Survey Associates, Inc. via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Survey Associates, Inc. via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

6 Deadly Labor Disputes

Survey Associates, Inc. via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Survey Associates, Inc. via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Labor Day is upon us, a day to say goodbye to summer and enjoy a picnic with family and friends. But it’s also a day to remember the struggles of working people, and to recall the pioneers of the U.S. labor movement. These folks brought us the 8-hour work day, overtime pay, and collective bargaining. They also worked to eliminate paternalistic employer practices, child labor, and unsafe working conditions. The history of labor relations is littered with strikes that often cost lives. Here are just a few of those you should know about.     

1. The Haymarket Affair // Chicago, Ill.

Getty Images

Who: Chicago police vs. protesting laborers
Date: May 4, 1886
Dead: 11 (seven policemen, four protesters)

Workers in Illinois were mandated an 8-hour workday in 1867. But even afterward, if you wanted a job, you were often required to sign a waiver allowing more hours. State oversight was lax, so workers had little recourse until the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions called for a rally on May 1, 1886. Demonstrations were held in various cities, and 80,000 workers marched in Chicago. The demonstrations continued for several days. Chicago police killed a few striking workers on May 3, prompting a labor meeting on May 4 at Haymarket Square.

The mayor of Chicago had granted permission for the rally, but Chicago police showed up and tried to disperse the crowd anyway. The rally was almost over by that time, and only a couple of hundred workers remained. Someone from the rally threw a homemade bomb filled with dynamite at the police. The police began shooting, and when the smoke cleared, seven policemen and four rally attendees lay dead. Only one policeman was found to have been killed by the bomb. Dozens on both sides were injured.

Eight men among the labor activists were rounded up and charged with murder. Most weren’t even at the rally, but were labor organizers. They were all found guilty and sentenced to death, except for one who was sentenced to 15 years hard labor. Two of the death sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment, and one man was found dead in his cell a day before the execution. The other four were hanged on November 11, 1886. In 1893, the surviving three men were pardoned by the governor. May 1 was later declared International Labor Day to commemorate the demonstrations for the 8-hour workday.

2. The Battle of Homestead // Homestead, Penn.

Who: Carnegie Steel Corporation vs. Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers
Date: July 6, 1892
Dead: 12* (nine strikers, three Pinkerton agents*)

The Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers union members made up only about a fifth of the workers at the Homestead steel plant. When their contract was about to run out in 1892, Amalgamated tried to negotiate a raise for its workers. Carnegie Steel countered by offering a pay cut, take it or leave it. The company locked the doors of the plant on June 28. Henry Clay Frick, who oversaw operations for Carnegie Steel, had barbed wire and guards placed around the plant to keep workers out. A wall was built around it, which the workers dubbed “Fort Frick.”

The plan was to bring in non-union labor from cities far from Pittsburgh. But first, they brought in 300 men from the Pinkerton Detective Agency to keep Homestead workers out. The armed agents were brought in on barges traveling up the Monongahela River on the evening of July 5. Thousands of striking workers rushed to watch, bringing guns. At midnight, workers warned the agents not to step on land, but they did, and that was when the shooting began.

B.H.L. Dabbs via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

No one knows who shot first, but the gunfire raged on and off for 14 hours. Workers not only fired their rifles, but threw dynamite and tried to set the river on fire with oil. The Pinkerton detectives finally surrendered on the afternoon of July 6. They were removed under a gauntlet of abuse, and the barges were burned after they left.

The workers celebrated their victory, but it was only one battle in a longer war. The governor sent in the Pennsylvania National Guard to keep order, and to ensure safe passage for strikebreakers brought in to reopen the plant. Strike leaders were arrested for murder and treason. They weren't convicted, but the union was broken in Homestead. Most of the striking employees were rehired within a year, at reduced wages.  

3. The Pullman Strike // Chicago, Ill.

Who: Pullman Palace Car Company vs. The American Railway Union
Date: July 7, 1894
Dead: 30

Workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company near Chicago, which manufactured railway cars, went on strike on May 11, 1894, to protest a 25 percent pay cut and 16-hour workdays. The American Railway Union, which represented a minority of the Pullman workers, only got involved after the beginning of the strike. The union instructed its railway worker members to refuse service to trains that used Pullman cars. By the end of June, over 125,000 workers had walked off the job nationwide.

