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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Travel Hassles This Weekend?

Were the airline ticket counter staff unfriendly? Security officers rude? Put them in perpective with this memoir of an 1843 voyage down the Great Lakes in a steamship commanded by a fire-breathing captain.

The writer was a teenager when his family left upstate New York in the fall of 1843. It took 20 hours to be towed 40 miles along the Erie Canal to Buffalo, where they boarded the steamer Missouri. She was bound down Lake Erie, past Detroit, around the north shore of Michigan, and on to Milwaukee.

Foul weather hung them up at Cleveland for three days, where the author got to know the foul-mouthed captain. "His passions were violent in the extreme," the writer recalled, "and his oaths, constituting almost his entire store of ordinary language, would fill a full vocabulary of the most sulphurous profanity."

When they rounded Mackinaw Island and headed south toward Wisconsin, the worst gale that the fiery old captain had ever seen broke upon them. Defying the fierce winds, driving rain, and heavy seas, the author and his brother snuck up on deck "to see the storm in its might and glory. The main figure which we saw on deck was Captain Blake, who saluted us with the howl: 'What in hell and damnation are you doing here? Go below, damn you!'"

They retreated just beyond his field of vision and from their hiding place "witnessed probably the most grotesque scene that ever occuurred on shipboad. It was raining in torrents, with the wind blowing a gale. Captain Blake was... whipping the capstan by continuous blows with his hat until its oilcloth covering was in ribbons." He was shouting "in a voice of anger and terror heard above the roar of the tempest the most tremendous oaths imaginable, damning the storm, the winds, the waves, and him who 'rides upon the whirlwind and directs the storm' as the cause of the hurricane through which we were plunging, with the water dashing over our bows and half-mast high above our heads."

They took refuge below decks, and in the middle of the night the captain guided them into the harbor of Manitou, Michigan. Two days later, after a week's stormy voyage, they landed safely in Milwaukee to take up their new home in the wilds of Wisconsin.

[The full text is in our online collection of 15,000 Local History & Biography Articles]

:: Posted in Bizarre Events on November 25, 2007

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