1907: The S.S. Brunswick Mystery

1907: The S.S. Brunswick Mystery

March 9, 1907:  Mabel Potter’s father, Daniel Charles Potter, is on the way to join his daughter and the Hobby and Gibbs cousins at Camp Columbia near Havana, Cuba.  Ellen is his wife.

The letter is written on ship stationery, headed:


There’s the mystery.  I’ve found many ships, with their ownership history, construction data, and eventual demise at www.theshipslist.com/ but neither the Brunswick company, nor the ship itself, are listed on that site.  They do not claim to be complete.  My search turned up the Brunswick Shipping Company at http://www.shipsnostalgia.com/showthread.php?t=15509.  This thread noted “the Five ships owned by Brunswick S.S.Co Inc, Brunswick [Georgia].”   These ships, named after Georgia rivers, were the Ogeechee, the Ocmulgee, the Satilla, the Ossabaw, and the Altamaha.  They were build “between 1905 and 1907.”

So how did Daniel Charles Potter happen to be on a ship from New York to Cuba which had official stationery, but of which there appears to be no record?

I have no answer and would be delighted to hear from someone whose research techniques are better than mine!

Daniel Charles Potter, unknown year.

The letter, lightly edited, begins:

My dear Ellen

Isnt this a gorgeous heading?

Well it accords with surroundings inside and out.  I am writing in the “social hall” which is small but luxuriously fitted with upright piano &c. The day is hazy with brisk N.E. wind but the sun shines dimly and out through the open door to landward the rolling sea shows a deep intense blue with numerous crests of brilliant white and the leaden gray horizon slightly tinged with pink sunset not far away.

Appearance seems to indicate a N.W. storm, but thus far the storms flee before me.  The waters don’t ever seem to await the command to be still.

When we drew out of  [New York] at 1:30 on the 4th a storm seemed imminent, dense haze showed in west, and the wind lulled and puffed from every quarter and the weather was cold and disagreeable enough.  I would remain outside as long as I could endure it then go into state room to warm up.  Had a steam radiator there which kept temperature up to near eighty I should think.  Saw much of interest going out but won’t take time to write of it.  I kept sort of a log which you can look over if you like.  Yesterday morning when we must have been off the Delaware capes we had a little rain without much wind, then the wind hawed to the west and cleared.  So we ran out of the storm which I think you very likely had more of as it was probably central in the St. Lawrence Valley region.

I didn’t put on my overcoat or underclothes after the first day.  They would have been comfortable if I had to remain on deck long, though the temperature had much improved, but I was much of the time in my state room.  You know I was troubled with headache before I left home and I have been troubled with it considerably since.  I determined to get clear of it if possible especially as I realized it was just the condition to induce sea sickness.  Consequently I forbore to partake of the numerous temptations at the dining tables and slept all I could day and night.  Today I feel much better and have been down to a light breakfast—but wish I had fasted till night as my headache is not quite gone yet.

We have about 40 passengers with very few of whom I have yet become acquainted.  Some of them have been seasick though I should have hardly supposed there had been motion enough to cause it. All the way down the wind has been off shore till this morning and the water comparatively smooth.

During a.m. we lay quiet at anchor waiting for fog to clear, it wasn’t thick but a white horizon apparently about a mile away seemed to limit our view.  The fog thinned above and sun came out making it very pleasant, passengers all on deck visiting and enjoying themselves …  The low haze on the water did not clear though the wind raised and some swell set in.  At 11:00 the engines were slowly started, we were headed towards where the land ought to be, and with an officer at the bow heaving the lead we crawled slowly in.  The water shelved to fall from 50 to 35 feet, the engines were [reversed] and we backed hastily away, and again headed south, still nothing in view around us but the encircling fog.

Again we turned toward the shore and again not finding the bottom expected, have again headed S.S.E. and going ahead at good speed, the ship swaying quietly with the low swell as the wind sits in from the south.  Weather by no means settled, but the storm threatened yesterday doesn’t seem to materialize.

While I think of it you better enclose a few of my business cards in your next letter.

