar. Most of the violent storms on the lakes occur in spring and fall and the worst of these have been well documented. I remember two or three that are momentous and stand out in my memory.
In August of the year 1940 as a wheelsman aboard the McGilvray Shiras on the mate’s watch (two ‘til six) on a course for Detour, Michigan, at the mouth of the St. Mary’s River we encountered a storm that I will never forget. The weather had been fine after coming on watch at 0200 hours. Skies cleared and the ship pumped out high and dry (no water ballast).
Just a few minutes after daybreak, I looked toward the northwest and immediately called the mate’s attention to a wind squall approaching. The wind was whipping the waters of Lake Huron to a froth. The mate gave me the order to put the wheel hard left, which I did. The ship started to come around into the wind, but never had a chance. Not having any water ballast, she “blew around,” that is, she was out of control and lay at the mercy of the wind and waves. Roll! I will say she rolled! By this time, the captain had made it to the pilot house and the mate had made it aft to inspect the steering gear.
Captain and I hung on for dear life. I swear that the ship rolled so far over that if I had let go of the wheel, I would have plunged out through the pilot house window into the blue water below. Of course, water ballast was immediately started into the tanks at the onset of the storm. On such a ship as the Shiras it took ages to run water in. After about an hour enough water had entered the tanks so that the bow of the ship commenced to come back up into the wind and soon, we set course again for Detour.
I was soon relieved at the wheel and made my way aft for breakfast. I did not expect much, but in fact did not get anything. You see, the sideboard (buffet) in the dining room had come adrift and thrashed around smashing the dining table and chairs and spilling its contents of flour and sugar among the debris of broken dishes and wood. In the ice box, things were worse. It was just one great big salad in there. Meat, vegetables, baked goods along with the milk, was churned into one hell of a mess. So much for this one.
Shore people have read or heard of the blow of 1940. Referred to now as the “Armistice Day Blow,” this storm was a bitch as storms go. It struck the entire chain of lakes without warning on a weekend when the Weather Bureau was closed. In this blow, ships were wrecked, and many lives were lost. Winds of hurricane force swept over the lakes accompanied by freezing weather and blinding snow. As for the Shiras, she spent most of that day in the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers downbound with orders for Conneaut. The worst of the storm struck as we were transiting the Livingston Channel in the lower Detroit River. I was relieved at the wheel at 1800 hours and headed back to eat supper. I never made it for some time, as the captain on reaching Bar Point Light set a course for SE Shoal on the way to Conneaut.
Wow! The ship took the full force of the storm broadside and water commenced coming aboard in hug waves. I grabbed the ladder on the lee side of the deckhouse and hung on for ages. Every movable object was swept from the deck and cabins, that is, all except the lifeboats and these would have been useless any way. The Shipper soon saw the error of his decision and turned the ship back toward the western shore of Lake Erie, finally reaching shelter of the land in the vicinity of Monroe, Michigan, where we lay with both anchors down and the engine running full speed ahead in order to hold our anchorage.
Mind you, the ship was loaded, but still she tossed and rolled he whole night long. The storm abated by next morning and we weighed anchor for Conneaut, twenty-four hours into late arriving. In those days, none except a very few ships had ship-to-shore radio telephones. What made this storm special in my memory was the fact that we locked down through the Soo Locks with the Canadian vessel, Anna C. Minch. The Minch was lost with all hands-on Lake Michigan where the storm hit the hardest. I often wonder what if our orders would have read, “Go to Lake Michigan.” Would the old Shiras with her wooden hatches and small size have weathered the blow? We will never know.
Of course, there were other storms and many of them. In later years after I became captain, I realized just what a skipper had to contend with. Briefly, one in particular as we entered Conneaut break wall during a strong blow from the northeast. As every good captain knows the prevailing currents along the south shore of Lake Erie are from the southwest. This is often true, even in a view from the east so care must be taken. This time it was dark, pitch dark and wind-swept spray and water obscured the break wall. I could see the line of the wall showing on the radar screen and just before we entered the gap, I saw the flashing green of the dinkey little light on the end of the east break wall under our port bow.
