Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Box

Like Mary Poppins’ magical bag stuffed with never ending wonders, the old cardboard box kept my grandparents, mother, and I pulling out discovery after discovery. At the top of the box’s contents were dozens and dozens of photos of unknown ancestors, some with identifiers and others without.

“James M. Frazer? Who’s that?”

“Mary Ann McGovern?”

“Are these their children?”

Curious to discover more, we dug deeper into the “magical box.” As we each pulled out some new item, we studied and analyzed our findings. My grandmother, finding a very old, skinny book, sat down on a dining room chair and started carefully examining the book’s pages.

“Oh my word! Ramona, look at this!”

Her excitement captured our attention.

"In Memory of W. M. Lewis Herndon, Commander of the U.S.N.... 'On the 12th day of September last, at sea, the U.S. Mail Steamship Central America, with the California mails, most of the passengers and crew, and a large amount of treasure on board, foundered in a gale of wind.'"

We gasped!
What could this be?

As we would learn later, the SS Central America was one of a fleet of ships commissioned by the U.S. government to handle the people, wealth, and mail that needed transporting between the California gold fields and New York City during the mid-nineteenth century. Passengers would travel on these steam wheelers from California to Panama, take a open air train across the isthmus, and then pick up another steam wheeler at Aspinwall which carried them to New York after a brief stop in Havana. On September 12, 1857, the side-wheel steamer, S.S. Central America, hit a tremendous hurricane two hundred miles off the Carolina coast. Four hundred and twenty-five passengers and crew, along with nearly two million dollars worth of gold and thirty-five thousand pieces of mail were lost, sinking eight-thousand feet to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

But what does this tragic American disaster have to do with my ancestor? Only everything…


Patricia said...

As before, well written. I'm hocked on your family story.

Rebecca said...

You have made history come alive with the way you tell the story.
very enjoyable to read.

Catherine Winburn-Caselman said...

Now you have to hurry and write your next post! I'm dying to know the answer!

Whitney said...

Me too! I want to know too! I love finding new things, valuable things, which have been tucked away and almost forgotten.

Kimberly said...

I'm very jealous-- I have yet to find any possessions of my ancestors. I would love to have one like the box you have that holds so many treasures!