Saturday, February 11, 2012


The sail-driven maritime freight trade was entering the autumn of its era when the Dirigo slid down the ways on February 10, 1894.  Three hundred and fourteen feet long, built to carry four masts that reached 200 feet above her decks, weighing in at 3005 tons, she made a spectacular splash as she crashed into the waters of the Kennebec River in Bath, ME, her sleek black hull gleaming in contrast to the snowy riverbanks.
Dirigo, circa 1910-1915 (Plummer/Beaton photographic collection (courtesy of San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park)
Tens of thousands of coasting schooners (rigged fore-&-aft, many with centerboards – as opposed to fixed keels - for access to shallow waters) had plied the waters of the East Coast, the West Coast, and the Gulf of Mexico since the late 18th Century, and square-rigged China trade ships had crossed the oceans all over the world for just as long. But all of these sailing predecessors were wooden-hulled ships. Dirigo, a Latin word meaning “I lead” and the State of Maine’s motto, was the first steel-hulled sailing vessel built in the United States. With the construction of Dirigo, A. Sewall & Co. led wooden shipbuilding into the steel age, to much public acclaim.

Arthur Sewall – the man who had built her - hoped that she’d live up to her name and pay for herself. Times were tough as a depression settled on the economy, and no one could afford to have cargo ships lying idle.  Dirigo was designed by J.F. Waddington of Liverpool, England, and she cost $157,000 to build. The steel plates for her hull were produced by Messrs. David Clolville & Sons, and came all the way from Motherwell, Scotland.

To a degree, Dirigo did pay for herself. After she was launched, the tugboat C. W. Morse towed her to Philadelphia, where she was outfitted as a square-rigger.  She was laden with a cargo of 121,000 cases of oil bound for Japan, captained by an old friend of the Sewall family, George W. Goodwin of Calais, ME.  Initially her speed was not outstanding, a concern with the growing competition from steam-driven ships, but as the captain and crew became familiar with the new ship, her efficiency improved, although she was never swift. Goodwin made suggestions for several improvements, but in general was pleased with the way she handled.

Sewall had a dream that within his lifetime, he would see powerful shipyards on the Kennebec River producing the finest steel ships in the world. He did not live to see that dream entirely fulfilled, for his shipyard was the only one in the US to switch to steel. He died in 1900, only six years after Dirigo launched.  Four years after Dirigo, Sewall launched her sister ship, Erskine W. Phelps, to equal fanfare. Evidently Sewall had found the investment in Dirigo profitable.

She did acquire a little claim to fame. In February of 1912, Jack London and his wife Charmian boarded the Dirigo in Baltimore, for a trip around Cape Horn. They sailed to Seattle and returned home in August.

Dirigo had several captains over her 23-year lifetime:
1894-1902  Captain George W. Goodwin, Calais, ME
1903-1904  Captain Lewis S. Colley
1904-1909  Captain George W. Goodwin.
1909-1911  Captain Omar E. Chapman.
1911-1917  Captain Walter M. Mallett.
1917  Captain John A. Urquhart, Brooklyn, NY.

Dirigo remained in Sewall’s fleet until 1915, when G. W. McNear, Inc., in San Francisco bought her. This firm engaged in shipping oil and grain. She worked in Pacific waters for a while, but McNear didn’t hold her for long: she was sold again in March 1916 to C.C. Mengel & Brother, Inc., of Louisville, KY, a lumber company, and then again that November to Axim Transportation Co. of Anchorage, AK, which used Pensacola, FL, as a homeport.  She worked out of that port for six months. Then on May 31, 1917, she sank about 6 miles southwest of the Eddystone Rocks off the coast of Plymouth, England, the victim of torpedoes launched by German submarine UB-23 (the Hans Ewald Niemer). One life was lost.

(Another vessel contemporary to our square-rigged sailing bark Dirigo was an ocean-going passenger steamship also named Dirigo, built in 1898 at Hoquiam (Gray’s Harbor, about 40 miles west of Olympia, Washington) and used in the Alaska trade during the Klondike Gold Rush.  In several photographs dating from 1898, she is shown moored at the docks in Skagway, District of Alaska. These are two separate vessels.)

A few other photographs of Dirigo exist, but most of them are copyrighted against any use without permission. You can see some at Maine Memory Network, a project of the Maine Historical Society which provides an online museum and database.

Yakowicz, Susie, “Steel Glory: The Life of Shipbuilder Arthur Sewall (1835-1900)”

Emanuels, George, “Early California Voyages”

Wreck Site

Vintage Maine Images, also part of the Maine Historical Society and associated with the Maine Maritime Museum

Maine Memory Network, a project of the Maine Historical Society

Friday, February 3, 2012


Edward Baker Lincoln (1846-1850)
On February 2, 1850, Abraham and Mary Lincoln stood in Hutchinson Cemetery in Springfield, IL, and bade farewell to the younger of their “dear codgers,” 3-year-old Eddy, who had died the day before after a 52-day struggle with an illness. As the small coffin sank into the wintery grave, the little family, reduced to three, sank into an equally wintery grief.