Later—To continue my narration:  The haze thinned away and land was discovered dim in the distance.  With a pilot boat, a big figure 2 painted on her mainsail, swinging at her anchor and apparently waiting for us, the water grew muddy, indicating the mouth of quite a [river], and the pilot boat appeared to be anchored at the extremity of a bar at its mouth.  A boat put off from her, manned by three men, and came along side.  Our [crew]  threw them a rope whereby one man climbed aboard, the others returning to their own craft.

Now we headed for an opening in the low shore where a tall light house showed and entered a really wide expanse of water between two islands, some of the famous “Sea Islands” which lie along so much of this coast, entirely of alluvium sill …and very fertile, where in the old slavery days was raised the famous long staple Sea Island Cotton…  

NEXT:  Mr. Potter recommends a book.

Easter 2017 and a letter written on Easter 1907

Easter 2017 and a letter written on Easter 1907

I’m skipping ahead in my posts on the Cuba/Panama papers, but back 110 years in family notes.

Cousin Mabel, whose life overlapped mine by 20 formative years,  wrote to her mother as she and her father sailed from Cuba after their family gathering there, to New York, from which they apparently would sail home on another line.

What interests me most in this letter is the date note:  “Easter 1907.”  Easter came on March 31 that year, and I am surprised Cousin Mabel mentioned the holiday instead of the date.  The Potter branch of my family maintained a social and community-service membership in the Unitarian Church. Their religious orientation was most likely, like many of our New England forebearers, deist, or maybe agnostic, rather than Christian.  One didn’t discuss matters of faith in our home.  I don’t know whether even Easter eggs were part of the early 1900’s culture, although spring flowers certainly were. I know Christmas gifts were sent between the Massachusetts and Iowa branches of the family (shipping time: two days by train), but the “Christ is born–Christ is risen–Christ will come again” belief was absent.  The  Parker/Hobby branch, at least those in Iowa, seem to have had even less interest in churches.

So, even with “Easter” noted on the heading of the letter, the content concerns only the voyage and their probable arrival date:

A line from Brunswick may reach you ere we do—I’ll risk it to let you know of our departure… We could scarcely expect better passage than thus far—tho rolling a little now—and tho’ not feeling ill I did not want to think of dinner—and sat on deck…Have been in Gulf Stream all day, beautiful color—gulf weed floating, a few Portuguese men of war, flying fish, porpoises—Florida coast barely in sight—Large number aboard—Have a little Atlanta girl for roommate to Brunswick—

Father is writing notes—and talking of a deal with the men who can give experiences on the island—goes to three meals and eats!

We are due in N.Y. Thursday—if late, shall probably stay over the night and Friday—but of course if we can shall get boat Thursday night—so you’ll have to be prepared for our reception on Friday—Father had a wild dream of stopping off at Newport en route—but as we’ve both rather more baggage than we can carry think he’ll have to come on!…

Much love & hoping to see you soon.   Mabel

Easter 2017:  Besides the fact that Easter is the most important religious celebration for us, and we revel in bells, candles, and alleluias,  the cultural differences amaze us.  From Mom-and-Dad-and-two-children (including me), or Mom-and-Dad-and-four-boys (including Skus), with baskets of decorated eggs, candy eggs, and one chocolate bunny per person, we celebrate now with a gathering of four generations, a dozen or so of the young ones hunting something over 200 plastic eggs with assorted prizes, a bountiful potluck including New England, western barbecue, organic, Hispanic, and Turkish specialties.  We enjoy (of course) the loveliest grandchildren in the full spectrum of coloration from Nordic blond to President Obama’s coffee color, not to mention the variety of tattoos and neon hair colors!  Cousin Mabel wouldn’t believe her eyes!  For that matter, when Skus and I are astounded.  I can only respond with tidbit of song from Burl Ives, “Praise God in the wilderness and glory be… Father, Son and Holy Ghost through all

Another day, I’ll post my detective work on the port of Brunswick and steamship lines of 1907.

Penny-Pinchers in a Luxury Resort

Penny-Pinchers in a Luxury Resort

January 27-29, 2015

Our concept of a good motel is one with clean, reasonably comfortable beds, complimentary breakfast, microwave and refrigerator.

When we signed up for our Panama Canal cruise, our main concern was transportation to the dock with luggage handlers available–worth paying extra  because we travel with my walker and his cane.  So we bought the cruise package that included the hotel and transportation.  Arriving the night before embarkation sounded like a good way to spoil the first evening aboard ship, so we stayed two nights at the Marriott.

