Monday, November 21, 2011
Another work of art depicting the ship Success has surfaced in the National Maritime Collection of the Australian National Maritime Museum. And this one bears similarities - at least superficially - to one that I have discussed previously.
If you follow this blog you know that in March I wrote a story about the maritime artist Frederick Garling and the a wonderful watercolor he painted of the Success in 1849. Well the newly discovered work you see above is also a watercolor and is also by an artist named Frederick. This one was Frederick Elliot.
Here's what is posted on the National Maritime Collection site about Elliot:
Fred Elliot was a marine painter active in Brisbane and later in Sydney, working primarily in watercolour. He was born in England in 1865 and came to Queensland with his family in 1876. He worked as a lithographic artist at the Queensland Government Printing Office from 1896 to about 1903, and later moved to Sydney. A prolific artist, he painted sailing ships, liners, merchant and naval ships, often depicted with dramatic atmospheric effects. His watercolours are high keyed and often echo the romantic effects of soft light and mist popularised by J J Hilder. He rarely painted in oil, but was commissioned in 1910 to paint a large portrait of shipowner partners Andrew McIlwraith and Malcolm Donald McEacharn.What I find interesting about this work is that Elliot has placed the ship in Sydney harbor. You will note that here she is rigged as a barkentine. She didn't receive a barkentine rig until early 1912 in preparation for her voyage from England to the U.S. Additionally, the white trim on her hull extends down to midway on her quarter gallery. Again, this paint trim was a characteristic of her appearance during her tour of the U.S. I conclude from this that Elliot based this work on photographs of the ship taken in the U.S., or from sketches after seeing the ship in person somewhere in the U.S., and yet he chose Sydney as a backdrop. Most interesting.
The work is undated (as was most of Elliot's work) but I conclude it must have been done after 1912.
The old Success has inspired many fine artists over the years. This watercolor by Fred Elliot is a fine addition to that body of work.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
|Photo courtesy the South Australia Maritime Museum|
Thursday, September 1, 2011
Thursday, July 21, 2011
|Attendees sitting in rapt attention during my presentation|
|Showing the crowd a piece of teak from the Success|
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
|A sign at the Cedar Point dock directs visitors to the Convict Ship. (Author's collection)|
Of the many cities on the Great Lakes where the Success docked over a span of 17 years, her roots to the modest-sized city of Sandusky on Lake Erie are as strong as any. A quick review of history will demonstrate why.
The famed "convict ship" entered the Great Lakes in 1923, with Cleveland having the distinction of being her first port of call. It was a prosperous time for the ship and her owners. The economic engine of the U.S. was just hitting its stride after the Great War and the "roaring twenties" were kicking into high gear. The Success embarked on a successful tour of our inland seas that took her from Lake Erie to Lake Huron and, finally, Lake Michigan, culminating in a triumphant and wildly successful showing in Chicago during 1925. She started back down the lakes and, after a showing at Oswego, New York, in Lake Ontario in August of 1928, departed for the eastern seaboard.
When she returned to the lakes five years later with a showing at Chicago for the Century of Progress International Exposition, it was a profoundly different country, having plunged into the throws of the Great Depression. With 25 percent unemployment across the country, people struggled to put food on their tables, let alone spend money on entertainment.
After Chicago, the Success was not shown for two years. Once back in operation she had several years of marginal success. She arrived in Sandusky for the first time in September 1938, at the tail end of the exhibition season. She wintered there, and in the spring received a new, badly-needed main deck. In May she was towed to Lorain, Ohio for caulking and other repairs, and in June she was taken to Cleveland and berthed at the East Ninth Street Pier. This was to be her home for the next three years. Then in late 1942, pressure for dock space at the height of World War II forced her out of Cleveland.
|The Success on show at Sandusky|
In the meantime, with no one at the dock watching out for her, the darker side of human nature took over. Anything that wasn't tied down was carried away. Exhibits such as the Iron Maiden, dozens of chains and shackles, and numerous wax figures disappeared. Fittings such as the red and green running lights - gone.
