Friday, June 14, 2013

THE WRECK OF THE SCHOONER "STORM" - Joseph Crane Hartzell - Part II

I mentioned in my article last week about Bishop Joseph Crane Hartzell that while he was studying at the Garrett Biblical Institute in Evanston, Illinois he was involved in a rescue of survivors of the wreck of the schooner "Storm" in May of 1864.

Bishop Hartzell's brave efforts were likened to those who risked their lives to rescue survivors from the wreck of the Lady Elgin ("The Titanic of the Great Lakes") in September of 1860.  Anyone wishing to learn more about the Lady Elgin disaster can find a good article at

The first mention of the wreck of the "Storm" was a small article from the New York Times of May 11, 1864 entitled "Severe Storm at the West":  

"The schooner "Storm" was wrecked off Evanston.  One man was drowned - the only loss of life reported yet.  Some damage was done to buildings in the outskirts of the city, but nothing very serious."

Here's what a Great Lakes schooner of the 19th century looked like:

The rest of the story was in the Chicago Daily Tribune of May 18, 1864:


Before the memory of the late gale and its disasters shall have passed from the public mind, records should be made of the circumstances in which the survivors of the wrecked schooner "Storm" were rescued.

Early on Tuesday morning the dismantled hulk was dimly discerned floating in the lake opposite the Garrett Biblical Institute.  By means of a spy glass five men could be seen clinging to the wreck, which was ever and anon completely submerged.  The course of the wind was such as to drive the craft upon the beach a little below the village, where, as indeed along the whole shore, furious breakers were dashing without intermission.

The students and citizens gathered in groups at the water's edge, painfully, but for hours hopelessly anxious for some means of bringing the imperiled seamen to land.

Then was felt more intensely than words can express the necessity of having this place made a life-boat station.  But no life-boat was at hand. One man had already perished, and it was certain that the rest could not endure it much longer.

In this extremity, a brave young man, Mr. J.C. Hartzell, a student at the Garrett Biblical Institute, volunteered to make the effort of swimming through the surf, and towing a line to the vessel.  Being obliged to divest himself of heavy clothing, the exposure to cold was almost equal to that of drowning, but by great skill in riding the breakers and desperate efforts to overcome the power of the opposing waves, he succeeded in reaching the wreck and making fast the line, on which he and the survivors of the crew came ashore.     

The men were so benumbed with cold and so exhausted by their exposure that they required to be helped out of the water and immediate succor with warmth and stimulants, as a means of preserving life.  After being  partially warmed by fires on the shore, they were taken to the homes of some of our hospitable citizens and furnished with dry clothing and whatever they needed until they recover their strength.

This is the third instance in which students of the Biblical Institute have been instrumental in rescuing from watery graves persons who ave been wrecked in the vicinity.  For their efforts and success in  such perilous scenes, they ask neither honor nor reward from men, but if persons interested in lake navigation or in acts of humanity would furnish them with a properly fitted life-boat, as a means of more prompt and efficient action in emergencies, they would make the best possible use of it, and rejoice in being thus prepared to render humane service to the unfortunate.

Like most heroes, Joseph Hartzell did not like to talk about his historic rescue in 1864.  He seldom talked about what happened that fateful day other than to say that the exertions of his efforts caused him to be bedridden for three weeks after the rescue.  Hartzell finished his seminary studies, was ordained a minister in the Methodist Church in 1866 and took up his first of many assignments in Pekin, Illinois shortly thereafter.

Being familiar with the story of (now) Bishop J.C. Hartzell's brave rescue, noted Methodist minister and poet Rev. Dwight Williams decided to immortalize the story for all time.  In 1891 he published his poem "The Wreck of the Schooner Storm".  Out of print for years, and virtually impossible to find, I was able to locate a copy in the Henry Ossawa Tanner papers in the Archives of American Art (


The Rev. Dwight Williams
Author of “The Bridal in Eden”, “Mary at the Sepulchre”, “The Mid-Night Star”, “Rabboni” 
and other poems

Dwight Williams

Introductory Note.

In the private library of the Rev. J.C. Hartzell, D.D., of Cincinnati, Ohio, there is a copy of the New American Encyclopedia, and in each volume is a neatly printed card on which are inscribed the following words:


“Whereas, during the terrible gale of May 10th, A.D. 1864, Joseph C. Hartzell, at great personal risk made his way through the cold and violent surf of Lake Michigan to the wreck of the schooner, Storm, and assisted four men to escape from the imminent peril of their lives.

“This copy of the New American Encyclopedia was at a public meeting presented to Mr. Hartzell by the citizens of Evanston, Ills. as a token of their high appreciation of his heroic and skillful exertions in rescuing his fellow beings from danger.”

To Rev. J.C. Hartzell, D.D.

I caught an inspiration on the wing,
How otherwise, when with such magic words
My heart could not refrain from its vibrant chords,
And thus I turned aside to muse and sing,
And to thine ear and heart my tribute bring;
Great are the hours when courage undergirds
The soul with after songs and sweet rewards,
And bells of memory at will to ring;
Ah! Sacrifice can never more be loss,
How beautiful in this dark world of ours
To learn the secrets of the blessed Cross
That changes thorny crowns to fragrant flowers,
And lifts us from the billow crests that toss,
To rest and rapture in immortal bowers.