We had no complaints about the environment or the service–it just isn’t our style, and we wanted our funds for souvenirs, not hotel luxuries.

To begin with, we object to queen or king beds because we can’t find each other on what seems like acreage.  It didn’t help that the extra-thick luxury mattress on top of extra-thick luxury springs on top of a rather high base made the bed inaccessible.  Skus managed to climb onto it.  I sort of got one knee up on the mattress and he grabbed my hands from the other side of the bed and pulled me up.  I suppose we could have called room service for a footstool or step.

We had Cup o’ Noodles with us, and that was all we wanted when we arrived.  We wouldn’t consider room service.  Normally we’d heat water in a motel coffee maker, but this luxury hotel had a fancy coffee maker with which we had to cook one at a time.

We treated ourselves to breakfast in what appeared to be the least expensive of the hotel dining rooms, and it came to $50 for the two of us.  Won’t do that again!

Our information indicated there was a 7-11 a few blocks from the hotel where we could use an ATM without an extra charge for our bank, and we planned to buy lunch there and bring home something for supper and the next breakfast.  Our sightseeing would be the seaside walk, and the weather was perfect that day.

From a bench near the shore we watched a couple of young men with a drone–the first we had ever seen.  I think we had a photo, but deleted that one by mistake.  Several ships passed by.

We looked at harbor cruise boats and luxury yachts as we walked by a large marina, and saw The Ship Hotel–shaped roughly like an ocean liner–and wondered what rooms were like there.

“The 487-room Yankee Clipper Hotel [Renamed the B Ocean] was built in 1956 to resemble a huge cruise ship. It recently underwent a a major renovation both inside and out… Inside is the famous Wreck Bar, where patrons can look out underwater portals and watch a “live” mermaid perform every Friday and Saturday night.”

The 7-ll seems to have been replaced by a trendy sandwich-and-salad bar, and no ATM.  The food cost more than the 7-11 would have, but it was excellent, and we took sandwiches and salad back to the Marriott for dinner and breakfast.

Our first sighting of a banana tree! Our walk gave us an unhurried look at tropical vegetation and made us very ready for a sound sleep before embarking on our Panama adventure.





2015 Hotel Mix-Up

2015 Hotel Mix-Up

January 27, 2015:  We arrive in Fort Lauderdale where we will embark on our Panama cruise.

A Holland America representative met us at the luggage claim area and escorted us to the transport service for our hotel.  This was part of the package deal which we greatly appreciated after our transcontinental flight.  It was now close to midnight, Florida time, and we felt like midnight although it was supposedly only 9 p.m. by our body time.  It didn’t help that we had left our packed lunch behind, had no time during transfers to buy food, and subsisted primarily on Southwest’s peanuts and pretzels for the day.

We had been told we’d have a ten-minute ride to the Harbor Beach Marriott Resort, but the ride was more like 20, but when the driver stopped the sign on the building was Westin, not Marriott.  I questioned the driver.  He showed us the computer print-out with his instructions, unloaded our luggage on the hotel cart, and left.  We thought perhaps the cruise company had made a last-minute change, and didn’t care where we slept, but the Westin had no reservation for us.

The front desk person tried calling Holland America and discovered their offices were closed for the night.  Fortunately I not only had an emergency number, but was able to dig it out of my tightly-packed carry-on.  The staff at the Westin talked to both Holland America and The Marriott which did have our reservation.  They thoughtfully asked if we had money for the taxi fare, which Holland America would reimburse once we were aboard ship.  That took some digging because most of our cash was hidden deep in our carry-ons, but we did have it.  The Westin staff called a taxi and their bellman not only loaded it on the cart but stayed beside us and watched while the driver loaded it.

The up side of all this was the taxi driver who gave us a running commentary on Fort Lauderdale layout and history.  We enjoyed that, but forgot most of it overnight.  It seems that 3000 air miles and midnight time don’t work well with one’s memory.

Bells sounded, crossing gates lowered in front of us, and we waited for a train.  No whistle, no motor, no headlight.  The driver explained that we had  topped for a draw bridge over the inland waterway that runs about 25 miles along the coast.