|The ice shrouded hull of the Success at Sandusky (author's collection)|
Had it not been for Harry Van Stack, there would be nothing left. Harry, a naturalized citizen born in South Africa, who for the last 18 years had been a trusted, lecturer, caretaker, and general hand on board the Success. Seeing that the end was near, Stack salvaged what he could from the ship and took it to his new home in Sandusky. Years later, after his death, his wife saw to it the documents and artifacts Harry saved found a permanent home at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library in nearby Fremont. In addition to advertising posters, teakwood, and a ship model, there were scrapbooks, photographs, and other rare documents that tell the fascinating story of the Success.
The Berkley Salvage Company of Detroit finally succeeded in raising the Success in September, 1945. They turned the ship over to an eccentric salvage operator from Port Clinton. I will tell the story of the ship's journey from Sandusky to Port Clinton in a future blog. But history records that the old prison ship Success has a strong connection to Sandusky - one that will be long remembered.
Friday, July 15, 2011
In a previous post I related the history of two models of the ship Success that had been created by professional modelers. I pointed out that these were but two of many models created memorializing this remarkable. It's time to continue that discussion.
Of all the models of the Success to surface over the years, perhaps the most unique--and by far the biggest--has to be one fashioned in the late 1930's by a Swedish immigrant. Here is his story.
John Hallen left his home in Warberg, Sweden, in 1906 at the age of 26 to begin a new life in America. After false starts, first in New York and then in Pennsylvania, the blue-eyed Swede, aw woodworker by trade, settled in the tiny lumber town of Manistique on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. In 1917, shortly after arriving, he and his wife, Elizabeth, purchased one of the town's oldest buildings for the nominal sum of $1. The building had served as a boarding house and the office for the Chicago Lumber Company. (The Consolidated Lumber Company maintained an office there until 1925.) John and Elizabeth converted the building into a hotel, naming it the Park Hotel.
To relieve the boredom of manning the desk at the hotel, Hallen would occupy his time with projects that showcased his skill as a woodworker. Where is first saw or read about the Success is not clear. The ship never visited Manistique, which was too small and off the beaten path to make a showing there financially viable. Perhaps he saw the ship while visiting Green Bay or one of the other ports on Lake Michigan where the Success made an appearance. (She had spent the entire year at Chicago in 1925, that city standing as one of its most successful show venues.) In any event, in the late 1930s Hallen began working on a ship model. A big one.
There is only one known photograph of Hallen with the finished model. In it, Hallen stands at the stern, smiling proudly. The photo was made into postcards. At nine feet in length and some six feet tall, it's the biggest ship model of the Success I have ever seen. The appears to be plenty of detail in the model, although the depth is wrong. (Hallen obviously never saw her in dry dock.)
It may not be the most finally crafted or detailed of Success ship models, but the one crafted by Swedish immigrant John Hallen is by far the the most unique.
Saturday, July 9, 2011
One of the benefits of giving talks on the Success is the many wonderful people you meet and the stories they have to tell. After my talk for the Port Clinton Museum here a week ago today, Dave, one of the folks who came to watch approached me holding a large framed picture. When I saw it I almost did a back flip! (Which would be practically a physical impossibility at my age, but I digress.) The picture in the frame was actually an original posted on thick poster board adverting the appearance of the Success in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when the ship was there in 1919. Dave had bought it off an antique dealer friend of his some 25 years ago here in northern Ohio. Dave was kind enough to let me come out to his house this past week and photograph it.
Part of what makes the poster so unique is that it shows how the manager of the ship cleverly adapted the ship's exhibition to the current place and time. As the poster indicates, the ship was also doing duty at that time as a 'U.S. Marine Recruiting Station' and that the showing of the ship was a 'Benefit for the Fatherless Children of France.' This was a brilliant strategy, meant to dispel any suggestion that the exhibition was intended to exploit the people in time of war. This strategy was employed to good effect during the war years, 1917 through 1919, while the ship was touring the inland rivers.
