My mom, Shirley, was extremely gifted in the textile arts. Everyone who knew her well knew that she was really, really good at knitting, crocheting, needlepoint, sewing, and quilting. Anything that involved fabric or yarn, really.
One of my earliest memories involves a pink rabbit costume. Mom was under the impression that the town’s trick-or-treating would be held on Halloween night. Well, about a week or so before Halloween, she walked to the post office. She learned from a postal employee that our community’s Halloween parade and designated trick-or-treating hours were actually planned for THAT VERY EVENING. So, she booked it home and got to work on finishing the rabbit costume. It was ready for four-year-old me to wear just before the parade started.
Around this same time, Mom made me a pink (see a theme here?) quilt. She entered said quilt in the community quilt show. She took me to view this quilt show. I threw a temper tantrum when I saw “my” quilt in the exhibition, complete with a tag. How dare Mom attempt to sell “my” quilt!
I didn’t legitimize my own mother’s hand crafts. I don’t excuse myself for this, but I think that this was because a lot of my mom’s work fell into the arena of stuff that they did on “Little House on the Prairie.”
You know – “Women’s Work.”
(By the way, I loved both the “Little House on the Prairie” books and the television show. Mom sewed me and my sisters bonnets and ruffled dresses so that we could be just like Laura Ingalls Wilder.)
But – Mom was an artist. Several years ago, Mom and I visited the Carnegie Museum of Art (in Pittsburgh) while my dad went hunting back home in Somerset County. Mom specifically requested that we view a special exhibition about the hand crafts of women around the world. A lot of the art in this exhibit were the exact same mediums that Mom had created for the people that she loved for decades.
That being said, in the last year or so of Mom’s life, she decided to learn how to paint landscapes. She picked out painting supplies as her Christmas gift from my dad for from Santa Claus or whomever. She watched Youtube tutorials on landscape painting. She painted seashores. This was during the same year that she battled cancer.
Jonathan gives me photography lessons. Our photo outings got me through the chaos of the past few years. When I take photos of boats and birds and water, I feel the peace that I imagine that Mom felt when she painted beaches a few summers ago.
I and my two youngest sisters celebrated a June birthday by going to one of those places where you pay a flat fee to paint a sign. You know, where you can bring your own wine and charcuterie board, or your own beer and nachos, or whatever food and drinks make your own life worth living. It was fun. It reminded me of eighth grade art class.
I’m so grateful to my mom for teaching me to survive through life’s rough patches by clinging to anything that gives me joy. Also, for finishing my pink rabbit costume at the last minute.
My blog’s most popular post is about the time that Jonathan and I accidentally sailed into Misery Bay off of Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Presque Isle State Park now features a monument to the War of 1812’s American naval hero Oliver Hazard Perry. The monument at the end of a little peninsula sits next to Misery Bay. In fact, when my husband and I sail, we try to use the Perry Monument as a landmark to prevent ourselves from sailing into Misery Bay.
Here is a photo that I took on my iPhone of the Perry Monument on Columbus Day Weekend in 2019. An organization associated with the National Guard decorated the monument minutes before I took the photo.
I took an interest in the Perry Monument that sits next to Misery Bay when I visited Erie for the very first time around the age of 10 or so. I was actually born in Perry County in Central Pennsylvania. I lived there for the first seven years of my life. So, after we moved to Western Pennsylvania, I was very excited to see a monument dedicated to the namesake of my original home. I had my parents take a photo of me standing next to the monument. On this same trip, I took a pontoon boat tour offered through Presque Isle State Park. I learned about the folklore surrounding Oliver Hazard Perry and his experiences with Misery Bay and Graveyard Pond during the War of 1812.
Here’s what I didn’t learn on this boat tour:
Some of the American Naval heros of the War of 1812 era – including men who sailed the Great Lakes – dueled. Some of them died in duels.
