Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Carol is currently in Georgia enjoying life on Tybee Island. I have some things I need to do at our cabin in the Illinois woodlands. I have told her often in the past that if she died before me I would be a hermit out here. The past week without her has been my test of that claim. Do I miss human contact? Sometimes but honestly most I just miss her. I want to write about the last couple of nights.

Monday night I sat out on the porch for a while just listening. What did I hear? Well usually living near Galesburg and the busy railroad lines I hear the sound of train whistles as they approach and pass through crossings. Monday night there was no sound from another human being. No tires or car noise from someone on our gravel road or the paved county road about a mile away. No sound from airplanes passing overhead. The silence was broken on rare occasion by an owl hooting over to the north in the woods belonging to our neighbor. The sky was clear and the stars shown above. It was lonely and wonderful at the same time. I thought it couldn't get any better.

Tuesday night showed me that I was wrong about Monday. There is something spectacular about nature. Late Tuesday night a thunderstorm blew in. The noise was not human. It was the simple awe inspiring power of this world. There was some thunder but not the type of storm that rattles the windows and shakes you to the depths of your soul. The trees were black against a grey night sky. The wind blew and the rain at times came down in sheets. It was a glorious Midwest thunderstorm. Not the storms we typically see on Tybee Island. Again, with the thunder and the wind bending the trees there wasn't a sound created by another human being. Was it a perfect night? No, because Carol wasn't here with me. We could have been sitting together in silence enjoying the glories this world offers.

So, can I live without other human contact? No. I would rather share those experiences with her. In her absence I would rather experience them alone. So, while we were apart those two nights and many others I can take solace in looking at the night sky and knowing the same stars shine down on both of us. Miles my separate us but the universe will always draw us together.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


I continue to work on scanning my Grandmother's journals. The other day I found this entry from July 1944.

As you can see her journals are a mixture of news and family issues. I was curious about the Hartford Circus fire. It turns out it was one of the worst fire disasters in the history of the United States. It occurred during the afternoon performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. The performance was attended by 6,000 to 8,000 persons. The death toll was 167 with over 700 injured.

The background of the disaster is interesting. It was during World War II so the circus had been experiencing shortages of equipment and personnel. The circus arrived in Hartford on July 5, 1944 but was so late arriving that one of the two scheduled shows had to be cancelled. Circus superstition holds that missing a show is extremely bad luck. The July 5th evening show ran as planned. The next day was Thursday and the afternoon crowd was largely women and children. The fire began as a small flame on the southwest sidewall as the Great Wallendas were performing. The circus band lead by Merle Evans began to play The Stars and Stripes Forever as the tune traditionally signaled distress to the circus performers. Ringmaster Fred Bradna tried to tell the audience not to panic and exit the tent in an orderly fashion. The power had failed and the crowd could not hear him. The crowd was in a panic as they attempted to flee. My Grandmother indicated the fire was caused by a carelessly discarded cigarette. This was the belief at the time. The true cause has never been determined. The fiery tent collapsed within eight minutes trapping hundreds of guests under it. How did that happen so fast? A common waterproofing technique of the time used on this canvas tent was a combination of paraffin wax dissolved in gasoline. In this case 1,800 pounds of paraffin wax had been dissolved in 6,000 gallons of gasoline to waterproof the big top. It is considered possible that the death toll was much higher than the 167 noted above. The fire was so intense that some victims may have been cremated leaving little or no trace. In addition some victims left only body parts and some of the circus performers and workers were drifters who would never be reported as missing.

The circus later reached an agreement with the City of Hartford to accept full financial responsibility and pay whatever amount the city requested in damages. By 1954 the circus had paid out over $5,000,000 to 600 victims and families who had filed claims. It is difficult to imagine what the settlement would look like now.