As more union workers joined the railroad boycott, the public became angry about the interruption in service. Once a mail train was set on fire, President Grover Cleveland became angry as well, and he sent federal troops to Chicago. The head of the ARU, Eugene V. Debs, tried to urge restraint among workers, but an injunction from Washington prohibited the union administration from communicating with the rank-and-file. On July 4, workers rampaged through rail yards, setting fires and destroying equipment in response to the federal intervention.

Library of Congress // Public Domain

On July 7, thousands of police and federal troops clashed with thousands of protesters. National Guardsmen shot into the crowds, killing around 30 people. Debs, who was arrested on July 10, tried to end the strike by offering to send workers back to their jobs under company conditions, but the railroads instead hired non-union workers. The railroads inched back to regular service, and the boycott was broken.

4. The Ludlow Massacre // Ludlow, Colo.

Survey Associates, Inc. via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Who: Colorado Fuel and Iron Company vs. United Mine Workers of America
Date: April 20, 1914
Dead: Dozens (numbers vary by source)

In September 1913, 11,000 miners across southern Colorado went on strike against several mining companies, protesting low pay and unsafe conditions. The strike lasted over a year. The company responded by evicting miners and their families from company housing, which led to thousands of people living in tent colonies. The tent colony in Ludlow, near Trinidad, was particularly large. The mines in that area were operated by Colorado Fuel & Iron Corporation. CF&I hired agents from the Baldwin Felts Detective Agency to harass miners. The detectives brought an armored vehicle with a mounted machine gun called the “Death Special,” from which they fired on striking miners. There were occasional deaths on both sides.

The Rockefeller family, who owned the mining operation, called on the governor of Colorado to send in the National Guard. When they arrived, striking miners thought they were there to protect them from the hired agents, but soon saw that the National Guard was there to impose CF&I control.

On April 20, 1914, the shooting escalated into an all-out battle. Baldwin Felts agents and the militia set fire to the tent colony. Some women and children fled into the wilderness, while others took shelter in cellars they had dug under the tents. In the cellar of tent #58, two women and 11 children suffocated as their tent and its wooden floored blazed above. Two other women survived to tell the tale. Several other people were shot to death.   

Bain News Service via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The miners, outraged at the massacre, destroyed mining operations all around the area, and traded shots with the militia until federal troops were sent in. By the time the strike was over in December 1914, the union was out of funds and somewhere between 60 and 200 people had been killed. Hundreds of miners and a few militiamen were arrested for murder, but not convicted. Even though the union lost the strike, national publicity about the working conditions of Western miners led to new federal safety regulations for mines. The site of the Ludlow Massacre, on land owned by the UMWA, is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. The story was remembered in a folk song.

5. The Battle of Matewan // Matewan, W.V.

Who: Stone Mountain Coal Corporation vs. United Mine Workers
Date: May 19, 1920
Dead: 10 (seven detectives, two miners, one mayor)

At the Stone Mountain Coal Corporation's mines in Matewan, W.V., the hours were long, the conditions unsafe, and the pay was low. The company even controlled commerce: It paid in script that could only be redeemed at the company store, and rented company houses to employees. Coal miners in West Virginia had heard about miners in Pennsylvania that had won a 27 percent raise through the United Mine Workers, so when the union came to organize West Virginia in the spring of 1920, miners signed up. Stone Mountain responded by firing union members, which meant they were to be evicted from company houses.

Matewan mayor Cabel Testerman and police chief Sid Hatfield refused to carry out evictions of the miners and their families, so Stone Mountain hired the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, operated by the three Felts brothers. They sent agents to evict miners throughout the spring. By May 19, tensions were high in the community, and hundreds of families were living in tents. That day, a group from the detective agency arrived by train in Matewan to evict six more miners. They worked through the afternoon, and returned to town to have dinner before the train left. Mayor Testerman confronted the agents (called “thugs” by the townspeople) about the evictions. Sid Hatfield threatened to arrest them. Albert Felts produced an arrest warrant for Hatfield. The group was surrounded by angry and armed miners. That’s when the shooting began.