A similar incident occurred on Lake Michigan during a violent fall storm. This time we had to take our ship into Calumet Harbor (South Chicago) at the southern tip of the lake. This time the wind was out of the WNW and with a velocity of over seventy-five miles per hour. Again, it was night. Waves so violent and water spume blowing so that the break wall was not visible, and the radar was so full of storm clutter as to be useless. I called the mate to the pilot house to watch for any sign of the lighthouse or break wall and headed in via bearings on landmarks. We saw the light just as we passed it, but that was all. After getting under the wall, we were headed into the wind and as we approached the Calumet River, we picked up shelter and lost all of the sea. What a grand feeling it was as the two tugs hooked on to us and we headed up the river for U.S. Steel south dock.
When dense fog covers the rivers and further navigation becomes dangerous and impractical many ships anchor and await a clearing. Fog is bad enough out in the open waters of the lakes, but once zero visibility sets in and a few ships are at anchor, it is then that the entire river traffic comes to a halt. Especially is this true in the St. Mary’s River when the Army Corps of Engineers declares the locks closed. Once we had barely entered the St. Clair River when dense fog made it necessary for me to anchor my ship. We waited several hours for the fog to clear which it did about 0700 hours.
As luck would have it, we had chosen a spot in the river just off a large apartment complex. As usual, all the apartments facing the river had huge picture windows to afford a good view of the river. Well, by the same token these windows afford the sailors a pretty good view of what went on in the apartments. This particular morning was really something. The timing was perfect. Everyone was getting up or getting ready to go to work. After a few minutes, the wheelsman got excited and called my attention to one window through which we could see a beautiful golden nymph prancing around the room in the nude. She was in and out of the room several times before she finally emerged fully dressed. At that time, we hove anchor and got underway. Needless to say, when the occasion to anchor came thereafter, we always chose a spot off an apartment or hotel whenever possible!
Maybe it was not exactly cricket to peek, but a sailor welcomes any incident that will break the monotony of his life aboard ship. In later years after retiring, my wife and I visited one of her old school friends living along the St. Clair River. During the course of the conversation, I said to the woman, “You know that this is the first time that I ever saw you fully dressed. You have always been wearing a nighty or a robe.”
Her husband then remarked, “See, I told you those guys out there had powerful binoculars.”
Living Aboard a Lake Freighter
What is life aboard a lake freighter like? Well, mainly it is routine. In the spring you receive your orders as to what ship you will have and an approximate date to report. Reporting dates may be early or late in the spring depending on ice conditions and the state of the national economy. The time to report comes and you leave by train or bus in the years past, but now most of the crew takes a plane or drives to the fit-out port.
After arriving aboard, you move into your quarters and get settled. Fitting out a ship is just getting everything in readiness to start the season. The entire ship has to be ready for U.S. Coast Guard inspection and has to pass said inspection before she can sail. In the olden days, the ship had to be scrubbed and the hull painted, but now shipping companies in order to cut costs do not do any work other than getting the ship ready to leave the dock.
Once the ship is under way with watches set, everything soon falls into place. Setting watches means that the crew is assigned their hours of work which is four hours on and eight hours off twice daily. It is rather amazing how few men it takes to actually run a ship, providing everything goes right. Forward, there is one mate one wheelsman, one watchman on watch day or night. On the after-end things are much the same with an assistant engineer, one oiler and a fireman plus a maintenance man. Of course, there is always the captain and chief engineer ready for emergencies or to take the ship in or out of port and through the locks and narrow channels.
The captain must be in the pilot house whenever there is poor visibility. The pilot house must always be dark at night so the men’s vision is not impaired. There is a dim light in the compass binnacle and over the chart table, the latter to be used to refer to chart when necessary. There are deckhands to handle the ship’s mooring lines at the docks. Deckhands are also supposed to do ship maintenance work, but in later years little of this work is done because of various union rules which necessitates paying overtime for all but routine work.
There are many sounds aboard ship to get used to. It was once said that s ship “Talks to herself.” While underway there is the constant throb of the engines or rumble of diesels or whine of turbines depending how modern the ship is. One welcome sound of bygone years was the ringing of the “hash hammer,” that is the ringing of a hand bell to call the crew to eat. Some porters became so proficient at ringing the HH that their style became individualistic and recognized by crew on the ships. Then there is the ship’s bell and that strikes out the hours and half hours when the ship is not at the dock.
There is always the hooting and blowing of the whistle. There is a complete list of whistle signals that every captain, mate, and pilot is required by law to know. The list is too long and varied to write about here. I might say that with the coming of the modern radio telephone the ship’s whistle is not used as much as it should be.
