The Lyman M. Davis - Last of the Great Lakes Schooners
By Richard Palmer
On September 29, 1930, newspapers chronicled the loss of the three-masted schooner "Our Son" on Lake Michigan, during a gale off Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Since then, many historians and official reports have credited her with the last schooner on the Great Lakes.
It is true she was built as a laker and that she remained as a reasonably intact sailing vessel until the end. However, another schooner, the two masted Lyman M. Davis, owned by Capt. Henry Daryaw of Kingston, Ontario was still in service a year later, transporting coal across Lake Ontario. According to accounts, she remained in operation, under full sail, until the end of the 1931 navigation season, and possibly part of the 1932. The Oswego Palladium Times carried a small news item on September 4, 1931 proving the Davis was in service a year after the Our Son foundered: "the schooner Lyman M. Davis is loading at Lackawanna (coal trestle) for the Bay of Quinte and the tug Salvage Prince and barge Warrenco will load anthracite at the same trestle for Kingston, Ontario."
In spite of her age, the Davis did not show it and was remarkably well preserved. Her numerous owners had properly maintained her and she did not show the scars of pounding. Her planking was not scrapped and scarred by time. Some claim she was sound enough to last many more years.
Technically speaking, the Lyman M. Davis was built by J. P. Arnold at Muskegon, Michigan in 1873. Her dimensions were 123 feet in length, 27'2" feet width and 9'4" depth. She registered at 195 gross tons and 185 net tons and was a medium schooner for her day. Her original U.S. registry number was 15934.
The Davis was equipped with two high masts. John O. Carlson who made the spars said the original masts were in two sections, totaling 136 feet from keel to tip and 114 feet above the deck. The lower part was 86 feet high and the upper part another 50 feet. Both masts were the same height.
The Davis grew out of massive demand for timber resulting from the Great Chicago Fire in October, 1871. Lyman Mason and Charles Davis, owners of the Mason Lumber Company, owned considerable acreage of standing timber in Oceana, Muskegon and Ottawa Counties in Michigan.
Seeing there would be an enormous market for timber, they drew up an agreement with Arnold to build them a schooner. During the winter of 1871-72 Arnold selected the choicest white oak he could find in the Mason Lumberyards and cruised their timber holdings for naturally shaped curved ribs and knees from standing trees. In the spring of 1872, Arnold assembled a team of Swedish and Norwegian shipwrights who had learned their trade in the old country. Capt. Bert Barnes was retained as "ship’s husband" and the keel of the schooner was soon laid. The vessel was named for Lyman Mason Davis, the young son of William Davis, She was enrolled at Grand Haven, Michigan.
Capt. E. J. Buzzard of Erieau, Ontario recalled:"My grandfather built her at the foot of Pine street in Muskegon in the year 1873. I worked on her all winter and on January 26th, I was 18 and went as an able seaman in the spring.
He said the lumber company had the distinction of cutting 250,000 feet of pine lumber in 24 hours. The Davis, he said was commanded by Capt. Fred Barnes for 11 years and never was drydocked. "And in all that time no vessel, large or small, ever sailed by her, either in head winds or fair winds, nor in gale or light winds, so she was some sailor."
The shipbuilders did their work well. The Lyman M. Davis was built to last. Much of her planking was two inches thick, 14 inches in width and 40 feet in length without a knot. Sixty years later, the seams of the planks, where the oakum had been horsed in by caulking irons and ballets still held.
Capt. William J. "Billie" Drumm of Muskegon, a retired tugboat runner, recalled the Davis was rigged as a fore-and-aft schooner carrying nine sails. These included foresail, mainsail, fore and aft topsails, a staysail jib, flying jib, jib topsail and a square sail or raffee.
Also unusual about the ship was its special accommodations for several passengers. It had cabins which were often used by guests of Capt. Barnes and his successors Fred Trott of Muskegon said he made several trips on her when he was a boy and was quartered in the guest cabin. On one such trip, on August 16, 1886, the Davis ran into a sleet and snowstorm on Lake Michigan. She was driven off course into the island in the northern part of the lake far north of Muskegon.