Monday, July 10, 2017

We Wonder

It is one of the constants of the human condition. People involved in the self help community tell us not to do it. They act like they don't. I cannot accept that is true. We all wonder. What if? We make choices every day. Some aren't very consequential or at least don't seem to be at the time. What to have for lunch? Over the years those choices can add on pounds and clog our arteries. When we drive, which way to turn at a fork in the road. Left or right? We went left. What would or could have happened if we went right? We can never know. When you are young you have dreams. Things you plan to do. Jobs you hope to get. How much money you will earn. The car you will drive. Life has a way of dealing with your dreams. Keeping you awake. You lay in your bed at night, look back at the day and wonder. What if? Why did I make that seemingly harmless smart ass remark? Should I have been kinder with my words or deeds? The unfortunate truth, is that for mankind, time is linear. We move forward constantly. No chance of going back and making a change. Words, once spoken, cannot be unsaid or unheard. We can offer our feeble apologies and vow to do better in the future. We cannot, no matter how much we would like to, go backward in time. I often think about people who die in car accidents. It happens in an instant but it is not isolated from the rest of the victims day. Another sip of coffee. A few more strokes of the toothbrush in the morning. A traffic signal that changes to red a second or two earlier. No accident. They are alive. It was as if a perfect storm erupted that day. No going back. So, we make choices every day. We look back and wonder. What if? The choice we didn't make may, in the long term, be worse than the one we made. Knowing all that we still abuse ourselves with the question. What if? I did that often today. I'll do so again tomorrow. It won't change the outcome. It won't fix any problems. I understand that. It won't change what is going to happen in my head tomorrow.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Rest of the Story

The buoy cable had broken and the Squalus had to be located for the rescue to proceed. The harbor tug Penacook cruised back and forth for hours with a grapnel attempting to snag the Squalus near where the marker buoy had been discovered. It did manage to hook something but no one knew if it was the Squalus or a boulder or something else. Even if it was the Squalus the grapnel was unlikely to be near the escape hatch. The USS Falcon arrived near dawn the next morning with the diving bell lashed to her fantail. It was foggy and the sea was heavy so it took until almost 10 am for the rescue ship to be properly moored.

At 10:15 am Boatswains Mate Martin Sibitsky donned 200 pounds of diving gear. Air hoses and a telephone line were connected to his helmet. He could only spend minutes in the depths as the pressure would force nitrogen into his blood. That could cause strange behavior: blindness, symptoms of drunkenness and unconsciousness. Sibitsky was to attach a half inch steel cable to the escape hatch of the Squalus. Sibitsky was lowered into the water and followed the cable from the Penacook down. When Sibitsky reached the bottom he discovered the Penacook cable had caught on a railing about four feet from the hatch they needed to use to get the men out. Sibitsky spotted the broken cable from the buoy and disconnected it to keep it from interfering with the diving bell. The downhaul cable from the diving bell was lowered and Sibitsky hooked it to the middle of the escape hatch. That simple task took him 22 minutes. It took 40 minutes to return him to the surface and he was placed in a recompression chamber. Lt. Commander Momsen knew there were 33 men alive in the Squalus. He planned to bring them up in four trips with 7, 8, 9 and 9. He was hoping the diving bell would hold 9. The chamber in the bell was 10 feet high and 7 feet wide. It had an upper and lower chamber which could be attached to the submarine with a rubber seal. At 11:30 am Torpedoman's Mate John Mihalowski and Gunner's Mate Walter Harman were loaded into the upper chamber and lowered into the depths. It took half an hour to lower to the Squalus. Mihalowski maneuvered the rescue chamber over the escape hatch and bolted the diving bell to the hatch. They opened the hatch and loaded the first 7 survivors into the bell. The men were chosen by Lt. Naquin, the Squalus commander based on his assessment of who was the weakest. At about 2:00 pm the first seven climbed out of the diving bell onto the deck of the Falcon. On the diving bell's second trip Momsen ordered 8 survivors be brought up. Chief Machinist's Mate William Badders had a different idea. He had operated the bell more than anyone else and was convinced it could handle more men. The bell came back up the second time and Momsen thought it looked too heavy. The rescue would require 5 trips not 4. Nine survivors emerged from the bell. Momsen told Badders he brought up too many men but told him to do it again. The third trip went smoothly and 9 more men arrived on the Falcon at 6:27 pm.

