Welcome to my new website featuring free history stories! Every month I will post a true story from
my files—covering topics such as historical true crime, politically incorrect history, amusing glimpses
into the past, ghost tales, etc. A few will be samples from my published books, but most will be BRAND
NEW and PREVIOUSLY UNPUBLISHED ANYWHERE! Some are sections omitted from my books due to
space considerations; some were unprinted because they made publishers nervous; some were written
expressly for this website.
If you like the stories, links on this site will show you how to find my published works.
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* All illustrations, unless otherwise noted, by Kyle McQueen.
* Webmaster: Darren McQueen.
All material herein copyright 2012-2013 by Keven McQueen.
* Author photo: Denise Smith.
STORY FOR MAY 2014
The Jester of the Grontoft: A Great Moment in the History of Nonchalance
On March 2, 1922, the Atlantic was struck with a storm of horrifying power that Captain Hans Jorgenson of the Estonia later said was one of the worst storms he had ever encountered. Among the deadliest places to be during this storm was on the deck of the Norwegian steamer Grontoft, 700 miles from Cape Race, Newfoundland.
The wireless operator on the Estonia received S.O.S. messages from the radioman aboard the sinking Grontoft, which was forty-eight miles away. Depending on one’s point of view, the Grontoft’s radioman was either a very brave man or a very great fool, because his emergency messages included entertaining bits of the darkest comedy imaginable. “He talked as if he were going on a lark in port instead of to the bottom of the sea,” as one reporter described the man’s sense of humor.
The Grontoft’s first message read: “God pity the poor sailors on a night like this. Ha ha ha ha!”
Making light of the fierce 100 mph gale force winds, he wrote: “And say, the old man [the captain] thinks this calm will be over by nightfall. We sure need some breeze.”
An hour later: “Well, the steward is making sandwiches for the lifeboats. Looks like we were going on a picnic.”
Thirty minutes after that: “The old wagon has a list like a rundown heel. This is no weather for a fellow to be out without an umbrella.”
Forty minutes later, the final message came at 12:10 p.m.: “We are sinking stern first. The decks are awash and some of our lifeboats have been smashed. Can’t hold out any longer. The skipper dictated that—He ought to know—Where did I put my hat?—Sorry we can’t wait for you, pressing business elsewhere.”
Astounded at the Grontoft man’s nonchalance in the face of certain death, the Estonia radio operator responded with a line from Kipling’s poem The Ballad of East and West: “What dam of lances brought thee forth to jest at the dawn with Death?” But his witty counterpart never answered. At that moment, most likely, the ship went down.
The Estonia traveled at full speed, but so fierce was the wind that it took the ship four hours to reach the spot where the Grontoft was last known to be. The sea had so comprehensively swallowed the ship that there wasn’t even any wreckage. The entire crew of thirty was lost, including the remarkable wireless operator—his name long lost to the ages, but a master of the comic art of understatement to the very last.
Louisville Courier-Journal. “30 Go Down with Vessel in Gale.” 9 Mar. 1922, 1.