Bert Barnes was on the job every day during construction of the Davis. He personally supervised the placing of every timber, plank and fitting. When she was finished, he asked for and was given command of her. She was launched at Muskegon in the Spring of 1873.
Isaac Arnold presented Capt. Barnes a barometer in a beautifully carved wooden case picturing an anchor and coiled anchor-line. This barometer remained aboard until the Davis was sold in 1918 and for years was in the home of Murray Graham of Kingcarding, Ontario.
Capt. Barnes was intimately acquainted with the vessel. He knew when to ease her and when she would stand a hard blow. He saw to it that she was immaculately maintained. Every winter, during lay-up, he inspected her frequently. If he detected problems, they were quickly corrected. It is said the Davis was a consistent money maker for all her owners. She was a fast sailor and her record passages were known to very schooner man on the lake.
Eventually she earned the reputation of being the fastest schooner on the Great Lakes. Newspaper accounts state she made three round from Muskegon to Chicago in a single week. Some feel, however, this is a slight exaggeration as the labor involved would preclude this. It is also recorded the Davis actually beat the steamer George C. Markham in a run across Lake Michigan from Kewaunee to Muskegon in the early fall of 1887.
The Davis was one of the vessels that picked up survivors of the wreck of the propeller Vernon which foundered on Lake Michigan on October 31, 1887. A few days later the Davis put out from Muskegon, headed for Kewaunee. At midnight, Capt.. Barnes went below to snatch a few hours sleep. He felt the discomforts of a sore throat coming on. But he had his own remedy. Before lying down, he pulled off a red woolen sock from his left foot and pinned it around his neck. When he was called for breakfast, his soar throat had left him. He ate a hearty breakfast, bundled up warmly and stepped through the companionway to the quarter deck aft of the stern quarters.
The schooner was bowling across the lakes. The spume and spray made his blood tingle, and the whistling of the wind in the cordage was music to his ears. The schooner, running light, seemed to skim over the clear green waves, their tops whipped to foam by the strong wind, Warm, well-fed and dry, Capt. Barnes was enjoying this exhilarating ride. He thought how pleasant it was to sail the lake with a sturdy breeze and a buoyant ship. It was a fine sunny, but brisk day for November. The sky was blue, with small white fleecy clouds skimming high above the sparkling water. Everything was clean and fresh. Capt. Barnes took a deep breath as he stepped on deck and said he seemed glad to be alive to enjoy this moment.
With his first instinctive glance, he took in the set of the drawing sails, the angle of the direction and the cant of the deck.
"Looks like we’re cutting sixteen mile of water to make four miles ahead, Onesime: "Capt. Barnes reported to his wheelsman, Onesime Marentette.
"T geeve her leetle wheel an sharp watching, Capitaine.: Onesime replied. "Say Capitaine,! I theenk I see sometheeng ovair there.: He indicated with his chin, the direction over the starboard bow." He ees not knee high to a squateeng bed bug yet, Capitaine, but he ees there."
Sliding back the cabin hatch, Capt. Barnes plucked his telescope from the becket and putting it to his eye, scanned the windward horizon to the north and west. He commented: "there is something, Onesime, and the way it’s skimming around, it looks lie somebody sitting in some kind of saucer Keep her on this course till we come abreast. If it si somebody, we will put her into the wind and go alongside."
Closer inspection revealed two persons floating in the upturned cupola of the top of a steamship wheelhouse. One man was crumpled and unconscious. His companion had arranged him, bottom centre for ballast, and spread a handkerchief on his back, marked so that the game of crown and anchor could be played. A bearded sailor was doggedly tossing two pair of crown and anchor dice with all the absorption of a dedicated solitaire player. He was oblivious to the fact that the Davis was nosing alongside, the noise of the waves masking her presence.
