The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
The Waterfront Cub: Schooner Days LVI (56)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 27 Aug 1932

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Schooner Days LVI (56)

We were talking last week about the Edward Blake, and her adventures after she came back from England.

Aemilius Jarvis, by the way, Canada's greatest racing skipper, got his first sousing in salt water aboard the Blake. As a lad of sixteen he joined her, made two voyages from Sheboygan to Kingston in her with square-timber cargoes, and then went across with her when she sailed with another timber cargo for London.

Captain Peter Thompson, a Scandinavian, commanded the Blake then, and his son, Andy Thompson, who died two years ago, was mate. The only change made in the Blake for the Atlantic voyage was to give her a square topsail on the foremast, and to heavily caulk her timber ports and shore these up from the inside.

When she came back from England, after a trip to South America, some time after 1876, the Blake changed skippers and crews, and did well for many years in the roaring trade that throve between Chicago and Collingwood or the lower lake ports. Loaded to the eleven-foot mark the Blake could walk away with 22,000 bushels of wheat. She was of old Welland Canal dimensions, 136 feet on deck, 23 feet 6 inches beam, 12 feet 2 inches deep in the hold, and registered 360 tons. Port Burwell, on Lake Erie, was her building place, and she was launched in 1872.

Who knows what became of her?

CHAPIN, cub reporter for the old Chicago Tribune, doing waterfront in the 1880's, watched the Twelfth street bridge swing.

A white three-master was oozing out, with the perspiring assistance of an apoplectic tug. Chapin knew her. She was the Edward Blake, one of the Canadians engaged in the great grain rush from Chicago to Kingston. What fixed her in Chapin's mind was the story that a few years ago she had crossed the Atlantic with a cargo of square timber from Lake Michigan, and gone on to Rio de Janeiro from London before coming home. He wondered how many thousand miles of rushing water, salt and fresh, had been parted by those bluff bows now pushing ahead of them the oily filth of the Chicago Creek.

It was growing dusk. Schooners came and went at all hours, but Chapin wondered at the Blake pulling out now. He added to his "copy" all ready for turning in to the city desk: "Add clearances—Blake, Irving, Kingston, 22,000 wheat."

As he looked up the schooner had passed the bridge. But his reporter's eye noted two curious things. A tall man had swung himself aboard from the wooden bridge abutment as her stern was abreast of it, and kicked over a pot of black paint as he landed on the cabin top. And yet the mate said never a word.

"Funny! " thought Chapin.

When he turned in his "copy" at the office—this was before the days of 'phones and re-writers—the city editor yelled at him: "McGarrigle's escaped! Cover every steamboat office and see if he's booked on any of the outgoing boats!"

"No chance," thought Chapin. "D'ye think he'd register with a brass band if he was going for a boat ride?"

But he beat it as bidden.

Chief McGarrigle was the flaming centre of the limelight in Chicago at this time. He had been chief of police. He had been arrested by his own men in a graft clean up, and chucked into jail. He was suspected of being, not an accessory but a ring-leader, in an orgy of crookedness which had emptied the civic coffers; something known as "boodling" in those pre-racket days.

In jail he lay awaiting trial. That day, when being taken to the court-house, he "prevailed" upon his old friend the sheriff, to go round by way of his home, and allow him to shave and change his shirt. McGarrigle went into the bathroom and out of the window, and that was all Mr. Sheriff had the honor to report.

"That dock-jumper of the Blake's was a tall guy," mused Chapin, "and so's McGarrigle. I wonder - - -"

He was a reporter, and often wondered, usually to some purpose.

"I wonder who owns the Blake now, " he went on, to himself. "B. R. Clarkson of Toronto owned her when she went across, but that was five or six years ago. I'll look that up. "

His well-thumbed Dominion of Canada Marine Register gave the information "Frederick St. John, St. Catharines, Ont., owner."