I learned this much later by reading Wikipedia. So, I trust that Wikipedia and many published books about U.S. Naval history will satisfy you much more on the particular details of this subject than I can in a 1,000 word (or whatever) blog post.
But for example: In 1818, Oliver Hazard Perry fought in a duel. He and his opponent survived. However, Perry chose for his “second” a man who actually did die in his own duel just a few years later. That man was Stephen Decatur.
I don’t remember learning about Stephen Decatur in school. However, I don’t remember a lot of things from my U.S. History classes, even though it was my favorite subject.
I liked to read biographies of famous people from the American Civil War. I noted that a lot of the biographies mentioned various other people who had the first and middle name of “Stephen Decatur.” For instance, the writer Mary Chesnut’s father was Stephen Decatur Miller. A bunch of other famous people from the early 1800’s had relatives or acquaintances named “Stephen Decatur This” or “Stephen Decatur That.”
I thought, “This Stephen Decatur guy must be pretty special if a whole bunch of people named their kids after him before the Civil War happened.“
So, I looked up Stephen Decatur on Wikipedia. I learned that he – and his fellow Naval officer Oliver Hazard Perry – and a bunch of their other fellow officers got themselves into duels. Often.
So many duels happened before the Civil War, that the Washington elite journeyed to a designated dueling grounds (the Bladensburg Dueling Grounds in Maryland). In fact, I learned from Wikipedia that Francis Scott Key’s son, Daniel, died after a duel that started over a dispute about the speed of a boat.
Stephen Decatur served as an officer in the United States Navy from 1798 – 1820. I’ll make this quick because anyone can just read all of this on Wikipedia. Decatur fought pirates along the Barbary Coast of North Africa. He witnessed his own brother, James’s, burial at sea. He earned a Medal of Honor.
Here’s an example of how highly folks regarded Decatur: I listened to Episode 9: A Devil on the Roof from the Lore podcast by Aaron Mahnke. This episode told the myth of the Jersey Devil in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. According to the folklore, Decatur saw the Jersey Devil as he tested cannon balls in Burlington, New Jersey. The legend maintains that Decatur fired a cannon at the Jersey Devil but that the Jersey Devil flew away. This myth implies to me that if such a decorated hero as Decatur saw and reacted to the Jersey Devil, then us common folk should believe that the Jersey Devil actually existed.
I don’t know if Decatur actually saw the Jersey Devil and fired a cannon at it.
However, in 1818 Decatur did actually build his residence in Lafayette Square in Washington, a very short walk from the White House. Before this, Decatur married Susan Wheeler. I am very much under the impression that his bride was from the most well-connected tier of American society. (Aaron Burr and also Napoleon’s brother allegedly attempted to court her.) Decatur and Susan entertained the elite in their gorgeous Lafayette Square home. (In fact, you can still visit this “Historic Decatur House.”)
So, after all of the struggle and success, Stephen Decatur agreed to duel another Naval officer, James Barron, in 1820. Decatur shot Barron. Barron shot Decatur. Decatur died at the age of 41. Barron survived for several more decades.
Dueling declined after the American Civil War. I learned on Wikipedia that the last Bladensburg duel occurred in the late 1860’s. I read in a book of Maryland folklore that a suburban housing development now sits on most of Bladensburg’s “dueling grounds.”
I reworked this blog post because later this year I want to blog about that time that Stephen Decatur allegedly saw the Jersey Devil and tried to kill it. So, here’s some context about Stephen Decatur’s fame in the 1800’s. He, and Oliver Hazard Perry, and others were America’s heros. They sailed the Great Lakes in the 1800’s. Some of them also dueled – at great personal cost.
I didn’t grow up in a “boating family.” Neither did my husband. We both grew up in middle-class families with multiple kids and multiple priorities. About once a summer or so, my own parents rented for me and my sisters paddle boats, a rowboat, or perhaps a canoe from a PA State Park boat concession. My dad eventually purchased a used canoe from a boat concession auction.