Jimmy Emerson, DVM, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Most accounts say that no one knows who shot first, while at least one states that Hatfield shot Albert Felts first. When the gunfire was done 10 minutes later, seven detectives—including both Albert and Lee Felts—two miners, and Mayor Testerman were dead; a number of townspeople were wounded.

State police were sent to Matewan to keep peace. Hatfield and 22 others were indicted for murder, but those whose charges weren’t dismissed were acquitted by a sympathetic jury. Hatfield married Testerman’s widow a couple of weeks after the mayor’s death, leading to some speculation that Hatfield actually shot Testerman. In 1921, the surviving Felts brother, Thomas Felts, arranged for his agents to assassinate Sid Hatfield and his deputy Edward Chambers. There were no charges leveled against the detectives.  

6. The Milwaukee Transit Strike of 1934 // Milwaukee, Wisc.

Milwaukee Sentinel via Milwaukee Notebook

Who: The Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Company vs. The American Federation of Labor
Date: June 26-28, 1934
Dead: 1

The employees of the Milwaukee Electric Rail & Light Company were represented by a union called the Employees’ Mutual Benefit Association. But the workers felt that this in-house union wasn’t on their side, especially when the rail engineers, bus drivers, streetcar drivers, and mechanics had to take a pay cutin 1932. The American Federation of Labor wanted to move in and unionize the utility and restore wages. Company president S.B. Way opposed the AFL, and fired eight workers for union recruiting. A strike was called on June 26, 1934, in which laborers from other unions, many unemployed, joined the strikers and blocked streetcars from moving. Twelve were injured on the first night, 16 on the second night, and dozens were arrested.

On the third night, June 28, thousands of striking workers descended on the utilities' various facilities, bent on destruction. At the Lakeside Power Plant in St. Francis, rioters broke through windows to get in and destroy the building. One group rammed a steel post through a window, and it connected with a high-voltage control panel. Eugene Domagalski, a 24-year-old strike sympathizer, was electrocuted. On the same night, a bomb ruptured a major power line.

The next day, Way met with AFL officials of three unions and a priest as a negotiator. He gave in to the unions’ demands: a small wage increase and reinstatement of union organizers who had been fired. The trains and streetcars were running again on June 30th.   

There are many other labor disputes in U.S. history that turned deadly. Look for more in a future post.

15 Reasons You Should Appreciate Squirrels

Even if you live in a big city, you probably see wildlife on a regular basis. Namely, you're sure to run into a lot of squirrels, even in the densest urban areas. And if you happen to live on a college campus, well, you're probably overrun with them. While some people might view them as adorable, others see them as persistent pests bent on chewing on and nesting in everything in sight. But in honor of National Squirrel Appreciation Day, here are 15 reasons you should appreciate the savvy, amazing, bushy-tailed critters.


A flying squirrel soars through the air

In one study [PDF] of the tree-dwelling plantain squirrels that roam the campus of the National University of Singapore, squirrels were observed jumping almost 10 feet at a stretch. In another study with the eastern ground squirrel, one researcher observed a squirrel jumping more than 8 feet between a tree stump and a feeding platform, propelling itself 10 times the length of its body. Flying squirrels, obviously, can traverse much farther distances midair—the northern flying squirrel, for instance, can glide up to 295 feet [PDF].


A squirrel digs in a grassy field filled with fallen leaves.

In fact, they may be more organized than you are. A recent study found that eastern fox squirrels living on UC Berkeley's campus cache their nuts according to type. When given a mixture of walnuts, pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts, the squirrels took the time to hide each type of nut in a specific place. This method of "spatial chunking" may help them remember where the nuts are when they go to retrieve them later. Though the study wasn't able to determine this for sure, the study's results suggested that the squirrels may have been organizing their caches by even more subtle categories, like the size of the nuts.


Looking up a tree trunk at a squirrel climbing down

Tree squirrels are one of the most important animals around when it comes to planting forests. Though they may be careful about where they bury their acorns and other nuts, they still forget about quite a few of their caches (or at least neglect to retrieve them). When they do, those acorns often sprout, resulting in more trees—and eventually, yet more acorns for the squirrels.