A loud "hello" from above momentarily started the lone mid-lake gambler. He made another throw before he fully realized help was at hand. A heavy cargo net was thrown down the side of the schooner. Two deckhands scrambled down and grappled the bouncing scallop. Lines were secured around the two men and they were hauled aboard. The crew and anchor player was Ambrose Wigfield. His companion was Levi Girardin. They were wheelsmen on the Vernon. Wigfield described the foundering of their ship and the passage of a downbound steamer and a schooner without stopping. Girardin suffered from cold and exposure and was taken below and placed in a bunk.
Capt. Barnes had his mainsail boom lashed midships. The only other sail being used on the schooner was the fore staysail. Line were run to blocks on each rail, from the butt end of the staysail boom then to the capstan. Aided by the power of the capstan, Capt. Barnes manipulated the staysail to keep the schooner’s nose into the eye of the wind and was actually backing down the lake while the rescue was being made.
Within minutes, a bobbing lifeboat was sighted. The same rescue technique was successfully effected. Two women, Mrs. Jeptha Van Kleek and her 20 year-old daughter Alwilda and two men; Vilas Brown and Aaron Bullard, were retrieved from the lake, all in good condition. The women had been wrapped in blankets on the floorboards by the stern thwarts. The men, warmly employed keeping the bow into the wind and bailing, suffered no ill effects, although they were tired.
Three able-bodied male survivors were fed and quartered in the forecastle. The women were taken to the after cabin, to aid and nurse the unconscious Levi Girardin. It is said the sharp-tongued mother insisted immediately that a mustard plaster be placed on Girardin’s chest. The daughter, who had worked for a Chicago doctor, said the lungs were located closer to a person’s back and that the plaster should go on his back. Both women were self-willed. There was no compromise. So Girardin was made into a human sandwich. Another mustard plaster was placed on his back. Capt. Barnes, bashful before so many fluttering females in his cabin, neither interfered, nor took side. During the off watch hours of the night, the captain sat with the patient until he regained consciousness. To relieve Girardin’s obvious misery, Barnes stepped softly across the boards of the deck planking of the cabin floor, so not to wake the women curtained in their bunks. He reached for a bottle of brandy in Mrs. Van Kleek’s portmanteau from which he had surreptitiously noticed her sneaking the odd snort.
He passed the bottle to Girardin for a swig, to ease the pain. The wind changed and Capt. Barnes was called on deck. When he returned to the cabin, the brandy bottle was empty and Girardin was again unconscious. This time sweat was rolling off of him almost in a cloud of steam. Capt. Barnes fearfully filled the bottle to its former level with cold tea and replaced it. By daylight, when the women stirred, Girardin awoke with the congestion of his lungs cleared with just a little headache remaining. Both women argued all morning that their respective remedies had cured the patient. But Levi Girardin winked owlishly at Capt. Barnes, indicating that he credited his cure to the captain.
By noon the next day, the Davis made the Kewaunee offing and proceeded north for sea-room, then luffed and rode down wind to the lumber dock in the port. The rescued were reported and put ashore. By coincidence or perhaps in reprisal the schooner Blazing Star, which had made no effort to rescue survivors, ended her days a month later piled on the beach at Bailey’s Harbor.
The rescue of some of the passengers and crew of the foundered steamer Vernon was a bright highlight in the career of the Lyman Davis. When it was over, the crew took to a loading her cargo and life returned to normal.
By 1887, Thomas Monroe of Muskegon was listed as owner of the Davis. Her career was devoid of recorded incident until the spring of 1907, when Capt. Hans Hermanson took over command following the death of Bert Barnes, Later she was sold to the Brinnen Lumber Company of Muskegon.
The name of Capt. Bert Barnes and the schooner Burt Barnes was strictly coincidence. The Davis and the Barnes, a three masted schooner, were both owned by the Graham Brothers of Kincardine, Ontario. The schooner Burt Barnes was built by G. S. Rand at Manitowoc, Wisconsin and was named for John Wilburt Barnes one of her first owners.