When Jonathan and I were on our honeymoon, he purchased a kite. He flew his new kite on the beach. He told me that wind power fascinated him. He later confessed to me that sailboats and sailing actually fascinated him since childhood but that he was too shy to mention this to his parents.
We took a few sailing lessons on a Flying Scot at Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park in Western PA. We borrowed my parents’ canoe once. We purchased our own canoe / kayak hybrids.
Jonathan monitored Facebook for postings about boat sales. I learned that prospective boat buyers have no problem finding boats for sale at the end of summer, before prospective boat sellers need to store their boats for the winter. So, on one October Friday, Jonathan drove through several counties to meet the man selling a Flying Scot. By the end of that day, we owned our first sailboat.
That weekend gave us “hot” October weather. We took our “new” Flying Scot to Lake Arthur that Saturday. We rigged our new boat in the parking lot of Moraine’s public boat launch. We sailed and sailed. We noted that the sun started to set and that other boaters headed to shore. We headed to shore. Then . . . the wind died down.
Did I mention that our Flying Scot had no motor? Yeah, this is important. The wind powered our boat. After the wind died, we sat in the middle of the lake.
We sat there for about an hour. Then, Jonathan grabbed the boat’s sole oar and “paddled” us to shore. In the twilight. Then, we had to de-rig our sailboat in the dark, assisted by one flashlight.
That next summer, we returned to Lake Arthur with our Flying Scot and rented a slip at the marina’s dry dock. We sailed again. And again, the wind died on us. We found ourselves becalmed on Lake Arthur, with no motor, again.
Except, this time the wind died due to a very impending, severe thunderstorm. We saw the lightning as we sat, stationary, on the lake. Mother Nature mocked us.
I said a few angry things to Jonathan. He grabbed the oar and, once again, paddled us back to shore.
The storm’s downdraft actually pushed us the last few feet to the dock. We jumped off of the boat and ran through the rain to our truck. Then, we realized that our truck keys were still on our boat! So, Jonathan had to run back to the boat before we found shelter inside of our truck.
Jonathan is very lucky that I sailed with him again after this.
This summer we now have a sailboat docked in Erie, PA, on Lake Erie. I sailed with Jonathan ON THE OPEN LAKE. I have the experience of sitting becalmed on Lake Erie, covered in bug spray and swatting at biting flies. Thank destiny that we now own a motored boat!
After I first sailed, I collected the sailing mishaps noted in historical fiction AND nonfiction.
For instance, Aaron Burr’s only child, Theodosia Burr Alston, boarded the schooner Patriot in 1812. The ship sailed from South Carolina. It never arrived in New York City. History noted Theodosia Burr Alston as “disappeared” or “lost at sea.” Theories and folkore (see Wikipedia) abounded on the fate of “Dear Theodosia.” One famous legend involved pirates. In fact, one storyteller described Theodosia walking the plank to her death.
Now, for the promised 1779 sailing mishap, here is a passage from Chapter Five of “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation” by Cokie Roberts. This recounts John Jay and his wife Sally’s voyage to Spain after Congress named John Jay as Minister to Spain during the Revolutionary War:
“ Two months later, still aboard the ship and nowhere near Spain, Sally recounted their adventures to her mother. After being at sea a couple of weeks, she heard a terrible noise on the deck in the middle of the night: “We had been deprived of nothing less than our bow-spirit, main-mast and missen-mast . . . however our misfortunes were only begun, the injury received by our rudder the next morning served to complete them.” The ship was dismasted and rudderless, the seas were high, and winter was on the way. A council of ship’s officers concluded tht there was no way to reach Europe under those conditions, so they set course for the island of Martinique. It took a couple of weeks for the winds to get them going in the right direction, but, Sally cheerfully reported, “we are now in smooth seas having the advantage of trade winds which blow directly for the island . . . while our American friends are amusing themselves by a cheerful fireside, are we sitting under an awning comforting ourselves with the expectation of being soon refreshed by some fine southern fruits.” . . . What she didn’t tell her mother was that she was pregnant. Stranded at sea, Sally and John threw a party, surprising and delighting fellow passengers. Finally, at the end of December, the ship limped into port in Martinique, where Sally was able to send off her letter home.”