Then there are the sounds of the loading and unloading machinery while at the dock. The Hulett unloaders are especially noisy and when they are cleaning up the cargo deck it is really something. The sound of steel scraping on steel certainly sets your teeth on edge. Then there is the whine of electric motors as the load is brought from the hold and placed on the dock. An inexperienced operator while reaching for the cargo will often push the ship away from the dock and when she comes back with a bang the whole ship shivers and shakes.
Loading limestone is another noisy operation as the tons or rock come tumbling off the endless belt and falls into the hold. There is not much noise connected with loading coal or grain just the sound of the deck machinery as the ship is moved up or down the dock.
Never are ship noises more noticeable than during a storm. First there is the screaming of the wind through the ship’s rigging, and this really can be something. As captain I could lay in my bed below and tell the approximate velocity and direction of the wind just by sound. Then there is the sound of waves crashing against the ship, then a pause and then a roar as tons of water come down on the decks or goes flying over the cabins.
On most of the ore freighters, there are two watertight tanks in the very forward section of the ship. These are called the forepeak and blind hold. They can be used for holding water ballast if necessary; however, most of the time they are empty when the ship is light and always so when the ship is loaded. When a light ship rises up on top of a wave and then crashes down into the crest of the next one, the sound effect forward is terrific. Just like some giant struck the ship with a club.
I remember one time when we were beating our way up Lake Huron in a sizable storm, we had just enough water ballast in the tanks to barely keep us going. The mate pleaded with the captain to allow him to order more water ballast, but Cap said, “Oh, we are all right. She is going along like an old shoe.”
Well, it was not long before the old ship reared up on a wave and smashed down into the next one and shivered and shook like a dog shaking water from his wet fur. I was at the wheel and after things settled down a mite, I informed the captain that the gyro compass was haywire. The card was spinning like a top. The mate rushed to the master compass stationed in the captain’s room, but soon was back in the pilot house informing the captain with some tone of satisfaction in his voice that the gyro was in a heap. What had happened was that seventeen of the suspension wires that held the gyro had broken, allowing the spinning compass to lay over on its side. This heavy part of the compass spins at over 6,000 revolutions per minute. I have often wondered just what would happen should this piece of machinery ever escape from its metal covering. I certainly would not like to be in the room if such a thing should take place.
Damage to the compass was not all that happened either. The big search light atop the pilot house was a mess. The protective glass, the bulb and the reflecting lens were all smashed. After all this, the captain said to the mate, “You had better start the water going in,” just like nothing had ever happened.
Earlier I mentioned a ship talking to herself. No ore freighter is ever completely rigid. A ship as long as these must be flexible, or they would never last a storm. A trip back to the deck, if a trip is possible, during a storm reveals a regular symphony of sound. Plates squeak as they rub together, girders rub against struts and groan during the process and hatch covers squeak and squeal as they move around. Most of the old ships were finished in oak paneling and/or oak wainscoting. The movement of the wood sounded about like a woods full of crickets. I think this noise of the woodwork must have driven some of the room inhabitants to distraction. This I judge by the number of wooden wedges driven here and there into the woodwork.
Each ship has its own personality. At no time is this more apparent than when you have one to command. You have to learn how each ship handles when in storms and when making docks. Some are like unruly horses you just have to keep a tight rein on them all the time.
Cruising with the Crews
The crews that man the ships are a motley group. Under modern conditions, they have lost their identity. Such characters as: Milwaukee Dutch; Pittsburgh Brownie; Fairport Riley; Slice Bar Pete; Jumbo Lynch; Corned Beef Jim; Pork Chop George; and Kid Glove Gardner have disappeared from the annals of Great Lakes shipping. As you may have gathered, I left the smoke and grime of the fire hold and shipped in the deck department early on in my sailing career. The ways men entertained themselves while on board are many are varied. In my early days of sailing such instruments as guitars, banjos, mandolins and even violins comprised most of the entertainment. Some were played very well, and some would have been better left unplayed. Accordions were quite common as were portable phonographs, first battery operated radios, then plug in radios, and finally T.V Now days most of watch time afloat is with eyes glued to the boob tube. Mouth organs, of which I had several, were also a common type of instrument played by crew members.
One enterprising cook went as far as to organize a complete orchestra aboard ship. If you did not play an instrument, he taught you to do so. Not only for fun did this group play, but furnished entertainment for tourists and workers alike as the ship passed through the Soo Locks. He called his group, “The Royal Seagulls.”
