My grandmother-in-law, Virginia, was over 90 years old when she pulled a yellowed envelope containing four film negatives out of one of her many photo albums. Like we’d done many times before, she was sharing the memories of her adventurous life captured in those albums, and I was always enthralled with the places she’d been and the people she’d met, but the writing on the envelope: “Slocum 1906,” gave me goose bumps. “Oh my God,” I said as I held one of the negatives to the light. “These are photos of Joshua Slocum and Spray.” In my excitement I foolishly asked, “Did you meet Joshua Slocum when you were a kid?!” “No,” she said, “I don’t think so (she hadn’t been born yet). But my father probably would have gone down to the pier to see what was going on.”
“Hmmmm,” I thought. “Did my wife’s great-grandfather meet the very first cruiser and even take pictures in 1906?” It’s totally possible. Generations of Virginia’s family had spent summers in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, and the Hyannis Port coastline and pier are easily identifiable in the shots, but that’s about all I could find out. Virginia understood my excitement and my journalistic desire to know more about these fantastic, perhaps historically significant photographs, but she had to admit: “I really don’t know who took those pictures.”
So, I had prints made from the negatives and did a little digging. I found the iconic images and drawings of Slocum and Spray online, but none that matched what we had. Ted Jones, the Commodore of the Joshua Slocum Society International, could not confirm that the photos had never been published before, but he did say that he’d never seen them before. Several other Slocum sources yielded similar answers. I can’t say for sure that these photos have “never been seen before,” but the fact that we found negatives rather than a collection of prints lead me to believe that it very well could be.
But as I continued to look for clues in the 100-year-old photos, I realized I was missing the point. For me, they are simply a gift that helps me remember my connection to my wife’s grandmother who I loved (Virginia has since passed away), and to Slocum, who inspired me to get in way over my head, and survive, during my adventurous youth. So, I hope these photos help the memory of Slocum come alive and inspire you to go on an adventure just as much as they do for me.
And talk about a disruptive! Slocum and Spray define the term and have been inspiring generations of long distance sailors to sail over the horizon for over 100 years.