The Davis remained the property of Monroe until the winter of 1912 when she was purchased by John, Donald, Colin, Angus and Alexander Graham of Kincardine She was given the Canadian registry number 130436. Business for schooners on Lake Michigan slackened off so the Graham Brothers made contracts to carry lumber, post and slabwood from Lake Huron, Manitoulin and North Shore lumber docks to lower lake ports. The Davis was completely refitted by the Graham Brothers during the early months of 1913. On May 6th she was ready to sail once more.
William Brinnen went to the dock for sentimental reasons and offered to repurchase his old schooner plus a $500 bonus and cost of refitting. But the Graham Brothers wanted her for practical reasons and declined his offer. The following day, Mr. Brinnen died while the Davis was sailing out of Muskegon.
The trip up Lake Michigan demonstrated to the new owners that they had made a splendid and sea-worthy purchase. The wind came out of the southwest as she sailed out of Muskegon. The waves, curling up in scrolls continued to run after each other, to reassemble and climb on one another and between them, the hollows deepened. In an hour of sailing, the calm of the harbor was forgotten. Instead of the quiet shore the uproar of the wind was deafening.
By midday the schooner was completely snug for dirty weather; her hatches battened down, her working sails storm- reefed and the raffee and topsails clewed-up. She bounded light and elastic. For all the confusion of the wind and waves, she handled easily as if amused at the storm--simply scudding before the wind.
Angus Graham was at the wheel. His brother Colin was alongside. Alf Schaeffer, a deckhand and his wife, who was the cook, were snug in the galley. Jimmie Smith and Bob Whitbread, the two other deckhands, were dry in the forecastle. Alex Graham was forward, hugging the paul post on lookout duty. It became quite dark overhead- stretching, heaving crushing vault.
The Davis fled faster and faster before the wind. The gale, the waves, the schooner and the clouds, were all lashed into one great madness of hasty flight towards the same point. The waves tracked the schooner with their white crests, tumbling onward in continual motion. The schooner, though always being caught up, still managed to elude them by means of the eddying waters she spurned in her wake. In this flight, the sensation particularly experienced was of buoyancy, the delight of being carried along without effort or trouble, in a springy sort of way. The Davis mounted over the waves without any shaking, as if the wind had lifted her clean up and her subsequent descend was a slide. She almost slid backward though at times, the mountains lowering before her as if continuing to run.
She suddenly found herself dropped into one of the measureless hollows that evaded her. Without injury, she sounded their depths amid a loud splashing of water which did not even sprinkle her deck, but was blown on and on, evaporating away to nothing. In the trough, it was darker and when each wave had passed, the men looked behind them to see if the next to appear was higher.
They glimpsed Big Sable Point before darkness fell on them. Angus pulled her nose closer to the wind and bore out to the west to clear the Beaver Islands. On, one after the other, rushed the waves, more and more gigantic in the blackness. They resembled a long chain of mountains with yawning valleys and the madness of all the movement under a black sky, accelerated the height of the intolerable clamor.
Colin joined Angus at the wheel. They were thrilled, intoxicate with the quiver of the sliding speed. They called out loudly, laughing at their inability to hear each other in this prodigious wrath of wind. Generally speaking, they could not see far around them either. A few yards off all seemed entombed in the fearfully big combers, with their frothing crests shutting out the view. Then suddenly, a gleam of sunrise pierced the eastern clouds. The same fury lay on all sides. There was no limit to the expanse of the storm, but they rode buoyant in its midst. Then came other sounds. Nearer, less definite, threatening destruction, and making the water shudder and hiss as if on burning coals. The disturbance increased in volume. Somehow the Davis was in between Gull and High Islands.
Notwithstanding their flight, the sea began to gain on the, to "bury them up: as they phrased it. First, the spay fell down on them from behind, Then, masses of water, thrown with such violence as must surely brake everything in their course. The waves were shorter and higher and the wind roared little ridges up the backs of he big waves. Heavy masses of water curled over the rails in the waist and fell on the deck planks with a hammering sound. Nothing could be distinguished over the side because of the screen of creamy foam whipped off the tops of the waves.