So much for the music. There were also artists, wood carvers, model builders, macrame workers (macrame originated aboard ship), photographic experts and last but not least, some very accomplished cooks. Then there were singers, teachers, and dance experts. One watchman taught a dancing glass down in the blind hold. He was really good at it.
I was among the slingshot experts, being able to hit a milk can tossed into the air more often than not. Many college students shipped board to make money to further their education. Others saved their money and went ashore and started businesses of their own. There were coin collectors, stamp collectors and just plain collectors. We even had a baseball announcer from one of the Cleveland radio stations as a crew member. One of the wheelsmen I knew went on to become a well-known photographer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. And so it goes. I myself furthered my study of birds and learned to photograph them as the many hundreds of birds came aboard or passed over during the massive spring and fall migrations. No more need be written here about my being “For The Birds.”
A Sailor and His Wife
A sailor’s wife can make or break his career at sea. A good woman at home is worth her weight in gold. Besides running the old homestead, raising the children and a multitude of other things without any or very little help from her husband, she has to on many occasions visit the boat in whatever port it enters. This necessitates transiting some very dangerous territory. In later years, no way can a woman safely meet the ship, especially in the larger cities. Usually, they get a motel or hotel room in the better part of town and wait until someone comes after them. Also, whenever possible wives board the ship at the Sault. That is if they are wives of officers and are going to make a trip with their husbands. A number of years ago our ship docked in South Chicago. At that time wives and friends were allowed to come to where the ship was moored.
I remember this occasion because of the following incident: After we were safely tied up at the dock a bevy of women came down the dock. Among them was this Amazonian type of blond. No way was she fat, just stacked in large proportions. Many a time I have seen husbands pick their wives off their feet in the exuberance of their meetings. Not this time. Blondie picked up her husband until his feet were a good six inches off the ground and Gene was not a small man by anyone’s standard.
At another time and at a later date I docked the ship in Lorain. After seeing that everything was in order, another officer and I started out to the main gate to get our wives. The gateman on this occasion had allowed them to start down to meet us. Even though it was pitch dark, the girls knew the way. After leaving the car, there is a path to the dock that has huge piles of ore and stone stacked on either side, making the darkness darker. We met our wives in this narrow pathway. Now hear this. I thought I recognized my wife and gave her a very good hug and kiss. I said, “ Gee, it is good to have you, Ruth.”
Shortly, a quiet voice said, “I am not Ruth. My name is Carolyn.”
How about that?
Well, as it always does, time passed. Forty-one years at sea as we look back does not seem so long. Probably we traveled two million miles or more over the waters of the Great Lakes during this time.
In 1971, I commenced to think seriously of retiring. Quite a decision, to stop doing something that you have done for the greater part of your life. In 1973, my wife, Ruth, informed me that although we had been married thirty-four years, we had actually lived together but twelve and a half of them. Our two daughters had grown up, one was married and the other in her final years at college, so why not call it quits, take down my licenses from their frames and go home?
So one fine day in September of that year we brought our ship, the Str. Richard V Lindabury, into Conneaut Harbor, tied her up and departed bag and baggage. Ruth made the final trip with me which was fitting and proper although I often kid her that she made the trip just to be sure that I came home.
How are the retirement years? They could not be better. Never have I been so busy. Earlier I thought about going back to work just to get some rest. I had the chance to return last August, (1970) when the President of the Master Mates and Pilots Association called and asked if I would go back out for a month to help out with a shortage of officers. I told him “Not interested,” As a further inducement, I was told that Ruth could go along for a month. No way, all my necessary licenses had expired which fact has stranded me ashore forever.
Capt. J.P. Perkins, retired
Great Lakes Pilot – U.S. Government Printing Office
American Lake Series – Bobbs-Merrill
Captain John Paul Perkins
A recent newspaper article in the Conneaut Ohio News Herald publicized the work retired Captain John Paul Perkins has been doing in ornithology (study of birds) in the Conneaut area. Captain Perkins performs a regular survey of 68 bluebird boxes he has stationed throughout the Conneaut area covering roughly a 40 miles area. Captain Perkins is an experienced lecturer and has appeared on a TV documentary discussing various birds and their habitat. He retired from the Great Lakes fleet as skipper of the Steamer Richard V. Lindabury in 1972 with 37 years of continuous service with U.S. Steel. I suppose you could say that since Captain Perkins; retirement his future is” for the birds.
