A Birthday Present for the Sky Pilot of the Great Lakes

A Birthday Present for the Sky Pilot of the Great Lakes

One hundred years ago on this day, January 20, 1915, the U.S. House of Representatives, on the recommendation of then President Woodrow Wilson passed the Coast Guard Act of 1915. The bill (S. 2337; a bill “To create the Coast Guard by combining therein the existing Life-Saving Service and Revenue Cutter Service.” ) had been introduced to the U.S. Senate on May 16, 1913 by Senator Charles E. Townsend of Michigan, was referred to committee and ultimately passed by the Senate on March 12, 1914. The bill, if signed in to law, would form the United States Coast Guard by merging the existing Revenue Cutter Service and the United States Life-Saving Service. More importantly to the “Sky Pilot of the Great Lakes” Rev. William H. Law, it would provide an updated pay structure and provide pensions to the men in their service. The battle for a law favorable to the welfare the life-savers and their families had been waged by many as early as the late-1800’s. William H. Law, as part of his mission, took it upon himself to inform the public and their representatives in government of this need as early as 1900, after his own life was rescued by men of the USLSS. In his 1902 publication, “Life Savers in the Great Lakes”, W. H. Law includes the following intent: These pages are written and sent out as an expression of appreciation for the services of the Life Savers in taking the author, his son, and a friend from a stranded yacht, with a hope that the people’s representatives in the United States Congress may be favorably disposed toward a bill pertaining to the Life Savers now in the hands of a committee. Though these earlier attempts at the passage of a bill to enact a pension for the men in the USLSS had failed, W. H. Law persisted in his efforts to garner support for a pension bill to be enacted. Working with Senator Charles E. Townsend, they would draft a bill that the Senator could bring to the floor and have a chance of being passed. One of the main sticking points of such a bill was the fact that the USLSS was in essence a civil service and that by granting pensions to the members they would be opening the door for the pensioning of all civil service employees. In order to get around this, the bill would be worded instead as a reorganization plan, combining the USLSS and the Revenue Cutter service into a new organization called the Coast Guard with provisions to place them under the authority of the military, thus removing them from civil service. “If they pensioned the lifesaver they left the field open to the vast array of civil service employees. They [the government] couldn’t do that, so we decided to ask for a reorganization putting the lifesaver on par with the naval reservist and the navy men, where he belonged,” W. H. Law stated to the Detroit Free Press in 1915. While Senator Townsend was preparing to bring the bill to the floor in 1913, the Sky Pilot of the Great Lakes started a lobbying campaign of his own, sending various letters and stories of the brave men of Life-Saving Service directly to the homes of the very Senators and Congressmen who would have a chance to vote for the passage of this bill. The letter was well received and many congressmen and senators wrote back assuring they would do everything they could for the passage of the bill. One senator from a landlocked state sent this reply to Rev. Law: We senators and congressmen from states in the interior have little or no personal knowledge of the Life Savers, and I want to thank you for the information you have given me. I have read with a great deal of interest what you mailed me for it came to my home. Your interesting stories concerning the Life Savers were read by my family and talked over at the dinner table. It was thoughtful of you to send your literature to congressmen and senators while at home, for when in Washington they are very busy. May I trouble you to state, what, in your judgment, would be the best course of procedure to improve Service. From what I have read, I have faith in you and I am sure from your experience in having personally visited all the stations on the Great Lakes, and by keeping in touch with those on the various oceans by mail, you are in a position to give me the material I need in drafting a bill. Rest Assured...

A Christmas Message for the Lightkeepers and Coast Guard People (1919).

A Christmas Message for the Lightkeepers and Coast Guard People (1919).