When the wind soughed more loudly, this foam formed into whirling spouts. At length a heavy rain fell crossways and soon straight up and down and all of these elements of destruction came together, clashed and interlocked. Only one who has stood on a heaving deck through the duration of a blow on the Great Lakes can really relate to such an experience.
Angus and Colin, one of each side of it, held staunchly to the wheel. They were suited in their water-proofs, hard and shiny oil-skins; they had firmly secured them at their throats with tarred string and at their wrists also to prevent the water from running in. The ain and spindrift only poured off them. When it fell too heavily, they arched their back and held on more firmly, not to be washed overboard.
After each sea was shipped and spewed out the scuppers, they exchanged glances, grinning when they felt the buoyant lift under their feet. They weathered High Island, then the Trout and Squaw Island. Then instead of luffing, they turned her head into the wind, came about easily and headed the bowsprit for the Straits fo Mackinac.
As the Davis lay over on her new course, the wind slackened off. The Mackinac Passage was accomplished safely. It was as if Lake Michigan knew the Davis would never return and had made and extra effort to hold her in home waters. Upper Lake Huron was crossed. The now moderate breeze held out of the same quarter and with little tacking, the schooner entered the Mississagi Strait and sailed down the North Channel, threading the island easily to Little Current on the Manitoulin.
Here she loaded her first Canadian cargo. The bill of lading destined the first shipment of lumber for the Rouge River below Detroit. A fast passage was made down the lake. George "Fry" Mc Graw, skipper of the fishing tug "Onward" of Kincardine was lifting nets over the West Reef. He spotted the downbound Davis. He threw a buoy at the end of the next net and ran out to the schooner to inform Colin Graham that he was the father of another son Donald, born April 27, 1913.
The berth at Rouge River was reached and the cargo was unloaded and the Graham Brothers proudly sailed their ‘new’ schooner into Kincardine harbor for the first time on June 12, 1913. The Lyman M. Davis immediately captured the hearts and imaginations of the town’s residents. Navies for years claimed her as theirs, although she was kept fairly busy during the season and only wintered in Kincardine.
In new waters, similarly to noted gunslingers of the Old West, she was challenged at every opportunity for trials of speed by all the remaining sailing ships. Only once she was beaten. In the fall of 1915, the Davis was loading posts at Silver Inlet on Georgian Bay. The three-masted Hattie Hutt, commanded by Capt. Francis Granville of Southampton , was ready to sail. Granville wanted to race. He waited until the Davis finished loading. The two schooners cleared the harbor together. During the first night out a gale of wind was encountered. Granville, having a three-master, was able to take in only his mainsail and keep canvas on his foremast and mizzen. Angus Graham decided it was prudent to take in his huge mainsail. He continued with only his inner jibs and reefed foresail. The Hattie Hutt passed Gratiot Light at Port Huron six hours ahead of Davis.
As the years passed World War 1 ended. Shipping business for schooners slackened. The Graham Brothers were growing older. Colin and Angus accepted positions as mates on the Marquette and Bessemer Carferry No. 1, sailing between Toledo and Erieau. The remaining brother still had another schooner the Burt Barnes, so when John A. McCullough and Cephus H. Spencer of Napanee, Ontario, came along with an offer to purchase, the Lyman M. Davis was sold to them in 1919.
The new owners, McCullough and Spencer, took the old schooner proudly down the lakes, through the Welland Canal, and into Lake Ontario She would be in the coal trade primarily between Oswego, Fair Haven and Sodus on the south shore, and Kingston and the Bay of Quinte on the Canadian side. She was a familiar and unforgettable sight.