Ashtabula Museum in the Beginning
This is the way the Ashtabula Maritime Museum looked in June 1984, a weekend after it opened. Read The Youngstown Vindicator Story to learn the story of its creation.
Ashtabula Museum Fulfills Veteran Mariner’s Dream
By Ben Marrison
Vindicator Staff Write (The Youngstown Vindicator)
Sunday, June 16, 1984
Ashtabula- When the Ashtabula Harbor Marine Museum opened its doors last weekend, it was a dream come true for Paul Petros, a local resident and longtime mariner.
“It’s a dream Paul’s had for 50 years,” said Gordon “Duff” Brace, who with Robert Leng and Clint Ekenstein helped Petros see his dream become a reality.
Petros said the primary reason for his efforts was to let others get a “touch of all the history that started here in the Harbor.”
Now, after years of work, visitors can come and see some of the artifacts from the history these men lived. There are more than 350 items in the museum – all donated.
The artifacts, some which date back as early as 1904, will be divided up categorically and placed into separate rooms.
There are flags; scale models of ships that traveled the lakes; photographs dating back to 1906; lanterns; gauges; depth finders; one of the first outboard motors every made; and a collection of miniature tools hand made by Warner “Spike” Pearson.
Two items are located outside the building – an anchor and a ship’s wheel. The wheel came from the Matthew Andrews, but none of the men have determined where the anchor came from. Brace explained, “There are no markings on it and no records telling us if any ships went down where it was found.”
Petros believes the anchor may have come from a ship that sank in the early 1900s,
Brace added, “By the size of the chain and the ancho itself, we know it was made in the 1880s.”
Petros as well as the other Refurbishing Committee members, have many tales to tell about the artifacts and of their experiences on the lakes and will share them with visitors if requested.
Petros recalled an instance on November 5, 1975, when he drove Edmund Fitzgerald shipmate Ransom Cundy to the docks. “I was sitting in the mess hall with him when the captain came in asking about a couple of the sailors. When they left, I shoo hands with both of them. That was the last time I saw him – the ship went down five days later.”
The Museum, located at the easternmost point of Walnut Boulevard, is open Thursdays through Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. The committee expects to hold its grand opening on Labor Day.
The building has quite a history. It was built in 1896 and used as a lightkeeper’s home. Afterwards, the Coast Guard owned it, and then it was turned into a Boy’s Club.
“After the city took over the building, we bought it,” Petros said.
He new the building was where he wanted to put a museum. “I brought nine or ten ship captains up here and they all said the same thing – this is the ideal place for a museum.”
“Everything in the building was donated by someone in the area” said Brace.
The donations were not just “the usual” donations, they said, as one donor, who wished to remain anonymous, gave $20,000 to the fund.
Another donation of note was by the Glidden Paint Company. The company donated all paint needed to refurbish the building, and also “sent n interior decorator in to figure out what rooms should be painted what colors,” Leng said.
Price of admission is $1 for adults and 50 cents for students between the ages of 12 and 18. Children under 12 will be admitted free.
Poems from H.O.M.E.S.
Ports and Portholes
Accidental Voyage, Salmon Swetland’s Lake Erie Odyssey
The wind- whipped Lake Erie waves battered his log canoe, making it necessary for Salmon Swetland to balance in the middle, moving his paddle from side to side in rhythm with the movements of the roiling Lake Erie waves.
The spelling of Salmon’s last name is as individual as the Lake Erie waves that carried him to Long Point, Canada. Some accounts spell it Swetland, some Sweetland, and other Sweatland. This account will feature the Swetland version that also appears on his and his wife Betsey’s tombstones.
On this day in the early September of 1817, Salmon Peter Swetland appreciated his life, especially his hunting. The son of Peter Salmon and Anna Swetland, he had greeted the world on September 4, 1792, in Dalton, Massachusetts. Immigrating to Conneaut, Ohio, before his 30th birthday, he settled on the Lake Erie shore a short distance below the mouth of Conneaut Creek. By 1817, he had enjoyed a little over a year of married life with Betsey Talbut (Talcott) Swetland. They had married on July 4, 1816, in Ashtabula and settled down in their home cabin near the mouth of Conneaut Creek.
Their July 4, 1816 wedding date, their home by Conneaut Creek, hunting, and geography were a few of the links connected to the grand adventure of Salmon Swetland’s life that would take place in a future September, September 1817. British soldiers and Canadian citizens also played an important part in Salmon’s adventure.