The final rescue began at 6:41 pm and the final 8 men including Lt. Naquin were loaded into it. The bell began to ascend at 8:14 but at 160 feet below the surface it stopped. The steel wire had jammed on the reel. The men would heave the wire to clear it. It did not work. As the men hauled on the wire it began to break apart. The diving bell was gently lowered back to the bottom. Chief Torpedoman Walter Squire was sent down to free the wire. He attempted to unshackle it but it was too taunt. He cut the wire and the freed bell bounced off the Squalus. Torpedoman's Mate Jesse Duncan was sent down to try. His diving suit caught on the frayed wires. As he struggled to free himself he fell onto the diving bell and got entangled in those wires. He was finally freed and hoisted back to the surface. Metalsmith Edward Clayton was sent down and he got entangled in the lines as well. Momsen decided it was too difficult to attach a new wire. They would haul the bell up by hand with the frayed wire. Momsen told McDonald to blow the ballast tank for 3 seconds every time he gave the word. On the Falcon the men took hold of the half broken preventer wire. They pulled but the 21,600 pound bell was too heavy. McDonald was told to blow water out of the ballast tanks for 15 seconds. Six men on deck pulled on the wire. The bell was still too heavy. Another order for a 15 second ballast blow was given. The men pulled again and the bell began to move. Soon the frayed portion of the wire was on the deck and after 4 and a half hours the bell made it to the surface. All 33 Squalus survivors were now safe.

A final effort had to be made to determine if there were any survivors in the torpedo room. They may have been able to close the door and hold back the flood from the engine room. Badders and Mihalowski climbed into the bell again and were lowered to the Squalus. The bell was lowered to the hatch and bolted in place. Badders climbed into the lower chamber and opened the hatch. Water flooded in to his waist until Mihalowski blasted compressed air into the chamber and forced the water back into the submarine. The torpedo room was completely flooded. No one could have survived. The bell returned to the surface. The rescue of the Squalus crew was over.

The Navy wanted to find out what happened and salvage operations began. The Squalus was raised from the bottom on September 13, 1939 and the bodies of 25 men were recovered. One seaman had apparently gotten out of the hatch and his body was never recovered. The Squalus was cleaned out, repaired and recommissioned as the Sailfish in February 1940. The Sailfish sank seven ships during World War 2. The conning tower now serves as a memorial to those who died at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Divers William Badders, James McDonald and John Mihalowski were awarded the Medal of Honor for their efforts.

So, please take time to follow those things that arouse your curiosity. There are lots of great stories out there.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Do You Follow Your Curious Nature?

I am once again in the process of scanning my Grandmother Harriet's journals. Today while scanning I came across an entry dated May 1939 which said only this: "The submarine Squalus sank." Well, one of the hazards of being a history major in college and having a curious mind is being unable to let something like this just pass. The usual questions came to mind. How? Why? Who? What? Well, Google is a wonderful thing. Google revealed an article from the New England Historical Society titled "The Greatest Submarine Rescue Ever: Saving the Squalus."

The date, May 23, 1939. The location, nine miles off the coast of New Hampshire. The USS Squalus had been launched from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in September 1937. It was named for a small shark with a big bite. Since the launch the Squalus had successfully completed 18 test dives. No one expected any trouble on this her 19th dive. The sub was commanded that day by Lt. Oliver Naquin. He was in charge of 4 officers, 51 enlisted men and three civilians. At 8:40 in the morning Lt. Naquin gave the order to dive. The submarine began a steep dive but at about 60 feet something went wrong. The Squalus began to level off and the crew in the forward compartments felt a slight flutter. They heard over the battle phone frantic voices in the engine room to take her up. The main air induction valve had either opened or failed to close. The reasons were never discovered. Tons of seawater gushed into the engine room. The crew tried to raise the Squalus. They closed the flooded aft compartments and attempted to close the induction valve. They forced compressed air into the ballast tanks to lift the Squalus to the surface. It was then that torrents of water surged into the forward compartments. The Squalus began to sink to the ocean floor. Chief Electrician's Mate Lawrence Gainor realized water was flowing into the aft battery room. The batteries would short out and explode. He crawled through a narrow opening and turned the first switch to the batteries off. This set off a small lightning storm however he managed to shut the other battery switch off just in time. The submarine went dark. Lt. Naquin ordered the watertight steel door between the operating compartment and the aft battery room closed. Electrician's Mate Lloyd Maness held the door open long enough for eight men to claw their way to safety. The Squalus sat 240 feet below the surface of the ocean. When it failed to surface as scheduled at 9:40 am. Rear Admiral Cyrus Cole was sure the Squalus was in trouble and knew quick action was required. By 11:00 am he had summonded the USS Falcon, a minesweeper stationed in New London, CT and called Washington requesting the Navy's best divers. The situation was dire. No submarine rescue had succeeded in the past at a depth exceeding 20 feet. They were entering uncharted territory.