"I wonder next," said Chapin, "if he's related to Dr. St. John of the waterfront hospital? "

Dr. St. John was not pleased to be asked if he had a son in St. Catharines. No, he answered shortly He had a brother there; his name was Fred. Did he know McGarrigle had escaped? No, When? How? Why who'd have thought that of Mac? It just seemed like yesterday when good old Mac was warden for Dr. St. John in the hospital; steady reliable—

Chapin did not wait. He burst back into the office with the story that Chief McGarrigle had got away in a Canadian grain schooner, the Edward Blake of St. Catharines.

First blood for the Tribune! Melville Stone, later general manager of the Associated Press and at this time one of the owners of the Chicago News, was furious. He engaged a powerful tug to chase the Blake and bring back her passenger dead or alive. The sheriff of Mackinaw three hundred miles away was notified to swear in deputies and hold up the schooner as she entered the Straits to get out of Lake Michigan and into Huron. The description was broadcast—"three-masted schooner Edward Blake, painted white, plumb stem, Welland Canal size" etc., etc.

Stone and his tug got to the Straits as fast as steam could drive them down Lake Michigan, but they did not sight the Blake on the way. They waited for her, and waited. But she did not come. After some delay a semi-soused sheriff's officer informed them that he had been deputed to halt the Blake, but nothing had passed through the Straits since he got the order except a black schooner, boiling along like the tail race of Tophet.

The black schooner was the Blake. Sandy Irving, her master, had driven her as she had never been driven before. He had plied the paint brushes all the way down Lake Michigan, and changed her coat in the night.

Chapin got to the Straits by train, a few hours after Stone had broken the second beat of the big story, and telegraphed the news how McGarrigle had got clear away and was by this time in Canadian waters.

Chapin then spent his last dollar on a ticket for Port Huron, where Lake Huron narrows to the River St. Clair, and all traffic must pass. Here he wired his office, and the answer he got back made the telegraph form curl. He was told to come back and say why he shouldn't be sacked, for McGarrigle had got away clear and the News had the story.

But Chapin had not done waterfront for nothing. Without a nickle left, he haunted the wharves, made friends with a tugman, and waited till the Blake hove in sight, steering for Sarnia Bay on the opposite side of the river. Chapin was aboard her before the anchor was let so; and the first man he saw was big Chief McGarrigle.

"Better come quietly, Mac." he said.

McGarrigle, with many blanks and dashes, demanded his authority. He took him for a sheriff's officer, and roared he had no right to arrest him in Canadian waters without an extradition warrant.

"That's all right, Mac," said Chapin pleasantly. "I've got no warrant. All I want is your story."

McGarrigle was so relieved that he sat down and poured forth a page account of his adventures in office and out of office, and when he left the Blake, safe on Canadian soil, he walked with Chapin to the telegraph place, and in a few hours the Tribune was flooding Chicago with "third blood" in the biggest newspaper battle of the 1880's.

The Blake went on down the river. She was stopped and searched before she reached Lake Erie, and again before she reached Lake Ontario by the Welland Canal. But Chief McGarrigle was no longer aboard, and her master had done nothing that was punishable, either in national or international law.

Sandy Irving went west to live, and settled down in Banff. Gossip said he got $1,000 for McGarrigle's passage, and this was magnified by rumor into $10,000 and enough to keep him the rest of his life, and so on. His retirement to a western farm, the supposed ambition of every sailor, seemed to confirm this legend. But Sandy, who was an honest chap, told the late Magistrate J. J. O'Connor, years afterwards, that all he got out of the McGarrigle scandal was the publicity and a patchy coat of black paint for the schooner above the waterline.

Chapin died in prison only two years ago. He was serving sentence for wife slaying; but he was one of the most brilliant editors of the middle west. Of all his journalistic triumphs he was proudest of how, as a cub reporter, he had beaten the great Melville Stone.

Snider, C. H. J.
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Date of Publication:
27 Aug 1932
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Geographic Coverage:
  • Illinois, United States
    Latitude: 41.85003 Longitude: -87.65005
Ron Beaupre
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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The Waterfront Cub: Schooner Days LVI (56)