THE BRITISH INVADE CONNEAUT
On August 11, 1812, four years before Salmon’s marriage, the villagers of Conneaut had mobilized when they thought that the British were invading Conneaut. The War of 1812 was two months old. Native Americans who had previously been friendly to the settlers traveled to fight with the British; and men from the community had been enlisted or drafted to fight the Native Americans in western Ohio. Women kept the home fires burning and Revolutionary War veterans formed vigilance committees to scout for British soldiers and create battle plans for fighting them.
In his 1878 History of Ashtabula County, William W. Williams described what happened when sentinels reported that British ships had been sighted at the mouth of Conneaut Creek. One of the sentinels fired his musket toward the ships and then tossed the musket on the beach. He jumped on his horse and headed toward Conneaut to warn its citizens, shouting “Turn out! Save your lives! The British and the Indians are landing, and will be upon us in 15 minutes!” Revolutionary War Veterans perhaps remembered the rallying cry of “To arms, to arms, the British are coming!” as they fled.
Citizens onshore were certain that the British were preparing to invade Conneaut and conquer to Cleveland and beyond. Quickly most of the population of Conneaut fled, one family leaving so quickly that they left a child asleep in their house. Others left doors hanging open, and dinners on the table, they were in such a hurry to reach Fort Hill, south of Conneaut. Fort Hill, washed by the waters of Conneaut Creek, originated as a burial mound of the mound builder people and could only be approached by climbing a steep hill.
An article in the Conneaut Public Library dated July, 1871 and appearing in “Dock Talk,” described Fort Hill as featuring a triangular-shaped wall about five feet high enclosing about two acres of level land on top of the hill. A lookout stood on the opposite bank of Conneaut Creek where it turns northward. In order to reach Fort Hill, fleeing Conneaut citizens had to ford Conneaut Creek and the men carried the women and small children on their shoulders. One husband nearly drowned his wife and himself when he slipped and they both went under the water. The refuges spent the night on Fort Hill, huddled in the presumed safety of its walls.
People who lived on Conneaut’s east side fled to a hemlock grove on Smoke Run, a Conneaut Creek tributary. Since the hemlock grove was located very near the road, the adults feared that marching soldiers would be alerted by the cries of terrified children. They faced the challenge of keeping the children quiet and they managed to quiet the children, but one family dog persisted in barking his opinion of the entire situation. The frantic fugitives decided to quiet the dog so that its barking wouldn’t alert the British and Indians. Someone bent a sapling, wrapped an elastic cord from an article of lady’s clothing around the dog’s throat, and the barking was silenced forever.
The next morning, Conneaut residents returned to their homes and found things just as they had left them the night before. No one had invaded and plundered their property and no British or Indians lurked behind trees. They had fled their homes and sacrificed the dog for a false alarm.
THE BOATS BELONGED TO CAPTAIN DOBBINS
As the weary residents wended their way home, they wondered who owned the boats that the sentinel had fired upon and what were they doing at Conneaut Creek? Eventually, Conneaut citizens learned that the boats belonged to Captain Daniel Dobbins of Erie, Pennsylvania. According to a biography by Samuel P. Bates in the History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, Captain Dobbins was sailing the schooner Salina in the summer of 1812 and he had planned to put several families ashore at Conneaut. When he discovered the uproar he and his ships had created in Conneaut, he turned the ship away and continued his voyage, but the townspeople still remained in a state of mass hysteria overnight.
Five years later, Salmon would voyage near Captain Dobbins’ Erie, Pennsylvania homeport in equally alarming circumstances. In the five years since the British scare, Salmon and Betsey had both worked hard at the tasks of pioneer living.
SALMON GOES DEER HUNTING
Being a young and active man, Salmon participated in hunting both for adventure and occasional profit. A popular method of capturing deer at time involved chasing them with hounds and driving them into the lake, because every hunter knew that deer take to the water when pursued. His neighbor Mr. Cozens (Couzzins or Cousins, depending om the account), owned a pack of hounds and he and Salmon worked out a plan to capture deer. Mr. Cozens would go into the woods and start the dogs on the scent, while Salmon prepared his canoe to pursue and capture the deer as soon as it hit the water. Salmon kept his canoe in readiness at the mouth of Conneaut Creek near his cabin.
