The Seagoing Cowboy story alive in Finland!

The Christmas Eve sinking of the S. S. Park Victory as told in my December 22 post is a famous shipwreck in Finland and popular among divers. This former livestock carrier went down with a load of coal that stormy night.

Diving the S. S. Park Victory. Photo copyright: Erik Saanila.

Diving the S. S. Park Victory. Photo copyright Erik Saanila.

One has only to search the term “Park Victory” on youtube to find multiple underwater videos of dives to what remains of the vessel. Jouko Moisala, diving instructor and editor of a Finnish diving magazine, has written a book about the history of the Park Victory that was released this past October.

Jouko Moisala celebrates with his publisher, Anne Pentti, at the launch of his book. Photo courtesy of Jouko Moisala.

The book includes a section on its livestock carrier history for which I served as a resource. This part of the ship’s history was not widely known in Finland before the book came out.

Listing in Jouko’s book of the livestock trips made by the Park Victory.

Seagoing cowboy crews in Jouko’s book.

It remains to be seen whether the book will be translated into English. I’ll let you know if it is! It is currently being translated into Swedish.

Jouko has put together a series of large posters on the Park Victory‘s history for an exhibit and has been making appearances around Finland sharing the story.

Poster #3 of Jouko’s exhibit on the S. S. Park Victory.

My upcoming posts will include stories of some of the Park Victory’s livestock trips. Its demise off the shores of Finland was not its only accident.

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The Christmas Eve fate of the S. S. Park Victory: not to be forgotten

In Finland there is a national reading of the Christmas Peace at noon every Christmas Eve. On the island of Utö at the farthest edge of Finland’s southwest archipelago, this reading will be followed at 1:00 p.m. by the lighting of ten candles in the island’s chapel. These candles represent the ten seamen who lost their lives in the sinking of the S. S. Park Victory on Christmas Eve 70 years ago.

Photo courtesy of Jouko Moisala.

The S. S. Park Victory delivers horses and heifers to Poland, December 1945. Photo by Will Keller, Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

The Park Victory will be remembered by many seagoing cowboys for the six trips she made as an UNRRA livestock carrier, October 1945 through December 1946. She is remembered quite differently in Finland, however. In December 1947, she was delivering a load of coal to Finland, possibly for the Marshall Plan. She anchored in good weather near the lighthouse off the island of Utö  before dark on Christmas Eve, awaiting orders as to whether to proceed to Turku or Helsinki the next day. During the night, a wicked snow storm descended on the ship. The gale-force winds dislodged the anchor, and the ship fought for her life. The rocky coastline won, however, breaking into and flooding the engine room.

The distress signal was sent out and lifeboats lowered. At risk to their own lives, help was dispatched from the fishing community of Utö. A small military craft captained by Thorvald Sjöberg found a group of seamen huddled on a low reef. Between the winds and underwater rocks, there wasn’t a safe way to reach the men. Captain Sjöberg kept his craft nearby until daylight when they were able to get a rope to the men. One had died of hypothermia and the rest were in bad condition, some having survived the night in little more than their underwear. In all, thirty-eight of the seamen were found, rescued, and compassionately tended to by the brave Utö islanders.

Rescuing Captain Thorvald Sjoberg, the widow of Park Victory Captain Allen Zepp, and Hanna Kovanen, who was ten years old at the time of the sinking, reunite on Uto, summer 2017. Mrs. Kovanen will light the ten candles on Christmas Eve in commemoration of the seamen who lost their lives. Photo courtesy of Jouko Moisala.

In memory of those who perished:
Mose Andersson, F.W.T., 19
Augustine Bebrant, Messman, 50
Eric Cain, Assistant Electrician, 36
Herbert Deglow, Oiler, 23
Michael Duffy, Chief Electrician, 50
Henry Holste, Junior Third Mate, 65
Rex Jackson, Wiper, 40
Juan Lopez, Chief Cook, 50
Daris Mitchell, Junior Engineer, 51
La Verne Woods, Junior Engineer, 19

A Blessed Holiday Season to my readers.
~Peggy

Sources for this post: correspondence with Jouko Moisala, and the article “The Gloomy Christmas Eve at Sea” by Martin Latimeri.

This is a famous shipwreck in Finland and popular among divers. More on that in my next regular post in January.

Thank you, Seagoing Cowboys!

At this time of Thanksgiving, I have much to be thankful for as relates to my work:

First of all, I’m thankful for a supportive husband and family who give me the space and the grace to follow my passion of telling the seagoing cowboy story.

I’m grateful for the tremendous team at Brethren Press who have been hard at work with me to create our upcoming picture book The Seagoing Cowboy to be released in March. Illustrations by Claire Ewart bring the story to life in a “beautifully vivid” way, to quote my publisher, Wendy McFadden. Watch for the “cover reveal” soon.

I’m thankful for and excited about the increasing interest overseas in the seagoing cowboy and Heifer Project stories. I’m working with the Oberschlesisches Landesmuseum in Ratingen, Germany, on an upcoming exhibit that will include a display of the seagoing cowboys and Heifer Project shipments to Silesia after World War II. I’ll share more about that at a later date. And I’m working with Jouko Moisala from Finland on a display related to a famous shipwreck in December 1947 off the coast there involving one of the livestock ships, the SS Park Victory, after it ceased to be used for animals. There will be a 70th anniversary commemoration of this shipwreck in 2017 in which the history of this ship will be displayed. So many good things happening!

And most of all, I’m especially thankful for the many seagoing cowboys who have so graciously shared their stories, their photos, their diaries, and other materials with me. Their stories have been compelling enough to keep me busy for nearly fourteen years now. And what they have given to me enables me to share this fascinating history with the world. They carry a great legacy which is summed up in these lines from a 1946 ad in the Ephrata Review:

Men of good moral and ethical ideals who will conduct themselves in a manner which will be a tribute to their country and the program of which they are a part will be welcomed and respected by the people of Europe. It is felt that by learning to know these people and understanding their problems that the “cowboys” will become more valuable citizens to the country and the world.

And so they have.

The Heifer Foundation has set up a Cowboy Endowment that will help to support the work of Heifer International and honor the seagoing cowboys in the process. I invite you to join me in giving thanks for the service of these men by making today a day of “Thanks” and “Giving.” Learn more here.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!