Copy Of A Typewritten Letter As A Christmas Message for the Lightkeepers and Coast Guard People.   135 Pine St., Detroit, Mich., Dec. 25, 1918 My Dear Friend:- Christmas Greetings from myself – Sinbad the Sailor, who also extends greetings from the Lightkeepers and Coast Guard people and Old Father Neptune the Storm King, and his Mermaids throughout the Great Water World. I am sitting in my own quiet room upstairs, down below on the ground floor there is a little Christmas tree beautifully trimmed, and about it there is dancing a little boy we call “Golden Locks,” because of his ten distinct ringlets hanging loosely over his ears and neck. This is our three-year-old grandson, Billy Moore. There are several other grandchildren on their way to Grandpa’s and Grandma’s house, and soon I must join them in a Christmas celebration. What a wonderful thing the institution of Christmas is, deriving its name, and especially the beautiful spirit of cheer, of hope, and of kindly consideration that characterizes Christmas, from Christ Himself, who nearly 2,000 years ago, left his sacred footprints in the sands along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, as He went about doing good.   “The hands that helps is better than the lips that only pray. Love is the ever gleaming star that leads the way, That shines not on vague worlds of bliss, But makes a paradise in this.”   If you hear anyone say there is no such thing as “Santa Claus,” that it is a “delusion” and a “myth,” please remind him of the fact that it is the spirit kindness, the disposition to sacrifice for others, a kindly generous spirit in the beauty of sacrifice that seems to be in the very air at this period of the sweet Yuletide, that takes possession of everybody that has a heart to feel – this bright and beautiful spirit is Santa Claus. The good natured, fat, jolly, red faced and red nosed old chap, with his reindeers, sled and rich warm furs, is Santa Claus in a form that can be understood by the smallest children; this is Santa Claus in the rough, but the real Santa Claus is the spirit that puts him in motion and furnished him with the goods, for be it remembered, the giver is greater than the gift.   “O, little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie, Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by. Yet in thy dark streets shineth the Everlasting Light, The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”   The war is won, and now as never before, we realize that the greatest element of success is our firm faith in our ability to succeed through courtesy and efficiency. May you learn to look at the bright side, keep the sunshine of living faith in your heart and never let the shadows of discouragement and despondency fall upon your pilgrim path. Very sincerely, W. H....

Spiders gather poison where bees gather honey: Aftermath of the Mataafa Storm

Spiders gather poison where bees gather honey: Aftermath of the Mataafa Storm

“The public is apt to run to extremes.” One of the many quotes from the Sky Pilot of the Great Lakes, Reverend William H. Law I ran across in my research for the book that shows not much has changed in the past 100 years. This particular quote comes from an article in the Duluth News Tribune, Dec. 8, 1905 in the wake of the Mataafa disaster.  If you are unfamiliar with this particular event,  I would point you to a great book on the subject, “Luck of the Draw- The Mataafa Story” by Robert M. Abrahamson. Suffice it to say the disaster was one of many wrecks caused by a storm that occurred on the Great Lakes on November 27-28, 1905. Rev. Law happened to be in Duluth during the storm, later writing first-hand accounts of the many wrecks and the bravery of the U.S. Life-Saving crew in their efforts to save as many sailors as possible. In the aftermath of the storm, which took the souls of 36 and destroyed or severely damaged 29 vessels, the public in trying to make sense of the death toll lashed out and criticized the local life-saving crew, the same crew whose selfless acts that day saved many, for not doing enough. We see these reactions even today when events happen that are hard to grasp. We, the public, tend to take the easy road when grappling with complex events that are beyond our control. It is easier for us to assign blame to any one particular component of the overall event than to accept the reality that these events can be and most-often are the culmination of many factors that may or may not be within our control. Even when they are within our collective means to control, we still tend to choose the easy path of assigning blame rather than striving to correct the issues to prevent them from happening again. Rev. Law, in seeing the injustice being dealt the brave crew of the Life-Saving crew rightly determined that this should not stand and took it upon himself to set the record straight:   LIFE SAVERS NOT TO BLAME W.H. Law of Detroit Says They Did Everything Possible. “Familiar with the duties of life saving crews by 20 years of service among the life savers along the chain of lakes from the Big Sandy at the foot of Lake Ontario to Duluth and acquainted with every captain in the service, l declare without hesitancy that the life saving crew of Duluth heeded well the call of duty in attempting to rescue the crew of the steamer Mataafa, nine of whom perished from exposure on the wrecked boat a few feet from shore a week ago Tuesday night.” So spoke W. H. Law of Detroit, Mich, last night. He is a missionary to the lighthouse keepers, life saving crews, their families and the fishermen on the islands of the great lakes. He witnessed the Mataafa disaster and has come to the support of the life crew with an answer to adverse criticism of the manner in which the crew confronted danger. “The public is apt to run to extremes,” he said. “It is like a strong inexperienced boy who knows not his own strength and is difficult to control. There is a disposition on the part of a number of well meaning- men women to criticise the life saving crew, but they are to be pardoned as they know not or the seaman’s or life saver’s life. “Although Captain McLennan and his men were not on the scene until some time after the boat struck, they are blameless. They were on duty the night before and were three miles away with their heavy apparatus rescuing the crew of the steamer England when notified or the Mataafa‘s distress. “Even had the crew been on the scene earlier in the afternoon it is doubtful whether the nine men who lost their lives on the stern of the Mataafa could have been saved. The heavy seas made it impossible to fasten a line even if the life saving crew had succeeded in shooting one over that part of the ship. “The exhausted life saving crew walked three miles to the wreck and when they arrived and for hours after, a surf boat was out of the question as no boat could have lived in the waves which scaled the stranded vessel and cut lite lines to pieces on the jagged rocks. “It is well to consider the combination of circumstances which contributed to defeat. Spiders gather poison where bees gather...