Dave and I spent a most pleasant afternoon talking about the Success, but also (and mostly) about the Civil War. His personal collection of Civil War memorabilia was most impressive. Mostly, though, I felt as though I'd found a friend, and that's worth far more than any musket, or poster.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Monday, July 4, 2011
Thursday, July 4th, 1946. It was a near-perfect day on Lake Erie, much like it is today. On this post-war holiday, vacationers filled the beaches and roads around Port Clinton, Ohio, the center of one of the midwest's premier vacation spots. The Convict Ship Success, which had been a local topic of conversation - and gossip - since being brought here the previous August, lay almost unnoticed offshore as the holiday revelers focused on swimming, picnics, fishing, and other activities. Holiday vehicle traffic was heavy.
Sometime in the late afternoon (no one knows exactly when), someone glanced out from shore and noticed a column of dark smoke rising up from somewhere near the center of the grounded ship. As more and more onlookers took notice, the beginnings of a fire took hold and began to lick at the dry wood and in a fairly short time the read third of the vessel was fully ablaze. Like moths to a flame, boat large and small were pulled to the scene and began circling. A number of people on shore who had boats rushed to them so they could witness the fire up close. Some grabbed still or movie cameras to document what was was happening. And not only boats: At least one airplane did a flyover to check out the scene.
On shore, meanwhile, traffic was jammed along nearby roads as motorists stopped to watch the blaze, finding any place they could to pull over. And what a show it was, as the conflagration gradually consumed the entire vessel. The heat was intense, fanned by a stiff evening breeze. As Port Clinton had no fire boats, no attempt was made to put out the blaze.
The fire continued on into the night. No one knows exactly how long it took but, before it ended, the famous old ship had burned to the waterline, nothing rising above the lake's surface more than a foot or so save for a blackened section of the middle mast.
The water was sprinkled with debris from the ship, which washed ashore for days afterward. Local residents, eager for a souvenir, scoured the beaches for anything they could find, and many a local garage, attic, or curio box still contains a charred piece of wood from the ship. It was well known that the ship had been built of teak, so even a small chunk of the prized wood was considered a lucky find. Many of these pieces were cut or carved into souvenirs. (I own a letter opener that someone had whittled from a piece of teak.)
After the fire there were many rumors circulating about the cause of the fire. There was no question that it had been arson. The only question was, who had done it? The most obvious theory was that it had been local youths acting on a dare or as a holiday prank. But others suggested a more sinister motive; that the ship's owner, Walter Kolbe, had had someone destroy the ship, supposedly because he was catching heat from the local coast guard. Some years ago I attempted to verify this but was informed by the coast guard that records from that era were no longer kept. So unless someone steps forward to reveal some personal knowledge of what happened that day, we will likely never know. I for one would like to have a conversation with that person.
Of course, it would be just between us.
Friday, July 1, 2011
Scuba divers who wreck dive in Lake Erie will tell you that the Success is Lake Erie's most famous shipwreck, though admittedly not the best wreck dive. While easily accessible, the visibility there is poor due to the muddy bottom, making for a spooky experience. Nonetheless, its a dive worth making, if only because of the rich history of the ship.
I recall that some years back, Ellsworth wrote an article on the ship for Skin Diver Magazine.
Clicking on the title above will take you to his blog post.
This is a good time for a last-minute reminder about my talk at the Port Clinton Museum this Saturday at 2pm. For full details, see my last post.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
|Success sunk in the ice at Sandusky, Ohio, about 1944.|
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
There have been many models crafted of the Success but I want to focus on a few that I think are of particular significance, both in terms of the craftsmanship used to construct them and for the unique history surrounding the creation of the models themselves.
Of the models I wish to highlight, two are located in Australia and one in the U.S. Let's starts with what I will call the "Croker Model." This is a museum quality model crafted by a well-known and respected South Australia modeler, the late Herbert Croker. It is a finely crafted piece of work and a clear reflection not only of Croker's skill as a modeler but also his meticulous research of his subject. I believe it is currently located at the South Australia Maritime Museum as part of the Herbert Croker Collection of models there, but I have not been able to verify this.