William Markle of Napanee had a burning memory of serving as mate to Capt. McCullough. He said he became an expert at climbing the rigging and repairing masts. He vividly recalls a trip filled with all the excitement of sailing days:
On the 29th of November, 1922 the storm signals were down, all the boats started leaving Oswego for home. We were the first in so we were the last to get out. It was about 1 o’clock when we left the harbor, the weather was fine. When we neared the False Ducks, a heavy snow came and we could not see four feet ahead of us. Capt. McCullough took his timing so we would pass Timber Island, then we headed up into South Bay. Shortly, he hollered, but it was too late. The vessel was ashore on Waupoos Island. I went out on the jibboom and stepped on the shore in the woods.
I went to a farm house as fast as a red squirrel to phone Kingston for a salvage tug. When I came back, the captain said we had better go to the lazaret deck, behind the cabin,. There we took an auger and put a two inch hole in the bottom. We let in four feet of water in the hold so the boat would not break up in the heavy seas.
"On the third day a tug arrived, and after three or four unsuccessful attempts to release us, the tug returned to Kingston for a lighter. On the seventh of December the tug returned with a lighter, and after removing a few tons of coal from the forward deck, the Davis broke free, and then the coal was put aboard and we headed for home. Near Glenora, Capt. Ward and Bill Barret met us and we stayed with the schooner until we arrived home.
"As we were opposite Hay Bay, a squall came from the high shore and broke our rafee yard arm in two. I was elected to go aloft and disconnect the pieces, We arrived home on December 9th, safe and sound." He said life on the schooner was pleasant. "The harder it blew, the faster she went!" He fondly recalled the days of going aloft when the ship keeled out so far all he could see was the lake beneath him.
Markle said he also sailed on the schooners Katie Eccles and William Jamieson. He said considering her age, the Davis was in remarkably good condition. The crew as always, was quartered in a cabin in the forecastle, with bunks on each side and a small stove for heat. The captain and his wife were in the aft cabin. Capt. McCullough’s wife was the cook and the ship was kept immaculate.
A donkey engine had several labor saving uses aboard a schooner. Its primary function was hoisting sail. The weight of the gaff and sail were too much for a small crew of four men and a women cook. It would take three men just to hoist one of the jibs. The engine also raised and lowered the anchor which would weigh as much as a ton.
The Davis usually carried 248 tons of coal which could easily be loaded in about 35 minutes. Unloading her was a much slower and tedious job. Again, the donkey engine was used to hoist the coal out in buckets, each holding about half a ton.
There would be a gang of men down in the hold shoveling coal into the buckets which the winch man would hoist up to a couple more men at the top of the coal sheds. They would trip the latch and dump the coal down a long chute. It was rather slow work and it took two and a half to three days to unload an entire cargo.
Markle’s fondness for sailing vessels, especially the Davis, is preserved in several paintings displayed in local homes and offices throughout Napanee.
IN 1928 Capt. Henry Daryaw of Kingston purchased the Davis and continued her in the coal trade on Lake Ontario. By now, there were only a few schooners left still sailing on the Great Lakes in commercial trade. By coincidence, Daryaw also owned a sister ship to the Davis, the Mary A. Daryaw, formerly the Kewaunee. Like the Davis, she was built by J. P. Arnold, but built at Port Huron, Michigan in 1866. Up to the time she was burned as a public spectacle in Kingston on October 15, 1927, she may have been the oldest lake schooner still in active service.
Chicago promoters suggested having the Davis at the World’s Fair in Chicago. The Davis was taken out of service and slicked up with a fresh coat of paint. At the last moment, before sailing back up the lakes to home waters the deal was cancelled.
Capt. Daryaw then had the opportunity to sell the old vessel to the Sunnyside Amusement Association at Toronto. He previously had sold them the old schooner Julia B. Merrill which had been burned as a public spectacle on July 1,1931. At the time, there was an outcry that the Merrill be saved from the torch, but it fell on deaf ears.
Now the Lyman M. Davis faced the same fate. Unlike the Davis the Merrill was considered too far gone to preserve. Her hull was badly hogged and her mizzen mast, top mast and raffee yard were gone. She had only four of her original ten sails left when she sailed from Kingston to Toronto.
