Friday, March 21, 2014

Naming the Liberty Ships - Part Nine

Note: This is part of a series of posts on odd bits of history as memorialized in the names of World War II Liberty Ships.  I am organizing them, after a fashion, around proposed artwork for imaginary "ships' insignia"  For a more complete explanation and background:  Part One


You had to have done something interesting in life to get a Liberty Ship named after you, but in some instances what happened after people pass away is even more interesting....

It made sense that there would be an S.S. Park Benjamin.  Mr. Benjamin was a Naval Academy grad and retained an interest in naval affairs throughout a long and profitable career as an editor and a patent attorney.  His domestic life had a few quirks....

His daughter Dorothy must have been a wild child.  At age 25 she eloped with a 45 year old Italian opera singer.  OK, it was Enrico Caruso, but Papa Benjamin did not approve.

One year later Benjamin legally adopted Dorothy's long time governess, an Italian woman named Anna Bolchi.

On Benjamin's death in 1922 each of his biological children got one dollar and some scathing words from beyond the grave as published in the local papers.  The word "parasites" was used.  The former governess inherited the family fortune.

There was quite the legal tussle, some quiet settlement, then Bolchi went ahead and married the family lawyer who had written up both the adoption paperwork and the poisonous will!

Yes, yes it has been too long a winter and I have been over indulging in PBS mystery fare.  So I propose this logo for the S.S. Park Benjamin.

The will also specified that Benjamin's ashes be scattered in mid Atlantic.  Bolchi did so, presumably with a good chuckle and a champagne glass in her non scattering hand.


The namesake of the S.S. George M. Pullman has left his name to us as something of a synonym for luxury.  He is remembered for designing the railroad sleeping cars called Pullman cars.  The first was built in 1864.  Abraham Lincoln made his final journey home to be buried in Springfield in one.

I can't tell if Pullman personally had a strong sense of class consciousness or if he was just in a business where this was a reality of life.  He started the tradition of hiring African Americans as porters for his trains, and was in fact once the largest employer of same in the country.  He also built an entire town for his factory workers.

Pullman Illinois was like most company towns.  It had a captive population dependent on Pullman as their employer and land lord.  Outside charities were banned as were independent newspapers.  It was a beautiful place with parks and schools up to the standards of the day.  But it was an oppressively paternalistic community that bred discontent. A Pullman employee is supposed to have said:

"We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shops, taught in the Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman Church, and when we die we shall go to the Pullman Hell."

The Pullman strike of 1894 was triggered by wage cuts in a down economy, but fed by unhappiness with George Pullman as a modern day feudal lord.  The backlash was harsh, and in 1898 the company was required to divest itself of all assets in the town.

George Pullman had died the year before.  Feeling that the sentiments against him were so negative that anything might happen, he was worried that aggrieved former strikers would disturb his grave.

So he was interred over a two day long process that involved a lead lined mahogany coffin encased in multiple layers of reinforced cement and bolted together steel bars.  Ambrose Bierce, who we met recently, was said to have quipped:

"It is clear that the family in their bereavement was making sure the sonofabitch wasn't going to get up and come back"

It looks as if he is still securely planted.


The Old Man said...

Keep the stories coming. Too lazy to do the research, I like your series.

Tacitus2 said...

Only one more to go....other seasons approach, if slowly.