When we checked in with the Holland American representative in the lobby the next morning, he greeted us with “So you have a story to tell!” and reassured us that we would be compensated for the taxi fare, and Holland America was investigating to find out how the mix-up happened.  I’m sure they did, although we didn’t receive a report on it.

Harbor Beach Marriott Resort, Fort Lauderdale

But we would not have learned about the canal and its effect on Fort Lauderdale geography if it hadn’t been for that mistake, and it reminds us of Cousin Mabel’s lost luggage of 1907.  Such mix-ups happen in every century.

Los Angeles Surprise!

Los Angeles Surprise!

Our daughter told us to save a weekend for an excursion to Los Angeles.  We don’t drive these freeways, so Los Angeles might as well be the Canadian border for us and we anticipated seeing one or two places of interest with the Southern California part of our family.

Before the special weekend, they borrowed our van, which seats eight, “for a school field trip–and we’ll bring it back by mid afternoon.”

Mid afternoon:  Our daughter brings back the van and calls us to “See who’s here!”   The man coming from the front passenger seat can’t be here in California–he lives in Washington–what is a clone of our son-in-law doing HERE?  No clone!  His wife (our youngest daughter) and three children pile out.    THIS is “the rest of your Christmas present,” because plane tickets cost too much in December, so we’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day in Los Angeles.

The “field trip” was an “alternative fact” because they needed our eight seats for the airport pickup.

The next few days included three of Los Angeles’ special sights enhanced by the grandchildren  (and their parents) from Washington State.

Of course I postponed writing and posting for that week, and then for another week for surgery (not mine–my spouse needed a few days of pampering).

Intentional art? Shadows on the pavement at The Getty Museum.
The Kelp Forest acquarium in the Science Center–entrancing for ages 2 to 85. Watch fish swimming on both sides of the viewing tunnel and overhead.
Los Angeles at night from the Griffith Observatory height–with too long an exposure but a pretty pattern.





1907 Baggage Mix-up

1907 Baggage Mix-up

February 25, 1907.  Mabel Potter, whose father is due to arrive in Cuba soon, writes her mother:

My dear Mother,
Is after ten o’clock–but I want to write this to go in tomorrow’s mail–that you may hear as often as possible…The only thing I can think of [for father to bring] is coarse white beaded pins (on the box cube in top bureau drawer) and some hairpins if are any there–such things are much higher here–

Would be a good idea to have a bathrove–but the heavy one is most too bulky to bring perhaps–Will has his heavy one–and is good thing to make the pilgrimage to the bathroom–This shower bath is great–wish we had one–with cement floors and nothing to harm, one can splash ad infinitum.

We are going bathing soon now–you may have wondered at some of the things I did or didn’t do in last few weeks–and I can explain now there was a mistake or oversight about my trunk and I have just gotten it!  I wouldn’t tell you before as knew you would worry and feel so badly–Really it’s not been serious–but had limited my activities and would have been so if I could have spent only these two weeks!  For I just had traveling clothes and one change of underwear–Got material for a white waist [blouse] and a light dress–both done now–but of course taken time from other things to sew–Could not tramp in long skirt and light shoes–neither atten any special functions.

Mabel Louise Potter. Photo taken in New York, 1908.  Age 35.

Trunk was in stateroom and should have followed me–Mr. Liston said it would take about half an hour to get it through customs but when asked Dr. and Carl they said some three hours … and George said could not get thru until mid afternoon–so did not send for it until Monday a.m.–at which time it had gone back [to a U.S. port]!!!

Moral–look out for baggage yourself at the time–meanwhile have gotten quite acquainted with the Agents of the Line here–and today met the Capt. in office–

Don’t spend time crying over spilt milk–but I knew I’d have to tell, as father could likely hear of it en route!…


Cruises: 1907 and 2015

Cruises: 1907 and 2015

Cousin Mabel’s letters from 1907 and Will Hobby’s journal from 1914 turned into action our wish to cruise the Panama Canal.

What if
we were to follow
the path of William Richard Hobby
from Cuba to Panama, through the Canal
and on up the Pacific Coast to San Francisco,
visiting each port where he stopped
and searching for vestiges of what he saw
in 1914?

