The last time the Philadelphia Phillies played in the World Series, I perched on the edge of my seat at the stadium, courtesy of The Philadelphia Inquirer. My assignment? It had nothing to do with sports. I’d developed a reputation as a good guy to cover riots, based on a decade of civil rights gang warfare and student events I’d experienced and written about.
And here, in fan crazy Philadelphia, the editors rightly assumed the Philadelphia fans would storm the field and the players, however the game turned out. So they sent me to file that story.
No surprise. The Phillies won. Big surprise:: Mayor Frank Rizzo at the top of the ninth, lined both foul lines with mounted police and canine units, from home plate to the outfield walls.
There would be no riots. There would be no story.
Unknown to me at the time, the story I’d follow for more than forty years lay not far away at a pier in South Philly. There a grain ship called the SS Poet loaded with corn and then set sail down the Delaware, toward Egypt and into history. The ship and her crew of 34 never would be seen again. (Here’s how I covered the memorial service at Old Swede’s Church.)
The ship was an old rust bucket — one of many in the US fleet at the time. Subsequent investigations of subsequent tragedies — the SS Marine Electric in 1983 and the SS El Faro in 2015 — helped close the loopholes through which these unsafe ships sailed. But the Poet was the first to open my eyes to the problem. Specifically, Lottie Fredette and the mothers, brothers, fathers and sisters of those lost on the Poet, forced my eyes open.
There are three types of people, Aristotle is said to have said.
The living. The dead. And those who go to sea.
I’d suggest there is a fourth type: Those who lose a loved one at sea and never know, never quite know how that happened or where their loved-ones now lay.
Here’s to them as for the forty-second year now they throw flowers into the Delaware Bay from the Cape-May Lewes Ferry at the point where the SS Poet last was seen.