Disappearance of the SS Poet

By Bob Josuweit
History Committee

Baseball….It’s red hot. The Phillies had just won the 1980 World Series. The explosive celebrations were noticed on the docks and by 34 crewmembers of the SS Poet. Nine of the crewmembers were from the Philadelphia area. The 36-year-old bulk carrier SS Poet was being loaded at Girard Point with a cargo of yellow corn. The ship departed at 1:20 am on October 24, 1980 for Port Said, Eqypt. Six hours later, one of the deck officers called his wife through the marine operator. That was the last time the ship was heard from. An air and surface search began on November 8. The search covered over 296,000 square miles, including the area known as the Bermuda Triangle. No trace of the vessel, crewmen, or debris was ever found. The disappearance of the SS Poet was the first time in nearly 20 years that a U.S.-flag vessel totally vanished without a single trace of the 11,241-ton ship or its crew. One of the crewmember’s mothers was Lottie Zukier Fredette, a member of Gloria Dei. Fredette drove her son Hans to the ship. At the worn docks she has a terrible premonition. She appealed to Hans to stay home. She cried and out of character, she cursed. Hans was uneasy with his mother’s unusual behavior. She had often visited the vessels and never acted like this. At 7 a.m. on Saturday, November 1, Fredette completed a night shift at Northeastern Hospital. She told investigators that something troubled her–just as on the day she took her child to the Poet. “I was very depressed. I laid down for two hours or so.” She told her husband “‘Something is bothering me.’ I kept crying. I had these crying spells.”

Following inquiries into the ship’s disappearance a service was held in January at the Seaman’s Church Institute in New York. “The most profound tribute that can be paid to the 34 men who perished aboard the SS Poet is for us to seek whatever measures can be found to increase the safety of American vessels,” said the Rev. William Haynsworth, Institute chaplain. “The shroud of the sea has passed over the ship and no one knows where it went down into the sea. There’s nothing. It’s an utter mystery.”

On the next day, a similar service was set for Gloria Dei Church. Rev. Robert Peoples, chaplain at the Philadelphia Seaman’s Institute, asked Fredette to give a prayer.

Rev. Peoples planned the service, quietly using part of the Episcopalian burial service without naming it. He wanted to avoid upsetting some Poet family members who did not accept that their sailors had perished. Fredette lead a short prayer: “Dear God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change and the courage to change the things we can, and give us the wisdom to know the difference.” The Poet’s crew list (which can be seen in the rear of the church) was read. Hans Zukier was the last name read. Then the bells tolled for the end of the watch. After the service, Lottie Fredette said “We really have no choice but to accept what has been given to us. We can’t change that. But there’s nobody that says we don’t have the courage to say this can’t happen again.”

 

A Spot Sacred to Peace and Solitude

By Bob Josuweit
History Committee

Standing outside Old Swedes you will probably hear the sound of cars and trucks traveling on I-95 or Delaware Avenue. Step back in time and think of the church yard as a “spot sacred to peace and solitude, whither the charms of nature might invite the steps of the votary of the muses, and where the birds might sing over his grave.”

Wilson was born in Scotland on July 6, 1766. He started out as a weaver, but his interests turned to poetry and walking in the countryside. Wilson used his poetry to comment on what he saw as the unfair treatment of the weavers by their employers. The subjects of several of his poems were judged to be inflammatory and libelous, and he got in trouble with the law more than once.

Plate 1 - Alexander Wilson’s American Ornithology
Plate 1 – Alexander Wilson’s American Ornithology

In May, 1794 he left for America and settled near Philadelphia, where he taught school. He met William Bartram, who got him interested in birds. By 1804, Wilson began working on a nine-volume book, American Ornithology, which included 268 illustrations, including 26 new species.

He devoted time to observing and painting birds on a journey from Philadelphia to Niagara Falls and back again. He walked the nearly 1300 miles in 59 days. On the last day he walked 47 miles!

By 1813 his work began to take it’s toll. On August 12, Wilson saw a bird that he wanted. He followed it, swam the river with his clothes on and caught the bird. A severe cold followed. Ten days later the father of Ornithology died.

Wilson had sometime expressed the wish “to be buried in some rural spot, sacred to peace and solitude.” He was buried in the church yard of Gloria Dei. The inscription on his tomb reads: This monument covers the remains of Alexander Wilson Author of AMERICAN ORNITHOLOGY.

He was born in Renfrewshire, Scotland on the 6th of July, 1766, Emigrated to United States in year 1794 and died in Philadelphia of the dysentery on the 23rd August, 1813, Aged 47.