The schooner Storm lay in the swells
Upon a hidden bar,
And furious Northers swept her hulk
With broken mast and spar;
And anxious throngs upon the shore
Gazed on the wreck afar.
Through glasses seen, five shivering forms
Stood in the drenching spray
That clad them in a mail of ice
Like spectres in array,
And left them bound upon the deck
In blank and wild dismay.
They saw one fall benumbed and stiff
In white and sheeted fold,
And by his comrades laid away
Within the silent hold,
While they returned with frosted hands
And signaled in the cold.
They raised a placard on the shore,
“A life-boat on the way!”
But ah! The men could read it not,
Blinded with frozen spray,
And still the life-boat from afar
Seemed held with long delay.
“To wait the life-boat shall be death.”
Who is the hero soul
To leap the billows with a rope,
And reach the awful goal?
“Impossible!” old seamen said,
“So wild the surges roll.”
But see! A stalwart student leaps
With coat and shoes aside,
His face is shipward, and he smites
The waves unterrified,
That, shouting rise with lifted arms
To mock him and deride.
But he an expert knows their force,
And with a fencer’s stroke
He cleaves aside the awful blows
That rend yon ribs of oak,
As if the shell of battle ships
In thunder on them broke.
A fallen mast is on the waves,
Held there by tangled ropes,
If he shall reach it he is safe
The bridge of all his hopes;
But angry currents bear him down
While with the tide he copes.
To vision lost, amid the waves,
A hush is on the crowd,
As they look out in dark suspense
Far o’er the breakers loud,
While some with faces in their hands
Upon the shore are bowed.
Low words of prayer are said, and now
The rope plays out no more,
About his body tied, alas,
They fear that all is o’er;
“Draw in the rope!” some urgent said,
“And bring him to the shore.”
And still he struggles in the waves;
How long to him; how long
To those who wait upon the shore,
The eagar, anxious throng;
Was not God’s arm reached down to him
To make him doubly strong?
He wins!  his hand is on the mast!
And with an iron grip
He holds it while the surges roll,
Lest from his path he slip,
And in the intervals of waves
     Draws slowly toward the ship.
He clasps the ropes, and as he climbs
     They see him from the shore,
“He’s safe! He’s safe!” the wild shout rings
     And like an loud encore,
He hears the rapture as it swells
     Above the tempest’s roar.
There stood the captain and his men
     In ghastliness of form,
Like statues cut in ice, with stare
     From eyes whose love-light warm
In cold, remorseless masks was set,
     Imprisoned in the storm.
“God bless you,” was the first salute
From icy lips that broke;
“You are a man!” the captain said,
And lifted, as he spoke,
His stiffened hands, as if in prayer
A blessing to invoke.
And wild huzzas went up for him
  Who scorned the open throat
Of those mad waves that hungry gaped
  Upon the wreck afloat,
And crowded on like cannibals
  In wanton feast to gloat.
And he a victor lone and brave
     A soul against the swarm
Of cruisers with their flags of mist;
     What greeting glad and warm,
There were his trophies on the shore,
     The prisoners of the Storm.
When many days and months were gone,
     One day the student sat
In waiting for an out-bound train,
     Thinking of this and that,
And saw a stranger in approach
     As if with his to chat.
Of noble form and manly face,
     He spake as in surprise;
“I beg your pardon, Sir, I think
     In you I recognize
One I have seen and met before;”
     And moisture filled his eyes.
“Is not this Mr. H----?”  “It is”.
     “God bless you, Sir, ‘twas you
That brought me from the schooner Storm,
     Me and my comrades few;
I was the captain of the ship,
     You saved me and my crew.”
The captain clasped him in his arms,
     Nor thought of strangers there,
And blessed him in his grateful tears
     And breathed a low sweet prayer,
A benediction for a life
     Fit for an angel fair.

It is not by mistake that a copy of Rev. Dwight Williams' work was in the papers of Henry Ossawa Tanner.  Tanner was also a friend and admirer of Bishop Hartzell, and had known him for years.  

Henry Ossawa Tanner - 1907

Tanner's father Benjamin Tucker Tanner was also a Methodist bishop.

Bishop Hartzell and his wife were early supporters of the artistic career of Tanner.  One time, they went so far as to buy every unsold painting from a show Tanner was putting on, so that Tanner could have the money to go to Europe for further study.

Tanner's copy of "The Wreck of the Schooner Storm" is covered with pencil doodles and sketches.  It's possible that Tanner was toying with the idea of a painting of Bishop Hartzell saving the men of the "Storm". This idea went nowhere, because the portrait Tanner ended up doing of Bishop Hartzell was dramatic, but  very conventional: 

Bishop J.C. Hartzell by Henry Ossawa Tanner - 1902

The loss of the Lady Elgin and the Storm were largely forgotten until 1907.  It was at a dinner at the White House that the stories of the rescues were brought to the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt by David D. Thompson, editor of the Northwestern Christian Advocate. Thompson felt, and Roosevelt agreed that Congressional medals should be awarded to Bishop Charles H. Fowler, Bishop Joseph C. Hartzell and Edward Spencer.  There was some opposition to this because so much time had passed since the rescues, and I could not find any evidence that the medals were ever awarded.

The loss of the Lady Elgin and the Storm were just two of the many incidents of shipwrecks off of Evanston during the nineteenth century. After each wreck there was a call for something to be done about the hazardous conditions of Lake Michigan along the Evanston shoreline. Despite repeated loss of life, the Grosse Pointe lighthouse was not built until 1873 and the life-boat station was not built at Northwestern until 1876.

Ferdinand Cowle Inglehart, in his article "Bishop Hartzell and His Work in Africa" (1909) sums up the story about Hartzell and the wreck of the "Storm" this way:  "This signal act of bravery on the part of the young student was a prophecy of the heroic leader who was to bless two continents; who for twelve years has struggled against stormy seas, savages, fevers, and all forms of danger, with a self-abandonment truly sublime, in a burning passion to rescue the millions of his fellowmen from mental, social, and moral shipwreck."

"And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishermen.

 And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."

Joseph Crane Hartzell - a "Fisher of Men" - May he rest in peace.

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