Conneaut pioneer school teacher and historian, Harvey Nettleton, wrote a version of the story of what happened during one of Salmon and Mr. Cozens’ hunting trips for The Geneva Times newspaper in 1844-1845. This version of the story, the one that appeared in the Williams Brothers History of Ashtabula County, says that on a September morning in 1817, Salmon Swetland woke up as the first light of dawn filtered into his Conneaut Creek cabin prepared to go hunting. Eager to enter the chase, he didn’t take the time to put on his coat or waistcoat, but did pause to pull on his shoes.
Quickly, Salmon left his cabin, and with the sound of the hounds baying sweet music in his ears, he hurried down the path to the beach. He immediately discovered that the stag (according to Harriet Upton in Volume I of History of the Western Reserve the deer was a stag), a sturdy and vigorous specimen, had already swum some distance from the Lake Erie shore. Harvey Nettleton says that Salomon threw his hat on the beach “in his excitement, “pushed his canoe into the water, and shoved off from shore to pursue the stag in his dugout canoe with one paddle.
The account of Salmon Swetland’s Lake Erie adventure in Mansfield’s History of the Great Lakes described his canoe as “dug from a large white-wood log for a fishing boat,” measuring about fourteen feet long and proportionately wide. Henry Howe in his Historical Collections of Ohio named Major James Brookes as the person who created the dugout. Fortunately for Salmon, the mariners who ranked his canoe as a superior performer were correct.
SALMON STALKS A STAG IN HIS CANOE
The stag that Salmon had followed into the Lake swam slightly ahead of him, its tail waving a challenge. Never taking his eyes from the deer, Salmon kept following, propelled by the strong wind at his back and inspired by the rifle at his side. The thought of the venison meal his wife Betsey would cook made him paddle even faster.
Paddling furiously, Salmon concentrated so intently on catching the stag that he paid little attention to the south wind which had increased to nearly gale force. He finally caught up with the stag, but by now the wind and waves had created a fierce Lake Erie storm. The stag, who seemed to recognize the danger better than Salmon, shot past him and turned toward the shore. Salmon tacked his flimsy canoe and tried to follow the stag, but he made no progress toward land.
For a time, the wind and waves caused him to paddle in place. Some accounts state that he could see the outlines of his cabin and the concerned people on the shore, including his wife. Vainly, he tried to paddle his way back to them, but instead, he drifted further out into the lake. Salmon unsuccessfully tried to signal two passing schooners. He watched his world appear to sink below the waves, wondering if he would ever touch land or see his wife again.
In the meantime, Mr. Cozens and Salmon’s family had watched the deer drama unfolding far out into the lake, and they were terrified when Salmon disappeared from sight. They spread the alarm throughout the neighborhood and Salmon’s neighbors Mr. Gilbert, Mr. Cozens, and Mr. Belden launched a light boat at the mouth of Conneaut Creek and conducted a determined search for Salmon and his canoe. Hour after hour they searched stretches of stormy Lake Erie, as far as five or six miles from land. Finally, they battled the waves to return to shore, giving up Salmon for lost.
SALMON STEERS TOWARD THE CANADIAN SHORE
The wind- whipped Lake Erie waves battered his log canoe, making it necessary for Salmon Swetland to balance in the middle, moving his paddle from side to side in rhythm with the roiling Lake Erie waves.
For the remainder of the day, the wind and waves carried him far across boiling Lake Erie. In her History of the Western Reserve narrative of Salmon’s voyage, Harriet Upton notes that Salmon was “young, brave, and strong, and did not despair.” In his account of the voyage, Harvey Nettleton said that Salmon possessed “a cool head and a stout heart, and was a good sailor.” After considering his situation, he put before the wind and steered his canoe toward the Canadian shore. Some of the time, Salmon stood and balanced his canoe with his weight and his single paddle. The rest of the time he spent bailing water out of the canoe with his “stogies,” a pair of roughly made shoes or boots.
After a spending the day battling Lake Erie waves and gales, Salmon watched the sun sink below the horizon and the darkness wrap around him like one of Betsey’s homespun blankets. A few stars twinkled through the overcast skies and haze, and he used them to guide his path over the dark and dancing waters. Cold and hungry, Salmon continued paddling throughout the night. When the sun rose above the horizon, Salmon made out the lines of Long Point, on the Canadian shore of the lake. His voyage didn’t end smoothly, because he had to contend with an adverse wind and a cross sea, but he succeeded in safely reaching land on Long Point, Ontario, Canada.