To all a Happy Thanksgiving!

To all a Happy Thanksgiving!

I just wanted to drop a note to thank everyone that has followed my journey this year and to wish you all a safe and happy Thanksgiving with family and friends. -J “Most of all to be remembered with delightful recollections are those family gatherings, the family circle of nine boys and two girls, with father and mother, around the winter’s fire; not the kitchen stove, but the real fire, the brightly blazing hospitable fire in the big, old-fashioned wood fireplace in the farm house of the old homestead. There is no restriction, no restraint of any sort, and certainly no affectation of style. We told stories, we laughed, we often all sang together. We were serious and gay by turns. We younger members of the family would engage in some games or play while father and mother are discussing some hard point of theology in the minister’s last sermon, or perhaps the great danger coming to sound, Christian morals from the multiplication of card parties and country dances.” ~ Rev. William H. Law, 1927...

2014 Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival Recap

2014 Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival Recap

This past weekend my wife Kim and I attended the 2014 Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival as vendors. The four-day event provided activities for the young and old including lighthouse tours (aerial, boat or personal vehicle), entertainment, and vendors. The festival boasts over 100 maritime related vendors including lighthouse preservation groups, artists, authors and more. I was signing copies of Sky Pilot of the Great Lakes and Kim was showcasing her Lighthouse and Nature Photography. We met a lot of nice people and made some new friends among the other vendors and patrons. I finally got to meet and spend some time with Tim Harrison, editor-in-chief of Lighthouse Digest Magazine, in person. We had emailed many times in the past about Sky Pilot of the Great Lakes but this is the first time seeing each other in person. Tim was very gracious and helpful in promoting the book for me, in fact I credit him for personally selling a quarter of the total copies of Sky Pilot of the Great Lakes at the event. I also got to spend some more time with Terry Pepper, Executive Director of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keeper’s Association. We had met briefly in Mackinaw City last July while I was touring Michigan supporting the book but we had a lot more time at this event to discuss future endeavors. Terry is also a very gracious and helpful supporter of the book and it was good to be able to spend time with him. Russ Franzen, of Great Lakes History in Song, was also in attendance and was kept very busy serenading the festival attendees with his catalog of historical songs. If I had to guess which song he played the most at the event I would guess it was his new song about The Sky Pilot of the Great Lakes which he recently wrote after reading the book. I enjoyed sending people who purchased a copy over to Russ’s booth and have them request the song. He did a really good job capturing the story in his song and I hope he can get a recording of it soon so everyone can enjoy it. Keep an eye on his website for it. Grace Truman, author of Storms and Sand: A Story of Shipwrecks and the Big Sable Point Coast Guard Station, was also present at the festival manning a booth near to ours. Grace was a big help in gathering photos and information for Sky Pilot of the Great Lakes and it was good to finally meet in person. We shared many laughs and even more “business talk” – yes there is a business side to writing a book and we shared ideas on how to get the word out for our respective books. If you enjoy a good Maritime History book I highly recommend you check out Storms and Sand. We also made a new friend in Mike Mishler of Lincat Photography. Mike is a great photographer and his booth carried many great photos of Lighthouses and Great Lakes ships. He was nice enough to invite us to take part in an arts & crafts show he is putting together in Holly, Michigan later this year. Should be a good time and we’re looking forward to it. For those of you who could not attend the festival but would still like a signed copy of Sky Pilot of the Great Lakes, you can order one through my Square Marketplace Store.  ...

