Lifeboat of S. S. Park Victory to be preserved

In my last S. S. Park Victory post, I promised to tell the story of the discovery of one of the ship’s lifeboats. The Victory ships were outfitted with four steel lifeboats, each 24 feet long with 27- to 29-person capacity.

Lifeboat #1 on the S. S. Park Victory, January 1946. Photo credit: Harold Hoffman.

According to Park Victory historian Jouko Moisala, when the ship sank [link], only three of the lifeboats were deployed. After the rescue of the sailors using them, these three boats were returned in February 1948 to the Luckenbach shipping company that operated the Park Victory.The fourth went down with the ship. But what became of it?

Two months later, Iivari Suni and Erik Öhman were the first two divers to go down to the wreck. Their mission was to see how the coal the ship was carrying could be retrieved. Moisala believes these two divers must have cut the life boat loose, as it was likely in the way of bringing up the coal. As a result, the boat was lost to Park Victory history. That is, until Moisala received an email this past January from a man who had heard one of Moisala’s Park Victory lectures. The man knew the whereabouts of an old lifesaving boat and attached this picture.

Remains of Park Victory lifeboat. Photo courtesy of Jouko Moisala.

Moisala went to see the boat the next weekend. “There it was in the middle of the bed of reeds and full of trash,” he says. “That man told me the boat had been a property of an old smuggler of spirits from Estonia and Poland. This was quite usual in Finland after the war.” Moisala was told the smuggler had gotten the boat in Utö, the island off which the Park Victory sank, and it had been on land since 1960. From comparing photos Moisala took of the remains of the boat with the one taken by seagoing cowboy Harold Hoffman in 1946 that I had sent him, as well as photos of Victory ship lifeboats from the S. S. Red Oak Victory museum in California, Moisala found identifying marks that made him certain this was, in fact, the missing Park Victory lifeboat. What an exciting discovery!

Moisala and his wife set to work in frigid February weather emptying the boat of its trash. Finally in June, the boat was able to be shored up enough to move it off the spot where it had rested for so long.

Moisala gets help from friends in moving the Park Victory lifeboat. Photo credit: Jouko Moisala.

The boat was later moved into Turku to the grounds of a diving equipment manufacturer where Moisala began work on it in August. Moisala has quite a project on his hands! I’ll be eager to see the finished product! As I’m sure he will be, too.

Rex Miller and Jouko Moisala look over the remains of the S. S. Park Victory lifeboat, July 13, 2018. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller.

Jouko Moisala and I at his S. S. Park Victory lifeboat project in Turku, Finland, July 13, 2018. Photo: Rex Miller.

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Utö islanders commemorate S. S. Park Victory

On our recent trip to Finland, we had the opportunity to travel to Utö, the southernmost year-round inhabited island of the Finnish archipelago off which the S. S. Park Victory sank in 1947. A small island of .31 square miles, it’s history is linked to the sea.

Rex and I on our way to the Utö lighthouse. Photo credit: Jouko Moisala.

With our host and guide Jouko Moisala, we walked all around the island. He pointed out to us the place where the Park Victory rests.

The S. S. Park Victory lies some 40 meters deep on the other side of the narrow rocky island to which I’m pointing. Photo credit: Rex Miller.

Four divers prepare to go down to the Park Victory. Photo courtesy of Jouko Moisala.

On a tour of the lighthouse, guide Hanna Kovanen shared her family’s story of the stormy night the ship went down and the role the islanders played in the rescue of the survivors. The call for help went out at 3:00 Christmas morning. Hanna’s short-statured grandmother trudged through waste-deep snow to get to the pier. She hauled an unconscious man over her shoulder to her house, took off his wet clothes, warmed him, and washed the oil off him. When the man came to, he later said he looked up and thought he must be in heaven because he was looking at an angel. The man was Allen Zepp, captain of the Park Victory.

Jouko shows us the Park Victory display in the island’s small museum. Captain Zepp’s photo is on the wall in the center of the picture. Photo credit: Peggy Reiff Miller.

Hanna’s grandmother took in another man who had dark curly hair that looked like it had been washed, but she thought he was still covered with oil. When scrubbing didn’t take the darkness away, she discovered he was a black man and had, in fact, already been cleaned. She had never seen a black man before.

Hanna said the islanders didn’t have extra winter clothing, so they pulled out their summer things to dress the scrubbed survivors in. Finnish Army clothes were also available from the small Finnish Defense Forces station on the island. The survivors were so grateful for the care they received from the islanders that after they arrived home they sent 100 pounds of sugar and 100 pounds of coffee to Utö, items that were rationed for the inhabitants at the time. The goods were apportioned to all the families on the island. Their gratitude led them to each pay their share for what they received into a fund that was used to commission a memorial for the ten sailors who lost their lives in the wreck.

Candelabra commissioned by the people of Utö in memory of the ten Park Victory sailors who lost their lives. Photo credit: Peggy Reiff Miller.

The Park Victory’s isn’t the only shipwreck commemorated on the island. The Draken went down in 1929 on her way to England with a load of timber. The ship wrecked in a storm against a little rocky island just 150 meters from the shore of Utö. Two men tried to make it to shore. One made it; the other didn’t.

Rex and I at the Draken memorial. The cross is for the sailor who lost his life, the star for the one who lived. Photo credit: Jouko Moisala.