In describing the construction process in an article he wrote about his work (printed in Issue 118 of the Radio Officers Club (ROC) News), Croker said the model "was designed from pictures and records collected by the author during years of research and it was built entirely from raw materials." In keeping with the original construction, Croker used teakwood for the planking of the hull, the elaborately carved stern. The rails and decks were done in cedar-wood in order to give it an age-worn appearance. All the ironwork, trusses, bands, anchors and chains were fabricated in either brass or copper. Croker crafted every link of chain by hand. Croker noted that, "The rigging is authentic in every detail and all is workable, including the steering tackle." His meticulous craftsmanship is evident in the photo above.
The next model can be found to the east, in the state of Victoria, at the Williamstown Historical Society Museum (WHSM) at Williamstown, near the grand city of Melbourne, Australia. This is fitting because the Williamstown prison hulks, of which the Success was the most famous, figure so prominently in local history there. The hulks were moored in Hobson's Bay north of the Point Gellibrand lighthouse (later call Timeball Tower) and traces of the bluestone quarry where the prisoner were brought ashore each day to cut stone can still be seen today. You can read more about when the Success was a prison hulk on my website.
This history of this model (or what is known of it) is most interesting. In 1980 a member of the historical society happened to be on holiday in California, vising the San Diego Maritime Museum (SDMM). To his utter amazement, there in the museum office, lying on a bench, was a large model of the Ship Success. Here is how she appeared then:
I'll tell you about some more interesting Success ship models in my next blog.
Friday, April 8, 2011
Monday, March 21, 2011
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Friday, February 25, 2011
When the ship Success arrived in the U.S. for a long-running tour of exhibition as the "Convict Ship Success," she had the good fortune to be under the management of Dave Smith.
By the time Smith first laid eyes on the old ship at Douglas, Isle of Man, in the summer of 1911, the 32-year-old Hoosier was already a veteran salesman, card sharp, and raconteur. And he had some definite ideas about how to advertise and promote the ship when she entered U.S. waters a year later. His was a multi-pronged approach: run large display ads in all the local newspapers before the ship reached port, invite the press and prominent public officials to exclusive showings of the vessel before opening her to public view, and stage publicity stunts.
An early example of the latter was staged in 1913, not long after the Success arrived in the U.S. The old craft arrived in New York City on April 25th, docking at West 79th Street and Riverside Drive in the North River. While the Success was thrilling crowds in the Big Apple, Harry Houdini, who had become world famous as an escape artist and illusionist, was returning to New York from Bucharest aboard the steamer Kronprinz Wilhelm to open at Willliam Hammerstein’s popular Rooftop Theater for a second season of performances there. Sensing an opportunity, Hammerstein’s press agent suggested to Smith that he challenge Houdini to escape from one of the cells below deck. Smith wrote to Hammerstein, "If you allow me to manacle him [Houdini], lock him into one of the cells, I am ready to wager he will not escape." When Hammerstein suggested he and Houdini they communicate directly, Smith sent a cable to the famous escape artist extending the challenge. Like Smith every bit the showman, Houdini wired back, “Accept challenge any time mutually agreed upon to undergo test. Want no favors, but demand fair play.”
The stunt was scheduled for Wednesday, June 4, at 1:30 pm. With a large crowd watching from the dock, Houdini was placed in irons and locked in a cell on the lower deck, where he was further secured to a ringbolt attached to the hull. Within the space of an hour, Houdini released himself, dove through an upper porthole and swam to shore. The crowd roared – the stunt was a success.
Smith was famous for using press agents to help cook up creative - and sometimes outlandish - publicity stunts. One of his most famous was the "discovery" of a so-called Burmese "pigeon blood ruby" deep down in the hold of the ship when it was docked in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1923. Smith garnered enormous press as a result of the stunt, even after a journalist exposed the charade.
More tame publicity stunts involved various challenges in which the public was enticed to compete for money; for example, by getting married in Cell 13 on Friday the 13th. Over the years the Success served as the setting for more than a few nuptuals!