Because Eddy was so young when he died, not much is known of him. He was born on March 10, 1846, and named after Edward Dickinson Baker, a US senator and former law partner of Lincoln. (Baker was the only sitting senator to be killed in battle while serving as a Union officer.) Lincoln reported to a friend eight months after Eddy’s birth that the baby compared favorably to his big brother at the same age, but was “of a longer order” (taking after his lanky father) than Bobby, who was “short and low” (like his mother).

Eddy is reported to have been a sweet child, precocious and talkative. He wasn’t quite two when in late 1847 the family traveled, by train and steamboat, to Washington City for Lincoln to serve in the US House of Representatives. During Lincoln’s term, the toddler often referred to his father as having “gone tapila,” baby language which his parents took to mean “gone to the Capitol [Building].”

Mary discovered after a few months that life in a few rented rooms across from the Capitol was far from the ideal she had imagined. In Springfield, the status of the wife of a Congressman had powerful, unique standing; in Washington, she was just one more freshman Congressman's wife among dozens. In the spring of 1848, she took the children, Robert (4) and Edward (2), to her family’s home in Lexington, KY. The Todd homestead proved to be an environment far more suited to active youngsters than Mrs. Spriggs’ cramped boarding house on Capitol Hill.

Eddy took after his father in his love for animals.  Writing from Lexington to Lincoln in Washington, Mary relates in May 1848 that Bobby brought a kitten home (“your hobby,” she emphasizes to her husband) which delighted Eddy.  The toddler fell upon the orphan feline with utmost tenderness, insisting that water be brought for it. He hand-fed the kitten with crumbs of bread. When his grandmother (who hated cats) spied the kitten, she had a servant throw it out immediately, deaf to Eddy’s shrieks of outrage.

The Lincolns lavished love and affection upon their children, disregarding discipline and indulging their passions. They called the boys their “blessed fellows” and “dear codgers.”

Eddy was not a robust child. He was prone to sickness. He fell ill in December 1848 while Mary and the children were still at her family’s home in Kentucky. Mary left Bobby behind and took Eddy home to Springfield to nurse him.

A year later in early December of 1849, Eddy came down again with a serious illness, marked by a high fever, brutal coughing fits, and overall exhaustion. It snuffed out his short life within fifty-two days.  Although no one knows for sure, historians speculate that the illness was either diphtheria or pulmonary tuberculosis, also known as consumption. (One online Lincoln research site states that in 1850, consumption killed more Americans than any other disease).

Life after Eddy’s death was nearly unbearable for Mary Lincoln, who mourned throughout most of her third pregnancy. The December 1850 birth of their third son, William Wallace Lincoln, was one factor that helped pull Mary out of her slump. Another which helped her re-emerge into the world after the funeral was the regular attendance that the little family soon took up at Springfield’s First Presbyterian Church. The pastor, Dr. James Smith, had conducted Eddy’s funeral service.  His ministry and wisdom provided Mary with the strength to look to the future. Lincoln benefited from Smith’s work as well, and a deep friendship developed between the Lincolns and Dr. Smith.

Eddy's original gravestone
But the death deeply and permanently marked Mary. Her former bubbly nature succumbed to a hardening personality, and she refused to relinquish any shred of connection with her little boy. With the death of her mother when she was only six years old began a pattern which became tragically familiar over the course of her life. By the time she died in 1882, she had lost two more of her four sons and had seen her husband killed before her eyes. To assuage these strains, she delved further into spiritual matters, skirting the fringes of madness. By 1863, she engaged regularly in séances to contact her sons on the other side. She frightened her younger half-sister Emilie Helm with animated, intense, trance-like descriptions of dreams she had of Willie and Eddy coming in the company of her deceased half-brother Aleck to comfort her. Such tragedy in the life of a woman with an rock-bound core of emotional control would have shaken her foundation; in the life of one whose emotional stability was compromised from the start, it’s a wonder that Mary Lincoln did not go mad.

A few days after Eddy’s funeral, a four-stanza poem about his death appeared in the Illinois State Journal, author unnamed. The last line of the poem ("Of such is the kingdom of Heaven") was etched on Eddy’s gravestone. Most historians guess that Mary or Abraham Lincoln penned the poem; perhaps they both worked on it.

Little Eddy lay in the Hutchinson Cemetery until 1865, when he was relocated to the Oak Ridge Cemetery to be with his father and his brother Willie whose bodies were brought from Washington after Lincoln’s assassination. In the Lincoln Tomb today rest Lincoln and Mary, with their three youngest sons – Eddy, Willie, and Tad (given name: Thomas). Oldest son Robert, the only son to live into adulthood, is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Eddy's original gravestone is on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum in Springfield.

Lincoln, Abraham, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Roy P. Basler, editor, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ, 1955.

Turner, Justin G. and Linda Levitt Turner, Mary Todd Lincoln, Her Life and Letters, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, 1972.

Randall, Ruth Painter, Lincoln’s Sons, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, MA, 1955.

Emery, Tom, Eddie: Lincoln's Forgotten Son, History in Print, Carlinville, Illinois, 2002.

Wheeler, Samuel P., Lincoln Studies: Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War,
Emerson, Jason, The Madness of Mary Lincoln, Southern Illinois University Press, 2007.
Abraham Lincoln Research Site, Eddie Lincoln, by Roger J. Norton