Utö did not have a rope rifle that could have shot a rope to the sailors to pull them ashore. A shopkeeper in Turku on the mainland sent them one two weeks later, and new life was breathed into lifesaving work in Finland, with the Draken’s captain, Niilo Saarinen, becoming head of the Finnish Maritime Rescue Society.

Our island trip ended all too soon, but the Park Victory story doesn’t end here. Another chapter is beginning with the discovery of one of its life boats. More on that in September.

One last personal note on our trip: we were amazed that our four-hour ship ride through the archipelago’s mass of rocky islands to Utö was free! The ship was part of Finland’s public transportation system, making stops at four islands to transport locals and tourists alike to and from the mainland. I still marvel at that!

A map on the ship showing its route. Photo credit: Rex Miller.

A day with Jouko was not complete without ice cream! Photo credit: Jouko Moisala.

S. S. Park Victory painting delivered in Finland

I would never have guessed a decade ago when I interviewed Norman Weber that I would one day be standing where he had stood in 1946 as a seagoing cowboy in Turku, Finland! But that is where my own seagoing cowboy journey took me and my husband two weeks ago. The purpose of the trip was to deliver a painting of the S. S. Park Victory to Jouko (pronounced Yoko) Moisala, the painting given to me by seagoing cowboy Fred Ramseyer.

Anne and Jouko Moilsala look on in anticipation as Rex Miller unpacks the S. S. Park Victory painting. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller.

Jouko couldn’t take his eyes off the painting. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller.

Jouko is a diving instructor based in Turku who has been diving the shipwreck of the Park Victory since 1974. He has acquired numerous artifacts from the wreck and done extensive research and written a book about the ship. And now he has a painting of the ship as it was viewed by an Italian artist in 1946 to add to his collection for which he is seeking a permanent exhibit place. Jouko served as editor of the Finnish Diving World magazine for twenty years and is well-known in the diving community. He does a number of presentations around Finland about the Park Victory. Jouko arranged an incredible week for us in Turku. We will be eternally grateful to him and his lovely wife Anne for making this such a special time for us. Photos follow:

Seagoing cowboy Norman Weber poses at the G. A. Petrelius monument overlooking Turku, Finland, November 1946. Photo courtesy of Norman Weber.

Jouko took us to the statue in Norm Weber’s picture. Photo: Jouko Moisala.

The first thing we saw at Jouko’s house was this hatch cover from the S. S. Park Victory. Small hatch covers like this one could be used as a life raft if necessary. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller.

Park Victory artifacts are found in many places. This Park Victory chain decorates a flower bed beside a home in Turku. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller.

A few of the many historical posters Jouko has made to tell the story of the Park Victory. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller.

Boxes of artifacts from the Park Victory. A lump of coal is in the box. All portholes in the ship were shattered in the sinking. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller.

Rex holds a sextant from the Park Victory. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller.

Dinnerware salvaged from the Park Victory. Photo: Jouko Moisala.

Jouko gave me one of the plates that was likely from the officer’s mess hall. Something I will always cherish! Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller.

Yet to come the end of August: account of a trip to the island of Utö off which the Park Victory sank.

S. S. Park Victory painting travels to Finland

The Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be in Finland when this post goes live. I’ll be delivering a painting of the S. S. Park Victory given to me by seagoing cowboy Fred Ramseyer. Fred traveled to Poland on the S. S. Park Victory’s second livestock trip in December 1945. When I interviewed Fred in 2007, he showed me the painting he had of his ship.

An artist’s depiction of the S. S. Park Victory off the coast of Naples, Italy. May 1946. Photo: Vicki Dreher.

Here’s the story:

On his voyage, Fred became friends with the ship’s night cook and baker, Eddie Carlson. Fred helped Eddie at night just to have something to do. He remembers making candy with Eddie and that Eddie, who played the guitar, spent a lot of time with the cowboys. Eddie must have taken a liking to Fred especially, because some time after Fred had gotten home Eddie paid him a visit.

Eddie hitchhiked to Smithville, Ohio, where Fred lived and asked a man on the street for “Freddie.” The man turned out to be Fred’s father who took Eddie to the house. Eddie presented the painting of their ship to Fred and went on his way. Eddie had stayed in service on the S. S. Park Victory for another trip after Fred’s that went to Greece. On the way home, the ship had docked in Naples to pick up ballast. An enterprising painter on shore had painted the picture and Eddie acquired it.

Fred had the painting framed, along with his Merchant Marine card. It has graced his home ever since. At age 92, he wanted to find a good home for the painting. He called me to see if I would like to have it. I said, “Yes! And I know who would REALLY like to have it and will see that he gets it.” I explained about the interest in Finland in the S. S. Park Victory and shot off an email of inquiry to my contact there, Jouko Moisala. His response: “I am really very interested in the painting!!!!!”

So in March, Fred’s longtime friends Don and Vicki Dreher, who have often traveled with Fred and assist him now, drove Fred the three hours to my home. We had a lovely visit.

Don and Vicki Dreher on an outing with Fred Ramseyer. Photo courtesy of Vicki Dreher.

Fred left me not only the painting, but also a Park Victory life jacket light and whistle he had, all of which I am delivering to Finland to be placed there with other memorabilia of the ship.

Fred Ramseyer and Peggy Reiff Miller holding the painting of the S. S. Park Victory. Photo: Don Dreher.

Life Jacket light and whistle from the S. S. Park Victory, 1946.

As our conversation came to an end, Fred said, “I’m glad the picture will do some good in the end, because the trip was the highlight of my life.”

Next post: Delivering the painting in Finland.

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.

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!