Cokie Roberts, “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation.”
Just imagine drifting around for several weeks on the ocean in a ship that lost most of its sails. And its rudder. Just hoping that the trade winds would blow the ship to Martinique before winter. With a navigation system from the late 1700’s. And no motor!
Maybe, if this happened in 2019, Sally Jay would tweet a selfie of herself on the disabled ship. “Can’t believe where I ended up. LOL.” Followed by an interview with Anderson Cooper. (Or Cokie Roberts.)
As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, my husband Jonathan and I spent this past weekend in Erie. We attended Tall Ships Erie 2019 on Saturday. We slept on our sailboat at our Erie marina on Saturday night. We cruised past Tall Ships Erie 2019 on Sunday. Then we sailed on the open Lake Erie.
Jonathan plans to blog a detailed pros-and-cons recap of the festival on our other blog, so I won’t go into much detail about the festival here.
This was our third one-day trip to an Erie tall ships festival. We attended for one day each in 2013, 2016, and now in 2019.
I want to be clear that in my experience, this festival involved significant crowds and significant walking. We even encountered large crowds in the lines for the shuttle buses and the ice cream stand. In fact, the ice cream stand ran out of waffle cones and several flavors. I was so relieved that I could still get my chocolate cherry ice cream!
For each trip, we purchased the one-day passes that permit us to walk past the boats but not to board and tour the ships. These are the lowest-cost passes.
During all three festival years, we observed significant lines to tour most of the ships. For instance, this year the festival included Santa Maria, a claimed replica of Christopher Columbus’ ship. We heard someone at the festival say that a two-hour wait existed to tour that ship.
Here is the Santa Maria as it looked on Saturday:
We also observed significant wait times to tour Picton Castle. Here is Picton Castle‘s bow:
Here is Picton Castle‘s Stern:
On Sunday, I took several photos from the water as we cruised on our own sailboat to Lake Erie. I will post my water photos shortly.
You are all fantastic for reading my blog! I’ve had several readers reach out to me in the past month. I appreciate you all for taking precious time out of your full lives to digest my stories. I don’t want to let you down.
I will tell you a little bit more about our brief sailing adventures on Lake Erie. First, let me tell you about Misery Bay and Graveyard Pond.
The “Greater Erie, PA” region sits on the south shore of Lake Erie, and also on the south shore of Presque Isle Bay. Presque Isle Bay’s west and north boundaries exist due to a Peninsula that extends into Lake Erie.
To the west and the north of Presque Isle Bay is a peninsula that extends into Lake Erie. (On this peninsula now sits Presque Isle State Park. )
The Native Americans known as the “Eriez Nation” inhabited this area hundreds of years ago. The Iroquois defeated the Eriez in the 1600’s.
If you leave from Erie and head toward the open lake, then Erie (the city) will be on your starboard side and the peninsula will be on your port side.
You will travel past a monument to Commander Oliver Hazard Perry at Presque Isle State Park. Then, you will travel past Misery Bay.
Then, you will travel through a shipping channel. Finally, you will pass the North Pier Lighthouse. Congratulations. You are on the open lake.
Perry commanded the U.S.’s Lake Erie naval fleet in 1813. This was during the War of 1812, the United States’ second war against the British. This U.S. naval fleet was at Presque Isle Bay when Perry took command. Perry’s forces broke a British blockade at Presque Isle. Then they defeated the British off of the Ohio coast at the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813.
Perry then returned to Presque Isle Bay.