A man holds a truffle up for the camera.

The squirrel digestive system also plays an important role in the survival of truffles. While above-ground mushrooms can spread their spores through the air, truffles grow below ground. Instead of relying on the air, they depend on hungry animals like squirrels to spread their spores to host plants elsewhere. The northern flying squirrel, found in forests across North America, depends largely on the buried fungi to make up its diet, and plays a major role in truffle propagation. The squirrels poop out the spores unharmed on the forest floor, allowing the fungi to take hold and form a symbiotic relationship with the tree roots it's dropped near.


A squirrel stands on the knot of a tree trunk looking down at the ground.

You may not be too impressed when you see a squirrel running down a tree, but they're actually accomplishing a major feat. Most animals can't climb vertically down head-first, but squirrel's back ankles can rotate 180°, turning their paws all the way around to grip the tree trunk as they descend.


A white squirrel in Olney, Illinois stands on its hind legs.

Squirrels are a more popular town mascot than you might think. Surprisingly, more than one town wants to be known as the "home of the white squirrel," including Kenton, Tennessee; Marionville, Missouri; the Canadian city of Exeter, Ontario; and Brevard, North Carolina, the location of the annual White Squirrel Festival. But Olney, Illinois may be the most intense about its high population of albino squirrels. There is a $750 fine for killing the all-white animals, and they have the legal right-of-way on roads. There's an official city count of the squirrels each year, and in 1997, realizing that local cats posed a threat to the beloved rodent residents, the city council banned residents from letting their cats run loose outdoors. In 2002, the city held a 100-Year White Squirrel Celebration, erecting a monument and holding a "squirrel blessing" by a priest. Police officers wore special squirrel-themed patches for the event.


An illustration of different regions of the brain lighting up in blue

Ground squirrels hibernate in the winter, and the way their brains function while they do may help scientists develop a new drug that can limit the brain damage caused by strokes. When ground squirrels hibernate, their core body temperature drops dramatically—in the case of the arctic ground squirrel, to as low as 26.7°F, possibly the lowest body temperature of any mammal on Earth. During this extra-cold hibernation, a squirrel's brain undergoes cellular changes that help its brain deal with reduced blood flow. Researchers are currently trying to develop a drug that could mimic that process in the human brain, preventing brain cells from dying when blood flow to the brain is cut off during a stroke.


A woman in a fur vest with a hood faces away from the camera and stares out over the water.

If you always warn your friends not to pet or feed squirrels because they can spread disease, put this story in your back pocket for later: They may have helped leprosy spread from Scandinavia to the UK in the 9th century. Research published in 2017 found a strain of leprosy similar to a modern variant found in squirrels in southern England in the skull of a woman who lived in England sometime between 885 and 1015 CE. The scientists suggest that the leprosy may have arrived along with Viking squirrel pelts. "It is possible that this strain of leprosy was proliferated in the South East of England by contact with highly prized squirrel pelt and meat, which was traded by the Vikings at the time this woman was alive," one of the authors told The Guardian. That may not be the most uplifting reason to appreciate squirrels, but it's hard not to admire their influence!


A squirrel runs across a power line.
Frederic J. Brown, AFP/Getty Images

While energy companies may worry about hackers disrupting the power grid, squirrels are actually far more powerful than cyber-whizzes when it comes to sabotaging our electricity supply. A website called Cyber Squirrel 1 documents every public record of squirrels and other animals disrupting power services dating back to 1987. It has counted more than 1100 squirrel-related outages across the world for that time period, which is no doubt a vast underestimate. In a 2016 survey of public power utilities, wildlife was the most common cause of power outages, and for most power companies, that tends to mean squirrels.


A ground squirrel sits with its mouth open.
David McNew, Getty Images

California ground squirrels have an interesting way of scaring off rattlesnakes. Like cats, their tails puff up when they go on the defense. A squirrel will wave its tail at a rattlesnake to convince the snake that it's a formidable opponent. Surprisingly, they whip their tails at their foes whether it's light or dark outside. Squirrels can control the blood flow to their tails to cool down or keep warm, and they use this to their advantage in a fight, pumping blood into their tails. Even if the rattlesnakes can't see the bushy tails, researchers found in 2007, they can sense the heat coming off them.


