Friday, August 27, 2010

Juliet Thomkins Howe – Southern Spitfire

Juliet Thomkins was the daughter of the Episcopal vicar of Mount Sterling, Kentucky, during the Civil War. A Confederate sympathizer, she did not take kindly to Capt. Edward Howe of the Union Army’s deciding to rest his troops on the Thomkins’ property during a march from Massachusetts to Tennessee.

Capt. Howe ordered two of his men to ride to the house and request food and water. There they were greeted by a tiny woman, barely five-feet tall, who ordered them off the property. Unused to this kind of treatment from a woman, one of them called out that they just wanted water. “I’ll die before I let any Yankee drink the water from our well,” she retorted.

When the men reported their reception, Howe sent his aide to approach the porch. The Yankees and their horses were fed and watered, but not before the aide suffered a scratched face and kicked shins.

         Before leaving, Captain Howe rode up to the porch and stated matter-of-factly, “I don’t know who you are, young lady, or for that matter where you come from. But I do know one thing. After this war is over, if I manage to get out of it alive, I’m going to come back to Mount Sterling; I’m going to find you, and I’m going to make you my wife. Any woman with the courage to take on an entire Yankee regiment is the girl for me.”

Stamping her feet, Juliet shouted, “Sir, I would die before I’d marry you!”

Famous last words. Wounded at Chickamauga, Howe recovered from his wounds, was discharged and set out for Mount Sterling to pay a visit to Vicar Samuel Thomkins. Thomkins told him, “I’ll put in a good word with the Lord for you, and if you can persuade her, she’s all yours. God help you!”

Howe pressed Juliet to marry him. She adamantly refused. He refused to give up. She weakened, but she told him she didn’t think she could adjust to life in Massachusetts. He promised to move South if she didn’t like it.

Edward and Juliet Howe spent many happy years of married life--in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lydia Dyer – Frozen at Owl's Head

Lydia Dyer, half of the “The Frozen Couple of Owl’s Head, lives on in Maine story and legend, following her experience at Owl’s Head light on December 22, 1850. Five vessels were lost along the Maine coast that night in addition to a small schooner on which Dyer, her fiancé, Richard Ingraham, and seaman Roger Elliott were left by the captain. 
After the captain departed, the storm worsened, and the three tried to protect themselves by huddling under blankets. In some versions of the story, it is said that Richard and Lydia passed out from lack of oxygen. Roger, however, was able to chip his way out from under the frozen blankets. With a tremendous reserve of strength, he climbed the icy outcropping to the shore. Once on shore, he managed to reach the road to Owl’s Head Lighthouse, where the keeper happened to be passing in his sleigh. He carried Roger to the keeper’s house, fed him warm rum and put him to bed. Roger begged him to rescue his shipmates.
The keeper gathered a dozen men, who found the wrecked boat with Lydia and Richard frozen in a block of ice. While the rescuers believed the two were dead, they could not leave them and so hoisted the block of ice to shore. They took it, too, to the keeper’s house, where they chipped away at the ice, leaving the two in cold water. Once the ice was chipped away, they began to slowly warm the water, massaging the pair’s arms and legs. Lydia recovered first, followed by Richard, who opened his eyes and asked, “What is this? Where are we?” 
After several months, they recovered, married and eventually had four children. Poor Roger Elliott, however, never recovered and died shortly thereafter.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Molly Kool – Sea Captain

Myrtle “Molly” Kool was the first woman in North America officially recognized as a sea captain. Born in Alma, New Brunswick, Canada, in 1916, she grew up intimately involved in shipping in the Bay of Fundy as her father operated at 70-foot transport vessel. 
Graduating from high school during the Great Depression when jobs were scarce, she decided to pursue a job as a sea captain. At the age of 23 she earned her Master Mariner’s Certificate, sending a telegram home which read: “Call me Captain from now on.” For the next five years, she commanded the “JeanK,” her father’s vessel. Her most common tranports were pulp and paper products in the Bay of Fundy, which is described as having the highest wave action in the world, although occasionally the “JeanK” would venture as far south as Boston. 
Molly's resourcefulness is reported in one story involving the collision of the “JeanK” with another ship in one of the dense fogs of the North Atlantic. Molly was thrown overboard in the collision and came close to losing her life in an encounter with the ship’s propeller. However, she saved herself by grabbing a piece of timber as it floated by. Meanwhile, passengers on the ship were pelting her with life preservers in attempts to help her. Finally, she is reported to have yelled, “I’m already floating. Stop throwing useless stuff at me and send a boat.”
After a gas explosion demolished much of the “JeanK,” she moved to Maine with her first husband, Ray Blaisdell, where she worked selling Singer sewing machines and found that she actually like living on solid ground. She retired after losing both legs to vascular disease. She died of pneumonia on Mar. 4, 2009, two days after celebrating her 93rd birthday. Her ashes were scattered on the Bay of Fundy not far from her birthplace.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rose de Freycinet–Round-the-world chronicler

In September 1817, the “Uranie” left Toulon, France, for an around-the-world scientific expedition. Commanding the voyage was Louis Claude de Freycinet, a naval officer, appointed by the French government.
Louis and 22-year-old Rose Marie Pinion had been married just three years and did not relish the idea of such a long separation. They carefully plotted for Rose to stow away on the vessel, making her the lone woman among 125 men on the voyage. It was strictly against French regulation for women to sail on their boats.
Rose documented her adventures in letters to her mother and her dear friend Caroline in France. In them, she recounted the interesting cultures and customs she encountered on the voyage and included tales of meeting pirates off the coast of New Guinea and being shipwrecked in the Falkland Islands. Her letters, published in diary form after her death, were written with a great appreciation for detail, vividly describing the voyage.
Although never officially mentioned in records of the voyage, Rose’s presence was unofficially acknowledged in the naming for her of a new variety of dove discovered off New Guinea, two ferns gathered by botanists and an island in the Pacific near Samoa.
Rose became the first woman to write a complete account of a three-year circumnavigation. Tragically, she died at age 38 during a cholera epidemic.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Vera Atkins – Spymistress

Born in 1908 in Rumania, Vera Rosenberg was to play an important role in World War II. As the Third Reich began its pogrom against Jews, she changed her name to Atkins to hide her own heritage. It was Vera who recruited, devised legends (cover stories) for, trained and supervised over 400 British agents who parachuted into France to sabotage the Nazis. 
Although she held no rank, she has been described as a “sledgehammer” who worked 18-hour days briefing the agents in minute detail on life in occupied France and was totally devoted to the agents she trained, standing on the runway to watch as each plane took off for its mission to France, some say sending the agents off with a single expletive.
After the war, she demanded the assignment of investigating the 118, including 13 women, who did not return. She traced 117 of them (the 118th was an inveterate gambler who disappeared near Monte Carlo along with 3 million francs of secret service money), all dead, and made sure that justice was served by bringing their surviving killers to trial in the war crimes’ courts. Atkins relentlessly questioned Nazi officers of the concentration camps, including Rudolf Hess. The information she obtained from him was used as evidence in the Nuremberg Trials. 
Although unconfirmed, many believe that James Bond author Ian Fleming patterned Miss Moneypenny on Vera. Vera lived to be 92 years old and worked most of that long life to keep memories of the Resistance alive. She settled in a cottage in Winchelsea, Sussex, from which on clear days she could see the coast of France.