Better yet, to do it in February to March, 2014?  Not a no-sooner-said-than-done proposition!  Our income is below average.  We are still working to complete our new home.  We have brothers and sisters, shirt-tail relatives and friends, grandchildren and great grands, in several states, and use our travel resources to see them.

Consider that Will was 29 years old and we are well over 70, that he had been tramping and moving around Texas, Cuba, and the Panamanian construction area on foot, by horseback, on trains and steamships, toting surveying equipment up hill and down.  We tote canes and plan accessible routes.

Consider that in 100 years the “so little known Pacific Coast” has developed industrial and cruise ship ports, that governments have risen and fallen, violence has moved from revolutions to drug cartel!–not to mention changes brought by airplanes and computers!

Cuba was off limits, but Holland America ships pass within (dim) sight of Cuba, through the Panama Canal, and up the coast as far as San Diego.  We could visit two ports where my grandfather’s ship docked, and perhaps another year sail from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

We follow a friend’s advice:  “Your only responsibility is to have a good time.”

We sailed from Fort Lauderdale January 29, 2915.

Whatever my grandfather saw of Florida in 1906 or 1907, it wasn’t anything like this!


Despicable Desecration

Despicable Desecration

Why did Donald Trump avoid condemning antisemitism?

After the desecration of Jewish graves in Missouri, and apparently prodding by Ivanka and probably by some of his advisers, he finally used the word in a clear, and appropriate statement:  

“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community [and] community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.” 

I wonder if he has avoided the term before because a goodly proportion of his alt-right supporters are antisemitic and he doesn’t want to offend that much of his base.

Some years ago we visited Nez Perce National Historical Park in Idaho.  While we were at the visitor center an elderly Nez Perce lady burst in out of breath, in tears. “They’re setting off firecrackers in the cemetery and turning over grave stones. I was visiting my father…”  The ranger ran to her pickup and took off down the road to investigate.  We’ll never forget that lady’s distress.  You delinquents who do such a thing, is that the way you would treat your own grandmother?  

Cemetery desecration, and the attitudes that allow it, are below despicable.

Dodd-Frank and Retirement Accounts

Dodd-Frank and Retirement Accounts

President Trump promised wholesale gutting of regulations.  I can’t argue with the idea that reviewing government regulations is a good idea, including Dodd-Frank, but it sounds as if the people he promised to protect against Wall Street are not the ones benefiting by his executive orders.

I don’t pretend to understand Dodd-Frank or Wall Street or the banking business, but I do remember an AARP article celebrating the “fiduciary rule” [Don’t ask me to explain fiduciary.] which requires advisers for retirement accounts to work in the best interest of their clients.  Shouldn’t any service business work in the best interest of its clients?

Normally, if a person I hire, or whose advice I seek, does not work in my best interest, I’ll find someone else.  But suppose I have a few thousand dollars to invest:  The reason I would ask for advice is that I have no idea how to invest wisely.  I am as dependent on that adviser as I am dependent on a surgeon to use the best surgical technique for my condition.  I haven’t time to learn how to analyze investment possibilities, and I’m not even sure I have that kind of intelligence.  I work with words, not dollars and interest rates.

I don’t even know how to find a dependable financial adviser.  I’ve never known anyone in that business.

It seems to me that requiring retirement account advisers to work for their clients, not just to increase their own bank accounts, is a very good rule.

I also suspect that Dodd-Frank might also be one of the reasons Wells Fargo’s fake account scandal was brought to light and stopped.  If it wasn’t Dodd-Frank, it was some other banking regulation, or several of them.

It looks as if President Trump wants to give big banks and big business free rein at the expense of those he said he was going to protect.

Cuban Souvenir from 1907

Cuban Souvenir from 1907





Besides coral, seeds, and dried flowers, Mabel–or her father who arrived later–purchased a bamboo cane, then a common accessory for ladies’ dress.  It was probably been a gift for Ellen Potter, Mabel’s mother, who had not accompanied her husband to Cuba.  Someone had to stay home and supervise the farm.  Perhaps Ellen was less adventurous than her husband and daughter.

The inscription, “Cuba 1907” on the cane told me its origin.  Maybe this was marked by the Cuban craftsman, but I think it was more likely engraved by Daniel Charles Potter who was an accomplished woodworker.