A squirrel runs down a tree trunk toward a pile of leaves.

Researchers look at tree squirrel populations to measure just how well a forest ecosystem is faring. Because they depend on their forest habitats for seeds, nesting sites, and food storage, the presence and demographics of tree squirrels in an area is a good bellwether for the health of a mature forest. Studying changes in squirrel populations can help experts determine the environmental impact of logging, fires, and other events that alter forest habitats [PDF].


A squirrel with a bushy tail stands on its hind legs.

Gray squirrels know how to deceive. They can engage in what's called "tactical deception," a behavior previously only seen in primates, as a study in 2008 found. When they think they're being watched by someone looking to pilfer their cache of food, the researchers discovered, they will pretend to dig a hole as if burying their acorn or nut, but tuck their snack into their mouth and go bury it elsewhere.


A man in a hat kisses a squirrel on the White House grounds
Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress // Public Domain

Though some states currently ban (or require permits for) keeping squirrels as pets, it was once commonplace. Warren G. Harding kept a squirrel named Pete who would sometimes show up to White House meetings and briefings, where members of Harding's cabinet would bring him nuts. But keeping a squirrel around wasn't just for world leaders—the rodent was the most popular pet in the country, according to Atlas Obscura. From the 1700s onwards, squirrels were a major fixture in the American pet landscape and were sold in pet shops. Despite Harding's love of Pete, by the time he lived in the White House in the 1920s, squirrel ownership was already on the wane, in part due to the rise of exotic animal laws.


A historical photo of nurses leaning down to feed a black squirrel
Library of Congress // Public Domain

The American cities of the 1800s weren't great places to catch a glimpse of wildlife, squirrels included. In fact, the animals were so rare that in the summer of 1856, when a gray squirrel escaped from its cage inside a downtown New York apartment building (where it was surely living as someone's pet), it merited a write-up in The New York Times. According to the paper, several hundred people gathered to gawk at the tree where the squirrel took refuge and try to coax the rodent down. In the end, a police officer had to force the crowd to disperse. The paper did not document what happened to the poor squirrel.


A boy doing homework with a squirrel on the table.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In the mid-1800s, seeking to return a little bit of nature to concrete jungles, cities began re-introducing squirrels to their urban parks. Squirrels provided a rare opportunity for city slickers to see wildlife, but they were also seen as a sort of moral compass for young boys. Observing and feeding urban squirrels was seen as a way to steer boys away from their "tendency toward cruelty," according to University of Pennsylvania historian Etienne Benson [PDF]. Boy Scouts founder Ernest Thompson Seton argued in a 1914 article that cities should introduce "missionary squirrels" to cities so that boys could befriend them. He and other advocates of urban squirrels "saw [them] as opportunities for boys to establish trusting, sympathetic, and paternalistic relationships with animal others," Benson writes.

But young boys weren't the only ones that were thought to benefit from a little squirrel-feeding time. When the animals were first reintroduced to parks in the 19th century, feeding squirrels was considered an act of charity—one accessible even to those people who didn't have the means of showing charity in other realms. "Because of the presence of urban squirrels, even the least powerful members of human society could demonstrate the virtue of charity and display their own moral worth," Benson writes. "Gray squirrels helped reshape the American urban park into a site for the performance of charity and compassion for the weak." Even if you were too poor to provide any sort of charity for someone else, you could at least give back to the squirrels.


A colored lithograph shows men and dogs hunting squirrels in a forest.
Currier and Ives, Library of Congress // Public Domain

Though notably absent from big cities, much of the U.S. was once overrun by squirrels. The large population of gray squirrels in early Ohio caused such widespread crop destruction that people were encouraged—nay, required—to hunt them. In 1807, the Ohio General Assembly demanded that citizens not just pay their regular taxes, but add a few squirrel carcasses on top. According to the Ohio History Connection, taxpayers had to submit a minimum of 10 squirrel scalps to the town clerk each year. Tennessee had similar laws, though that state would let people pay in dead crows if they couldn't rustle up enough squirrels.