SALMON LANDS ON LONG POINT, CANADA
Although he beached his canoe and once again felt solid land under his stogies, Salmon’s trials continued. Faint with hunger and exhausted with fatigue, he stared at the country surrounding him. He didn’t see any human settlements, just marshes and tangled thickets. Summoning his courage, he continued his voyage, this time on land, toward a village or town. As he made his way along the Lake Erie shore, he found some goods that had washed up on shore from a shipwreck. They didn’t solve his immediate problems of food and shelter, but he made a mental note of their location and continued on his weary way.
Salmon reached a settlement after 30-40 or an unrecorded number of miles of traveling and here, again, the accounts of his adventure differ. Some say the Canadian settlers greeted him with hostility and suspicion, because the American invasions of their country during the War of 1812 still rankled in their memories. Many settlers on Long Point were United Empire Loyalists, fugitives from the American Revolution who had fled New Jersey and other former colonies to settle on land grants from the Canadian government like the Samuel Brown, Captain Walter Anderson, and Solomon Austin families.
In the introduction of his genealogy and history of Long Point, Pioneer Sketches of Long Point Settlement, E.A. Owen explained that after the Revolutionary War, “their property was confiscated, their families ostracized and exposed to insult, outrage an exploitation, their lives were in danger…Their zeal for the unity of the empire gave them the title of United Empire Loyalists, and these were the men who at the close of the war, sought a refuge and a home on British soil, among the northern forests, and laid deep the foundations of the institutions, the freedom, the loyalty and the prosperity of our land.”
Less than three decades later, American soldiers again disrupted their lives by raiding ad burning Port Dover and other Long Point settlements. Americans, even those traveling solo, weren’t welcome.
CANADIAN SETTLERS NURSE SALMON AND HE TAKES A SCHOONER HOME
Other accounts say that the Canadian settlers received and treated Salmon with great kindness and hospitality and nursed him back to health. After he recovered his strength, Salmon returned with a boat and some of his Canadian rescuers to the site of the shipwrecked goods he had marked. Then, he traveled by land from Long Point to Buffalo, New York, where he sold his treasure. The sale enabled him to “furnish himself in the garb of a gentleman” and secure passage on a schooner anchored in Buffalo Harbor and bound for Conneaut and other harbors.
Some accounts identify the schooner that carried Salmon home over the same Lake Erie waters that carried him away as the Fire Fly, Charles Brown of Ashtabula, captain. Others name the ship as the Traveller, Charles Brown of Ashtabula, captain. The Gerald C. Metzler Great Lakes Vessel Database reveals that the Traveller was built in 1817 in Ashtabula, Ohio, and that it had only three captains, Charles H. Brown from 1817-1818, Collins Wetmore, 1819 and Joseph Naper, 1821. The Fire Fly’s master from 1817-1819 is listed as David Norton.
No matter what ship or captain, Salmon voyaged Lake Erie once again, this time not accidentally, to rejoin his family in Conneaut. When the ship arrived at Conneaut Creek, the crew fired guns from the deck and cheered loudly at least three times. When he landed, Salmon found that the preacher had already preached his funeral sermon, and according to Harvey Nettleton, he had the “rare privilege” of seeing his widow wearing her mourning clothes. Despite the different sources, spellings, and details, one fact stands out like a Lake Erie sunset. Salmon made an accidental, but successful return visit to the British and enjoyed a homecoming from his wife Betsey who greeted him wearing the clothes she wore to mourn his death.
In the History of Trumbull and Mahoning Counties, H.Z. Williams records that Salmon and his family moved to Bistolville in Trumbull County about 1819. The 1820 Federal Census lists Salmon and his wife living in Bristol, where he opened one of the first stores in the county.
The pattern of conflicting and uncertain stories in Salmon’s life continued after his death. Salmon’s wife Betsey, his son Salmon Jr. his wife Sarah, his son Leonard and his wife Sabra and some of their children are buried in North Madison, Cemetery, North Madison, Ohio. Captain Charles Brown is buried in Lake Road Cemetery, Ashtabula. The records suggest that there are two possible burial sites for Salmon. Some sources say that he was killed in an accidental explosion on July 4, 1827, in Boston. Others say he died in a farm accident in Bristol in Trumbull County, Ohio.
Accidental voyage, accidental death, and fickle Lake Erie- all shaped the life of Salmon Peter Swetland.