One of the key figures in this rescue attempt would be Lt. Commander Charles "Swede" Momsen. He was a submarine rescue expert and the head of the Experimental Diving Unit. On the day of the Squalus sinking his unit was completing the final test on the use of mixture of helium and oxygen to prevent decompression sickness or the bends. Momsen had commanded a submarine in 1925 that had made a futile attempt to rescue another submarine that had been struck by a passenger ship. He had vowed to find a way to rescue trapped submarine crews. He had invented an underwater breathing device called the Momsen lung. He had also conceived a diving bell that would be used for the first time to try to rescue the crew of the Squalus.

Inside the Squalus Lt. Naquin ordered the men to stay calm, lie down and not talk. He felt it would do the most to preserve the 48 hours of oxygen he felt they had left. Each man was issued a Momsen lung and reminded how to use it. Soda lime powder was spread on the decks to absorb carbon dioxide. The marker buoy was ordered released from the deck. It was attached by a long cable and had a telephone in it. The letters on the buoy spelled out "Submarine sunk here. Telephone inside."  At 12:55 pm the day after she sank the submarine USS Sculpin recovered the marker buoy and made contact with the Squalus. They learned the high induction was open, the crew compartment and forward and aft engine rooms flooded. It was shortly after that the cable connecting them snapped.

Tomorrow, the rest of the story.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Tybee Yard

Before we left Tybee for Northlandia I took a few pictures of the yard.

Rose decided to get into this picture. She is wearing her Thundershirt. It is designed to comfort dogs when there is a thunderstorm. If we get it on her before it begins storming it works pretty well. If we wait too long it is really tough to get her calmed back down.

Those are little grapefruits. If things go well they should be ripe around Christmas. The tree is more loaded than previous years.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Play Ball

John's youngest daughter Johnnie Lynn turned eight years old in March. She wanted to go see a St. Louis Cardinal baseball game as one of her birthday presents. So on June first we went to an afternoon game to see the Cardinals play the Dodgers. It turned out to be one of those great days to watch a baseball game. The weather was in the low 80's and the sky was overcast. It meant we weren't baking in the St. Louis sun. There are plenty of ways to see a ball game. Bleacher seats, box seats, first base side, third base side, outfield, just lots of choices. I thought it would be fun to sit on the Coca Cola Patio in straight away center field. It had the bonus of having your food and drink included in the price of the ticket. When a beer at the ball park can cost over $10 it seemed reasonable to pay more for the ticket and have those drinks included. Johnnie could have all the Coke products she could drink. Since I like to experience things though Johnnie's eyes I gave her the camera and had her take pictures.

She wanted a picture of her father and grandfather before we left. I'm wearing my Cardinal hat. It is a bit dated since it shows the Cardinals as 9 time World Series champions. They have now won the title 11 times.

Since I paid for the tickets I had John drive our car. So Johnnie wanted a picture while we were on the road.

This is the view of the field we had from our seats. There was only one time during the game we had to stand up to see a play. One of the Dodger players hit a long fly ball to the warning track in center field and we had to stand to see it caught by Dexter Fowler.

The people in white standing along the first and third base lines are members of the United States Navy. The large group behind home plate are new recruits taking the oath and joining the Navy that day. Join the Navy, watch a Cardinal game and off to basic training.

The band pictured above played God Bless America. The group farther away was tasked with singing the national anthem. I know in the recent past there have been individuals who felt compelled to kneel or refused to stand for the national anthem. While I disagree with their manner of protest I do respect their right to do so. There was no protest this day. Everyone stood and respected the playing and singing of the anthem.

Yadier Molina, the Cardinals catcher warms up in the outfield in right field. He stopped his warm up routine to pay his respects to the flag and the anthem.

The game has begun. It turned out to be a low scoring event. Adam Wainright was the Cardinal pitcher. The game ended with the Cardinals winning 2-0. The only runs were scored in the second inning when Wainright hit a two run homer into the left field bullpen. Pretty tough when you have to pitch and drive in all the runs.

There is a story behind every picture. The players pictured here are relief pitchers heading for the clubhouse after the game. One of our friends on Tybee by the name of Mike has a nephew who plays for the Cardinals as a relief pitcher. He was called up from triple A Memphis the day before and I was hoping to get a picture of him on his first day as a major league player with the Cardinals. He has previously played in the majors with the Braves. He, unfortunately, is not in this picture.

So, how did the day turn out? Well, Johnnie says it was the "the best birthday present ever". She's only 8 years old so hopefully the future will hold even better gifts. Having made that disclaimer I think Grandpa hit a home run this year.