Crane’s ‘The Open Boat’
Ask any upper-level English teacher to list the finest short stories ever written, and Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat” is sure to rank near the top.
Mr. Crane’s account of surviving the angry sea in a 10-foot dinghy has been applauded since its publication in 1899.
You already knew that? Did you know that the story was written as a result of Mr. Crane’s own experience of being shipwrecked and set adrift?
Yeah? Well, OK, Smarty. Did you know that he washed ashore at Daytona Beach?
If your answer is again yes, go ahead and read on anyway – I might still teach you something. If no, just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale of a fateful trip that started from Jacksonville on Jan. 2, 1897.
Mr. Crane had chartered and outfitted the 200-ton privateer, The Commodore, to transport a band of Cuban insurgents to the island to join the latest rebellion. The insurgents’ goal? To overthrow Cuba’s Spanish rulers. Mr. Crane’s goal? To give a blow-by-blow account of the war and to sell it to a New York newspaper syndicate.
Americans wanted to follow events in the Caribbean, so newspaper publishers were paying famous authors such as Stephen Crane $1,000 a week to report them. And if things down in Cuba got a trifle slow, Mr. Crane had been provided with 40 bundles of Enfeld and Krag-Jorgensen U.S. Army rifles, 100,000 rounds of sharp ammunition, dynamite and cases of razor-sharp machetes to pep things up. Can you say, “yellow journalism”?
Mr. Crane’s trip was doomed from the start. Next week, we’ll learn how.
Take a day trip to the Ponce Inlet lighthouse. Adults will marvel at the first-order Fresnel lenses, while children tucker themselves out by climbing to the top of Florida’s tallest lighthouse. Make sure to check out the Stephen Crane/Commodore exhibit.
For more information, call (386) 761-1821.
In the June 30 edition, I introduced the tale behind the tale of “The Open Boat,” by acclaimed author Stephen Crane. Considered by many to be the finest example of the American short story, “The Open Boat” tells of Mr. Crane’s experience of being shipwrecked and set adrift just off the coast of Daytona Beach.
Mr. Crane’s journey aboard the 200-ton privateer, The Commodore, was doomed from the start. The ship had barely left Jacksonville on Jan. 1, 1897, when she got stuck on a sandbar. After being pulled free by the Coast Guard, the damaged craft began taking on water.
At dawn, Jan. 2, the captain gave the dreaded order, “Abandon ship!” The ship’s captain, cook, oiler and Mr. Crane all climbed into a tiny 10-foot dinghy. For the next 24-plus hours, the men were tossed by (and nearly toppled into) the frigid Atlantic Ocean. During that long night, they were shadowed by an enormous shark that nudged the boat repeatedly, as if to remind its passengers that it was out there and hungry.
The dinghy was carried past New Smyrna, Mosquito Inlet and the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse. A mile or so out from Daytona’s Main Street Pier, the captain decided it was time to brave the surf. He turned the dinghy toward land. Waves swamped the boat and ripped it apart. As it overturned, the ship’s oiler was crushed to death. Mr. Crane, the captain and the cook were helped ashore by onlookers. The survivors were sent home with various townspeople; Mr. Crane stayed at Laurence Thompson’s lovely home, Lillian Place.
As a thank-you to his hosts, Mr. Crane left the Thompsons an autographed copy of “The Red Badge of Courage.” Alas, that book has disappeared. Maybe Lucille took it. But we’ll learn about her ghost next week.
We are grateful for permission to use this article to our wonderful friend
Marian Tomblin, historical columnist and author. For more information on
Marian. Tomblin’s books or to have her speak at your next meeting, contact her at www.MarianSTomblin.com or at (386) 615-0493.
You will find Marian’s books, as well as other books of local interest, or, just a wonderful read at the beach at
The Book Store and So Much More! 410 S. Nova Road / Suite 1, Ormond Beach (386) 615-8320