The Ohio State University Archives
The Plucky Teenage Stowaway Aboard the First American Expedition to Antarctica
The Ohio State University Archives
The Ohio State University Archives

Documentary filmmaker and journalist Laurie Gwen Shapiro came across the name "William Gawronski" in 2013 while researching a story about Manhattan's St. Stanislaus, the oldest Polish Catholic church in the U.S. In 1930, more than 500 kids from the church had held a parade in honor of Billy Gawronski, who had just returned from two years aboard the first American expedition to Antarctica, helmed by naval officer Richard E. Byrd.

The teenager had joined the expedition in a most unusual way: by stowing aboard Byrd's ships the City of New York and the Eleanor Bolling not once, not twice, but four times total. He swam across the Hudson River to sneak onto the City of New York and hitchhiked all the way to Virginia to hide on the Eleanor Bolling.

"I thought, 'Wait, what?" Shapiro tells Mental Floss.

Intrigued by Billy's persistence and pluck, Shapiro dove into the public records and newspaper archives to learn more about him. She created an Excel spreadsheet of Gawronskis all along the East Coast and began cold-calling them.

"Imagine saying, 'Did you have an ancestor that jumped in the Hudson and stowed away to the Antarctic in 1928?'" Shapiro says. She got "a lot of hang-ups."

On the 19th call, to a Gawronski in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, an elderly woman with a Polish accent answered the phone. "That boy was my husband," Gizela Gawronski told her. Billy had died in 1981, leaving behind a treasure trove of mementos, including scrapbooks, notebooks, yearbooks, and hundreds of photos.

"I have everything," Gizela told Shapiro. "I was hoping someone would find me one day."

Three days later, Shapiro was in Maine poring over Billy's papers with Gizela, tears in her eyes.

These materials became the basis of Shapiro's new book The Stowaway: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica. It's a rollicking good read full of fascinating history and bold characters that takes readers from New York to Tahiti, New Zealand to Antarctica, and back to New York again. It's brimming with the snappy energy and open-minded optimism of the Jazz Age.

Shapiro spent six weeks in Antarctica herself to get a feel for Billy's experiences. "I wanted to reach the Ross Ice barrier like Billy did," she says.

Read on for an excerpt from chapter four.


As night dropped on September 15, Billy jumped out of his second-floor window and onto the garden, a fall softened by potatoes and cabbage plants and proudly photographed sunflowers. You would think that the boy had learned from his previous stowaway attempt to bring more food or a change of dry clothes. Not the case.

An overnight subway crossing into Brooklyn took him to the Tebo Yacht Basin in Gowanus. He made for the location he'd written down in his notes: Third Avenue and Twenty-Third Street.

In 1928 William Todd's Tebo Yacht Basin was a resting spot— the spot—for the yachts of the Atlantic seaboard's most aristocratic and prosperous residents. The swanky yard berthed more than fifty staggering prizes of the filthy rich. Railroad executive Cornelius Vanderbilt kept his yacht O-We-Ra here; John Vanneck, his Amphitrite. Here was also where to find Warrior, the largest private yacht afloat, owned by the wealthiest man in America, public utilities baron Harrison Williams; yeast king (and former mayor of Cincinnati) Julian Fleischman's $625,000 twin-screw diesel yacht, the Carmago; General Motors president Alfred P. Sloan's Rene; shoe scion H. W. Hanan's Dauntless; and J. P. Morgan's Corsair III. The Tebo Yacht Basin's clubroom served fish chowder luncheons to millionaires in leather-backed mission chairs.

Todd, a great friend of Byrd's, lavished attention on his super-connected pal with more contacts than dollars. He had provided major funding for Byrd's 1926 flight over the North Pole, and helped the commander locate and refit two of the four Antarctic expedition ships for $285,900, done at cost. Todd loved puffy articles about him as much as the next man, and press would help extract cash from the millionaires he actively pursued as new clients; helping out a famous friend might prove cheaper than the advertisements he placed in upmarket magazines. Throughout that summer, Byrd mentioned Todd's generous support frequently.