Do you remember when I wrote that the bay next to the Perry monument is called “Misery Bay?” Well, the bay earned its name from what happened after the Battle of Lake Erie. Many returning sailors contracted smallpox and died in quarantine. They died aboard ships harbored in Misery Bay. The ones who didn’t get sick buried these sailors in the pond next to Misery Bay. Then, sailors who got sick but hadn’t yet died also got “buried” in the pond.
Local storytellers renamed the pond “Graveyard Pond.”
The navy sunk the hulls of two of their ships, the USS Lawrence and the USS Niagara, in Misery Bay for preservation.
In 1875, preservationists raised the Lawrence. They shipped her to Philadelphia. Exhibitors displayed the Lawrence at the U.S. Centennial International Exhibition of 1876. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the Lawrence at that same exhibition.
Preservationists raised and rebuilt the USS Niagara in 1913, then rebuilt her again in 1988. Thereconstructed USS Niagara now sails regularly from her dock in Erie, past Misery Bay, on her way to the open lake.
My husband, Jonathan, and I purchased our sailboat, S/V Pinniped, last autumn from the original owners, P. and M. In fact, P. built the boat himself from a set of plans. P. told us to be careful to stay away from Misery Bay when we travelled through the channel. Misery Bay is shallow, compared to the shipping channel. P. admitted that he actually grounded Pinniped on various sandbars in Misery Bay.
So of course, when we returned to the bay from our first sail together on the open lake, we accidentally steered into Misery Bay.
Misery Bay at that particular spot has a datum depth of four feet. Pinniped drafts five a half feet.
Fortunately for us, Lake Erie is high this summer. So, the actual depth on that spot on that day was seven and a half feet. We lucked out!
A week later, we again sailed onto the open lake. We sailed past a docked freighter before we left the bay.
We sailed about one third of the way across Lake Erie.
And . . . we avoided steering into Misery Bay on the way back!
However, after several hours of sailing, the wind died and the flies appeared. Lots of flies. We motored for over an hour, covered in flies, to reach our slip at our marina. (For the record, we sprayed ourselves generously with bug spray. We still received fly bites.)
Despite Misery Bay and the flies, we both had positive experiences on both sailing trips. Stay tuned for more sailing adventures and more stories from history.
Edit, August 31, 2020: My husband, Jonathan, has recently blogged about our summer 2020 sailing adventures on our joint blog, www.jennyandjonathangetmarried.com. Here is Jonathan’s most recent post about sailing in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Last month, I promised to blog about these tall ships:
1.) The U.S. Brig Niagara
The U.S. Brig Niagara “resides” in Pennsylvania: The Niagara’s home port is Erie, PA.
However, one morning in July 2016 I watched the Niagara cruise past the house that my family rented in St. Ignace, Michigan. The ship docked in the bay, surrounded by St. Ignace.
My husband and I walked to the dock for “Niagara at Lake Huron” photos.
We already had in our possession “Niagara at Lake Erie” photos.
You see, in fall 2015 we sat at the North Pier at Presque Isle State Park (in Erie, PA) to watch boats. The Niagara sailed off of Lake Erie toward its home dock. It sailed past us. Under FULL sail. See my below photo from Erie:
2.) The S/V Peacemaker
See here for Jonathan’s story about his experience on the Peacemaker. My husband might have sailed away as a community’s ship crew that afternoon!
3.) Le Griffon, A Ghost Story
This history of New Kensington, Pennsylvania notes that the explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle boated down the Allegheny River. He traveled past the future site of Parnassus. Presumably toward the river confluence that we now call “Pittsburgh.”
La Salle journeyed on several boats in his travels. In the 1679, La Salle took off from his ship Le Griffon on Lake Michigan’s Green Bay.
After La Salle left Le Griffon, his crew mutinied. The ship disappeared on Lake Michigan.
To my knowledge, the ship’s whereabouts remain a mystery.
Folklore claims that Le Griffon still sails as a ghost ship.
La Salle himself perished in a mutiny and ambush in Texas in 1687.