Until about 1987, I never gave much thought about how I fit into this world. But in that year things started happening to me that indicated how small (or connected) this world really was. The event that triggered these "small world" incidents was innocuous enough. I was the Chief Engineer of a midtown office building and one day walked into the Building Office to over hear the Portfolio Manager mention to someone that he had been in the Coast Guard. As a Coast Guard veteran myself, my ears naturally pricked up; I went over to him and remarked that I too had been in the Coast Guard. What followed was insane. It went like this:
Boss: What cutter were you on?
Me: Tamaroa, which cutter were you on?
Boss: (Big Grin) Mackinac, we helped you put out a stack fire.
Me: I remember, we towed you down to be decommissioned.
Boss: I was on the decommissioning crew.
Me: If you were on the decom crew, I have a photo of you because I was on the towing watch.
With that said, I went home and found the photo. I made a copy of it and sent it to him. To think that 19 years earlier we were only a couple hundred yards apart from each other.
Then a little while later, I was walking my dog, wearing my ships cap when a neighbor around 4 houses down saw the cap, stopped me and told me he had served on the Red Beech, A Cutter also out of Staten Island docked perpendicular to my ship.
I'm also a Civil War buff and had a couple of similar experiences in that field. I was doing some research on Caspar Tyler of the 141st Pennsylvania Infantry. One weekend I had to drop my son off at the Naval Academy for some training. On the way back, I decided to detour through Gettysburg and checkout the Peach Orchard Where Tyler had done some fighting.
As I was wandering the field, I came across an older gentlemen and we struck up a conversation. Turns out, he was also interested in the 141st Pennsylvania. Not only that, but he had a relative in the unit and he had copies of the soldier's letters with him. The Gentleman, gave me copies of his relatives letters for my research. If I had decided to take the quick way home, I would never have seen those letters.
During another research project, I kept bumping into two names John Haring and John Coleman of the 6th New York Heavies and the 95th New York respectively. Time after time it happened, to the point where I said to myself that this was ridiculous. what were they trying to tell me? Then it happened! I received a copy of John Coleman's pension records! I ripped them open and my heart nearly stopped! The first document visible was an affadavit that stated " I Catherine Coleman (nee Haring)..........I went back and double checked the 1860 census and indeed, Catherine Haring married John Coleman.
Then there was the saga of William G. Stephenson. In Roanoke back in the 70's, I used to frequent a used book seller named Nelson Bond. He sold me a book entitled "13 Months in the Rebel Army" by an impressed New Yorker. The long and short of it was that WGS was visiting the south when war broke out. He was told to join the Confederate army or get hung. He did the prudent thing and joined up. He served his full enlistment then escaped and went home. Fast foward about 26 years later and here I was a bored history major in a non history job. So I decided to do some research with a twist. I decided to do a paper about Confederate soldiers who moved to Rockland County after the war. In the course of my research, I found our friend Stephenson. I was stunned to say the least. I couldn't believe it as the same guy. But it was. I found his grave at Oak Hill in Nyack and found some interesting articles about him in the Nyack Journal. The one thing I thought was really interesting is that there is no record of him ever joining the Union army.
Then about two years ago, I published an article in SEA HISTORY about the efforts to save my old ship the USCGC TAMAROA. When I got a copy of the magazine, there was also an article in the magazine by Henry Helgesen, who had beem the Executive Officer on the Tam when I was on her...........We began a correspondence and he sent me a couple of good stories for our newsletter.
This month, it happened again which is what inspired me to write about it here. I received my issue of Sea History to read another article by Captain Helgesen ( not the small world piece) but there was a second article about the Coast Guard Cutter ARGO. It didn't connect until near the end of the article when the author noted that the skipper of the Argo went back home to Southport Maine (Where I have vacationed more than once); but that he had started his own excursion boat lines, first ship was named the ARGO. As a youngster, I used to take excursions on the Argo regularly. By the way the real ARGO is still afloat as one of the Circle Line boats that circle Manhattan regularly.
I'm sure this kind of stuff happens to people all the time, I'm not arrogant enough to assume history revolves around me. But I must admit, I do take delight in these little coincidences. They make for interesting anecdotes.