A newspaper article stated that the Merrill dragged her age-wearied transom in the water as she sailed into the harbor."She was minus one of her masts, and all three of her topmasts and her senile hull had long since worn itself out in lakewise service."
Up to that time, Sunnyside had specialized in burning obsolete ferry boats and small craft. But when it was learned that the Davis was to be the next spectacle for the crowds to watch go up in flames, there was a massive protest campaign. It’s chief promoter was none other than C. H. J. Snider, author of Schooner Days and editor of the Toronto Telegram. There was no love lost between him and Major D. M, Goudy, manager of the park. Snider said."Major Goudy has burned more ships at Sunnyside than Hector succeeded in doing before Troy."
Snider labeled Goudy as "The Lord High Admiral and Fire Marshall of the recreation division of the Harbor Commissions’s fleet." Snider’s incessant attacks on Goudy raised such a furor that Goudy postponed burning the Davis until the spring of 1934, to give Snider and his ilk the opportunity to raise enough money to save her. That winter, Sea Scouts kept the deck clear of ice and snow.
However, pounding against the seawall that winter caused considerable damage; but not enough that it couldn’t be repaired."Citizens of Toronto do not want the Lyman M. Davis demolished by fire to create a passing thrill for night-going sightseers." Snider wrote, "or to boost sales of hot dogs and peanuts."
Thousands of people signed petitions against the wanton destruction of the old vessel. Scores of letters were written and appeared in local newspapers protesting what was termed an "act of savagery." City officials did what they could and were almost unanimous in their opposition.
The community was still enraged over the burning of the Merrill a couple of years before. Although she was beyond preservation, many citizens urged that she be allowed to sink in deep water or be beached and allowed to fall to pieces in the way of ancient wrecks. It was much more honorable than burning her as a public spectacle.
North America was in the midst of the Great Depression and coming up with ready cash was a near impossibility. Some suggested however, that burning an old trolley car or two would be just as suitable as destroying what was believed to be the last Great Lakes schooner.
Goudy could not be persuaded to save the ship. He said he would have burned the Davis in 1933 had it not been for the intervention of Mayor Steward of Toronto. The old schooner was moored in front of the boardwalk. Her spars and rigging were ignominiously coated with tar. A gaudy banner decorated her advertising that she was to be burned as a spectacle.
Various fund drives were started, but not enough to reprieve her. Then on May 30, 1934, Goudy announced the park was willing to sell the schooner for a reasonable sum to anyone who might wish to buy her; otherwise she would be burned during the coming season.
This added extra fuel to the excitement. But no individual or group came forward with financial succor. The letters to the editor, pictures in the press and other publicity continued to build interest.
The concessionaires exulted and decided to burn the Davis at the beginning of the season while publicity was white hot. As expected, the spectacle attracted a tremendous crowd, On June 29, 1934 the Lyman M. Davis perished.
At midnight a torch ignited a barrel of kerosene on the deck and black smoke rolled skyward in a mushroom-like cloud. In a few minutes the weather -beaten cold craft was in flame from stem to stern as the oil-soaked timbers quickly ignited.
The deck and holds were piled high with dry wood and old crates. Slowly, the blazing schooner was towed the length of the waterfront before drifting out into the middle of the lake. The banner which for weeks had proclaimed her fate tossed like a pennant as the heat from the inferno rose. Finally a high, leaping flame caught the bunting and it shriveled and disappeared against the dark sky.
On deck and in the rigging fireworks experts had placed powerful bombs and rockets. The vessel had been drenched with eight barrels of kerosene. A tug towed her out into the lake, where she burned to the water’s edge and disappeared in the blackness.
But even in death the Davis refused to be obliterated. All of the above-water planking did not fall prey to the to the flames. Strangely enough, the unburnt portion was that bearing the name of the vessel in large letters of white on a black background. Names up the four planks with many portions of ribs drifted away and finally landed on the west bank of Hanlans Island. This portion of the vessel would serve a useful purpose-providing a stage where bathers could wash the sand off their feet after their concluding dips.Return to Shirley Farone's Homepage