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A query from abroad...


From the Buffalo Evening News, Features Section, Saturday, October 27, 1945, Page 1

 

Legend Based on Shipwreck On Lake Erie Comes Back Home

From a Faraway Land

 

By

Rollin Palmer

 

How far a bit of Lake Erie folklore traveled is indicated by contributions from News readers this week.  It is in the form of verses about John Maynard, a famous legendary hero of Lake Erie; Reginald de Long, 44 Mariemont Ave., and Mrs. Lewis Smith, 257 Cambridge Ave., sent in identical versions.

 

These verses are attributed by Bartlett's Quotations to Horation Alger, the one-time widely read author of juvenile success stories.  Bartlett's also cites a paragraph mentioning Maynard and the incident from a speech by John B. Gough, a temperance lecturer of the 1850s.           

 

Mr. De Long received his copy from a girl who lives in Leyland, Lancashire, England, who said that she found it in a book on elocution.  From Miss Elizabeth Knuckel, 51 Dodge St., also comes what she describes a free translation "of a poem in German which some years ago on a visit to Switzerland I was amazed to find in one of their school readers in Basel."

 

As far as could be determined at the Buffalo Historical Society, there was no such actual ship as the Ocean Queen.  Director Robert W. Bingham believes that the incident described may have been inspired by the burning of the steamer Erie off Silver Creek in 1841 on a voyage from Buffalo to Chicago.  Lithographs of that incident were made and it was widely publicized.  Two hundred fifty persons lost their lives.  There is no historical record of a hero named Maynard.  He may have been a fictional character created to typify the bravery and skill of lake sailors.  The test of the verses in English is given below.

 

'Twas on Lake Erie's broad expanse
      One bright midsummer day,
The gallant steamer Ocean Queen
      Swept proudly on her way.
Bright faces clustered on the deck
      Or, leaning o'er the side,
Watched carelessly the feathery foam
      That flecked the rippling tide.

Ah, who beneath that cloudless sky,
      That smiling bends serene,
Could dream that danger, awful, vast
      Impended o'er the scene --
Could dream that ere an hour had sped
      That frame of sturdy oak
Would sink beneath the lake's blue waves
      Blackened with fire and smoke?

A seaman sought the captain's side,
      A moment whispered low;
The captain's swarthy face grew pale;
      He hurried down below,
Alas, too late! Though quick and sharp
      And clear his orders came,
No human efforts could avail
      To quench the insidious flame.

The bad news quickly reached the deck,
      It sped from lip to lip,
And ghastly faces everywhere
      Looked from the doomed ship.
"Is there no hope — No chance of life?"
      A hundred lips implore;
"But one," the captain made reply,
      "To run the ship on shore."

A sailor whose heroic soul
      That hour should yet reveal
By name John Maynard, Eastern born,
      Stood calmly at the wheel.
"Head her southeast!" the captain shouts
      Above the smothered roar,
"Head her southeast without delay!
      Make for the nearest shore!"

No terror pales the helmsman's cheeks,
      Or clouds his dauntless eye,
As, in a sailor's measured tone
      His voice responds "Ay! Ay!"
Three hundred souls, the steamer's freight,
      Crowd forward, wild with fear,
While at the stern the dreaded flames
      Above the deck appear.

John Maynard watched the nearing flames,
      But still with steady hand
He grasped the wheel and steadfastly
      He steered the ship to land.
"John Maynard, can you still hold out?"
      He heard the captain cry;
A voice from out the stifling smoke
      Faintly responds, "Ay! ay!"

The flames approach with giant strides,
      They scorch his hand and brow;
One arm disabled, seeks his side,
      Ah! he is conquered now.
But no, his teeth are firmly set,
      He crushes down his pain;
His knee upon the stanchion pressed,
      He guides the ship again.

One moment yet! One moment yet!
      Brave heart, thy task is o'er;
The pebbles grate beneath the keel
      The steamer touches shore.
Three hundred grateful voices rise
      In praise to God that He
Hath saved them from the fearful fire,
      And from the engulfing sea.

But where is he, that helmsman bold?
      The captain saw him reel —
His nerveless hands released their task;
      He sank beside the wheel,
The wave received his lifeless corpse,
      Blackened with smoke and fire.
GOD REST HIM! Never hero had
      A nobler funeral pyre!

 

The version translated from German is also entitled "John Maynard," but has authorship credited to a Theodore Fontane.  The name given the vessel is the "Swallow."

 

The translation begins with the query, "John Maynard—who was John Maynard?"  The first verse is as follows:

 

John Maynard was our pilot brave,

Who saved us from a watery grave;

Who held out ship until the shore was reached

Until he had his precious cargo beached.

He saved us, and to him a crown—

He died for us, our love forever live to his renown!

                                    John Maynard!

 

The balance of the German version is substantially the same as the English one.  However, it concludes with a description of the burial of the hero, John Maynard.

 

This article continues with two other poems, contributed by readers, that refer to local places.

 

 

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