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Reflections on the Dedication of the Gloucester Memorial Cenotaph

  by Charles Everett Wainwright

Last Updated 18 Apr 2006

T

opsfield, Massachusetts:  Sunday, 9 September, 2000:  I drove toward the dedication ceremony for the Gloucester Fishermen's Memorial Cenotaph, and puzzled over my motivation for going.  After all, I didn't personally know anyone whose name was engraved on the memorial; I didn't even know any fishermen.  I had only lived in Gloucester for about a year in 1974. And yet, I had an overwhelming emotional desire to be a part of the service.

I proceeded along the Ipswich river, through the Town of Essex, and into the center of Gloucester.  I parked the car at a small strip mall near the Boulevard and walked toward the harbor.  Crews filled the fishing boats lying at anchor near the Fisherman Statue and I knew that this dedication was for them more than for anyone else:  Those men and women who sail out to George's Bank for weeks or months at a time so I can eat a nice piece of swordfish.  The Schooner Adventure, returning to the Harbor from a sailing competition, brought another dimension to mind; that of the Gloucester Fishermen of old, sailing out to the Banks on their Schooners, Smacks and Jiggers- many never to return.

Onshore, I was surprised at the large crowd that gathered around the cenotaph.  In the front row were dignitaries, seated in a semicircle.  Behind them the police had set up a cordon, and behind that about a thousand people milled about.  Working my way towards the police line, I noticed that an Honor Guard held the flags not only of the US and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but of Canada as well, recognition of the number of lost Gloucester fishermen who were from the Canadian Maritimes.

Gloucester had become a comfortable destination for me since I first visited it as a teenager in the 1960s.  Even before I learned that it was the home of my father's family, I enjoyed an eerie ease with the people in the city.  People seemed as comfortable with me as I was with them.   I recalled once, when I lived here years ago, a clerk at the local dry cleaner asked me if I was related to the Charlie Wainwright who had worked for years at the local drug store.  As it turned out, he was my great uncle, but he had died some thirty years before.  It was only after I moved away from Gloucester that I began to study my family’s Gloucester connection, and the part they had played in the growth of the fishing industry of Cape Ann.

The ceremony began on schedule, with the soulful sound of a bagpipe brigade.  As dignitaries rose to make their speeches, many in the crowd became solemn, even tearful.  There seemed to be a real solidarity in the audience.  I heard many different accents among the crowd suggesting that people had come from all over the world.  Even so, they shared my feeling for this place.  But what was that feeling, and why did I need to be here?  I was beginning to understand. 

Twenty-five years ago, when I queried my father about his family he seemed remarkably detached from those memories.  He could recall only brief snippets of his childhood in East Boston. His father, he would tell me, died when he was just a young boy, and he, as the only male child had to quit school after the fifth grade to make enough money for the family to eat.  He played saxophone in a dance band at a speakeasy on Dover Street in Boston at the tender age of twelve.  In retrospect I had to admit that he lived through a horrendously difficult childhood, and had every reason to want to forget it. Still, I was curious, and I set out to learn more.

Since his death in 1985, I have learned enough about my family to fill the pages of a book.  I now know that I come from a fishing family- Not one that owned fishing boats or otherwise gained wealth from the industry, but one that actually provided the manpower.  Individuals in my family manned many crews over the two hundred years they resided in Gloucester.  Some were lost at sea. 

I learned about the wretched living conditions under which my family existed in the early nineteenth century: In damp cold shacks, wives and children waited for the return of their men.  When they did not return, the family would be thrown into poverty.   Epidemics of Dysentery, Typhus, and especially Consumption would periodically ravage the community.  An entire branch of my family was taken  in a few seasons in this manner, leaving behind three orphaned children.  This was not a happy time for my family..  Yet they and the other fishing families of Cape Ann shared a common purpose and experience.  They were clearly proud of their life and accomplishments.  One had only to examine the intensity of the faces in the crowd to see that their pride continues to this day.

The Mayor of Gloucester, Bruce Tobey introduced the Lord Mayors of Lunenburg and Sherbourne Nova Scotia.  Gloucester and Nova Scotia shared a great maritime history.  Both sent fishermen to work the Banks, and each gained new citizens from the other's shores.  Of the five thousand three hundred and sixty eight souls whose names fill the Cenotaph, about nineteen hundred came originally from Maritime Canada.  I thought of Lottie Schwartz,  my father's mother who came from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Her 3rd Great Grandfather Johan Georg Schwarz came to French Arcadia with the original Foreign Protestants in 1753, and settled the area we now know as Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia.  While many of his descendants pursued a farming life, others sought a life on the ocean. Two were lost at sea.

I thought also of Hedvig Osmo, my Bestamor (grandmother).  Her family in Norway had always had a close relationship with the ocean.  They were mostly merchant seamen.  Two of her uncles were lost to the ocean.

Linda Greenlaw, former Swordfish boat captain and author of "The Hungry Ocean: A Swordboat Captain's Journey"  who was portrayed in  Sebastian Junger's book "The Perfect Storm", read a letter to the audience she had received.  In it, a woman described how as a child she had been ashamed of her father's occupation as a fisherman.  After reading Linda's book, she wrote, she understood what it meant to pursue that occupation.  She was now, she said, proud that her father was a fisherman.   The crowd seemed to understand this message: This was why we were all here.

Members of the Cenotaph committee unveiled the stones of the monument.  On the speaker's signal, the bagpipes began to play, and a fishing boat approached the monument. An elderly gentleman at its bow stood holding a wreath.    He was, the speaker told us, the father of the last fisherman whose name was inscribed on the monument.  I could feel the pride and the sadness of this father as he solemnly dropped his wreath into the water.  It was my pride and my sadness as well.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, I made my way to the Cenotaph to find the name of George Wainwright who, as the junior seaman aboard the schooner William S Wonson was lost in the Great Gales of February 1860.  I ran my fingers over his name and felt an immediate upwelling of emotion, very much the same as I had experienced at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington DC.  The Cenotaph was, I knew, fulfilling the same purpose for the families of the lost fishermen.  Sure enough, there were flowers and letters at the base of the last stone of the monument, where the most recent losses were recorded.

Driving home after the ceremony, I pondered the feelings the ceremony had evoked.    My father never talked of his childhood or his family.  I guess he was a bit ashamed of them.  Until I did the research for this book, I had no idea who they were.   Now I had come to a proper closure with them. I could be proud of the fishermen whose names were inscribed on the monument that were my direct relatives.  I only wish my father could have been here.  They were my heroes, and I know they would have been his.

Dedication

As a result of my experience at the dedication of the Gloucester Memorial Cenotaph, I would like to dedicate this web site to my father, Charles Everett Wainwright, Sr. and to all the members of my family who have been lost to the sea over the years:

Name

Year Lost

Josiah Elwell*

1679

Morris Somes*

1716

Nehemiah Elwell*

1716

Daniell Hadley*

1737

Job Bennet*

1738

Nathaniel Bennet*

1738

Captain Job Row*

1766

Martin Schwartz

1799

Captain David Lurvey

1810

Samuel Lervey Clark*

1821

Jorgen Jorgensen Aandahl

1822

Benjamin Row*

1830

Dean W Woodbury*

1851

George Wainwright*

1860

James Albert Schwartz

1875

Soren Aandahl

1882

Edward Roberts* (Edgar C Wainwright)

1889

*  Inscribed on the Gloucester Memorial Cenotaph

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