Happy Labor Day!

Happy Labor Day!

It’s been a while since I’ve released a blog post, and I only have myself to blame. Coming of the summer book tour which took me to many locales around the Great Lakes I found myself thrown back into the reality of having a day job. While it was fun and rewarding travelling around the Great State of Michigan in support of the book, Sky Pilot of the Great Lakes, life became a bit hectic in the remaining weeks of August and the bills demanded that they must be paid. So I resigned myself to the fact that Oprah has yet to read my book and tell her millions of followers to buy it, and therefore my focus had to turn back to daily tasks of earning my keep. I had planned on writing an expansive piece on Rev. Law’s thoughts on the strife between the Labor Movements and the corporations of his time as we had a lot to say about it. Unfortunately I ran out of time to have it ready for this Labor Day. Hopefully I will have enough time (and ambition!) to complete it for you by the next time Labor Day rolls around. Suffice it to say the Sky Pilot of the Great Lakes was in favor of people “getting a square deal” from those who employed them and he was not a fan of greedy corporations that squeezed their employees in name of making more profit. He was also not a fan of some in the Labor Movement who used strong-arm tactics to cripple industry as a tool to demand more than what was deserved. His thoughts on the subject were complex, some might say a bit naive, in that he believed corporations should strive to be moral when it comes to labor relations. But, alas, I failed in my task to have an article ready for this Labor Day that truly explains the expanse of his thoughts on the subject based on his beliefs and experiences in the time that he lived. Instead, I have decided to give a bit more insight into his own “Labor Movement” within his work toward rewarding the men of the United States Lifesaving Service. In that regard I am including in this post the full text of the article that ran in the Detroit Free Press two days after the passage of the Coast Guard Act of 1915. Law had spent the previous 15 years lobbying the government of the Unites States in instituted better pay and pensions for those in the USLSS and Lighthouse Service and while the passage of this bill was only half the battle (Law would continue his efforts to bring the Lighthouse Service under the umbrella of the Coast Guard for the rest of his life) you will see he was quite pleased with the results so far:   REAL “DADDY” OF PENSION LAW FOR LIFESAVERS HAPPY Detroit Free Press: Jan. 22, 1915 — Senate’s Action Victory for “Sky Pilot of Inland Seas” — Worked unceasingly for his “2,000-Mile Parish” — W. H. Law, “Laughing Doctor, “Wins Fight for Friends on Great Lakes There’s a roly-poly, laughing, ruddy-faced 62-year-old sailor in Detroit these days who is leaving himself open to criticism for conduct unbecoming a bishop with a 2000-square mile parish and silver locks. He is W. H. Law, 135 Pine Street. Known from Pawtucket Light to the last light tower in the Alaskan hinterland as the “Sky Pilot of the Great Lakes”, “The bishop of the Inland Seas” and “The Laughing Doctor.” The cause of his personal mirth is the passage Wednesday by the senate of a bill which will place life-savers on par with navy men and naval reservists, and – this is the important point – pension them on retirement. Never Quit Fight When this important bit of news percolates to the last life saving station, the “Sky Pilot’s” mail will assume the proportions of that of a mail order house, for the “Sky Pilot” is the real daddy of the life-savers pension bill and when others after years of discouragement were giving up, he kept on developing new ways of bothering congressmen and senators to gather their support. The bill provides a 10 per cent increase in pay at the end of every five years of service, and after 30 years the chance to retire with 75 percent of the salary and allowances as a pension. It also places the life-saving service in a new department, The United States coast guards, subject to orders from the Treasury Department. Senator Townsend of Michigan drafted the bill and assumed charge of it after submission....