Monday, January 2, 2017
Stephen Crane's boat to Cuba sank in rough seas off Florida's coast on this day in 1897
Crane hired on as an able-bodied seaman to get to Cuba. Unfortunately for Crane, the steamboat sank in heavy seas 12 miles off the coast of Florida. The crew and Cuban rebel passengers boarded lifeboats but didn't fare well in the storm. Crane joined the captain and a couple of crew members in a 10-foot dinghy. Crane's harrowing account of the 30-hour ordeal at sea was widely published at the time and became the short story The Open Boat, that remains a favorite in American literature.
Crane was already well known for his war novel, The Red Badge of Courage, that had been published a couple of years before. Readers marveled at how real his story seemed – chock-full as it was of astonishing detail – but Crane never experienced war first-hand. With The Open Boat, Crane had plenty of first-hand experience.
Fast-forward almost 100 years, and a Jacksonville University English professor, who was also a diver, set into motion a search for the wreck of the SS Commodore. That effort eventually led to three seasons of professional archaeological field work in 2002-2004 that established the location of the wreck and positive identification of artifacts from the steamboat.
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