Two weeks after the City of New York set sail, the Chelsea, the supply ship of the expedition, was still docked at the Tebo workyard and not scheduled to depart until the middle of September. Smith's Dock Company in England had built the refurbished 170-foot, 800-ton iron freighter for the British Royal Navy at the tail end of the Great War. First christened patrol gunboat HMS Kilmarnock, her name was changed to the Chelsea during her post–Royal Navy rumrunning days.

Not long before she was scheduled to depart, Byrd announced via a press release that he was renaming this auxiliary ship, too, after his mother, Eleanor Bolling. But the name painted on the transom was Eleanor Boling, with one l—the painter's mistake. As distressing as this was (the name was his mother's, after all), Byrd felt a redo would be too expensive and a silly use of precious funds. Reporters and PR staff were simply instructed to always spell the name with two ls.

As Billy eyed the ship in dock days after his humiliation on board the New York, he realized here was another way to get to Antarctica. The old, rusty-sided cargo ship would likely be less guarded than the flagship had been.

As September dragged on, Billy, back in Bayside, stiffened his resolve. No one would think he'd try again! On September 15, once more he swam out during the night to board a vessel bound for Antarctica.

Since his visit two weeks prior, Billy had studied his news clippings and knew that the Bolling was captained by thirty-six-year-old Gustav L. Brown, who'd been promoted weeks earlier from first mate of the New York when Byrd added the fourth ship to his fleet. Billy liked what he read. According to those who sailed under Brown's command, this tall and slender veteran of the Great War was above all genteel, and far less crotchety than the New York's Captain Melville. Captain Brown's education went only as far as high school, and while he wasn't against college, he admired honest, down-to-earth workers. Like his colleague Captain Melville, Brown had begun a seafaring life at fourteen. He seemed just the sort of man to take a liking to a teenage stowaway with big dreams.

Alas, the crew of the second ship headed to Antarctica now knew to look for stowaways. In a less dramatic repeat of what had happened in Hoboken, an Eleanor Bolling seaman ousted Billy in the earliest hours of the morning. The kid had (unimaginatively) hidden for a second time in a locker under the lower forecastle filled with mops and bolts and plumbing supplies. The sailor brought him to Captain Brown, who was well named, as he was a man with a mass of brown hair and warm brown eyes. The kind captain smiled at Billy and praised the cheeky boy's gumption—his Swedish accent still heavy even though he'd made Philadelphia his home since 1920—yet Billy was escorted off to the dock and told to scram.

A few hours later, still under the cover of night, Billy stole back on board and was routed out a third time, again from the “paint locker.”

A third time? The Bolling's third in command, Lieutenant Harry Adams, took notes on the gutsy kid who had to be good material for the lucrative book he secretly hoped to pen. Most of the major players would score book deals after the expedition; the public was eager for adventure, or at least so publishers thought. The catch was that any deal had to be approved by Byrd: to expose any discord was to risk powerful support. Adams's book, Beyond the Barrier with Byrd: An Authentic Story of the Byrd Antarctic Exploring Expedition, was among the best: more character study than thriller, his grand sense of humor evident in his selection of anecdotes that the others deemed too lightweight to include.

Billy was not the only stowaway that September day. Also aboard was a girl Adams called Sunshine, the "darling of the expedition," a flirt who offered to anyone who asked that she wanted to be the first lady in Antarctica. (In the restless era between world wars, when movies gave everyone big dreams, even girl stowaways were not uncommon.) Brown told a reporter that Sunshine had less noble aspirations, and soon she, too, was removed from the Bolling, but not before she gave each crew member a theatrical kiss.

As the early sun rose, Captain Brown called Billy over to him from the yacht yard's holding area where he had been asked to wait with the giggling Sunshine until his father arrived. The captain admired Billy's gumption, but it was time for the seventeen-year-old to go now and not waste any more of anyone's time.

As Lieutenant Adams recorded later, "Perhaps this matter of getting rid of Bill was entered up in the Eleanor Bolling log as the first scientific achievement of the Byrd Antarctic expedition."


From THE STOWAWAY: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Copyright © 2018 by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


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