Columbia Library columns (v.32(1982Nov-1983May))

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  v.32,no.3(1983:May): Page 3  

Stephen Crane in the Shadow
of the Parthenon



^ OLLOWING a mysterious explosion in its engine room,
the filibustering steamer Commodore, carrying men and
munitions to the Cuban rebels, foundered fifteen miles off
the coast of Florida on the morning of January 2, 1897. Stephen
Crane, en route to report the insurrection for the Bacheller-
Johnson Syndicate, was among four survivors who battled heavy
seas for almost thirty hours in a ten-foot dinghy until it capsized
in the breakers on the beach at Daytona. Ironically, Billy Higgins,
the most able seaman and best swimmer aboard the tiny craft,
drowned in the surf. For Crane, this struggle for survival with the
elements and its irrational denouement came to symbolize the es¬
sential condition of life itself and was fictionalized, with little al¬
teration of the actual circumstances, in his finest short story, "The
Open Boat."

The sinking of the Commodore left Crane without a place to
which he could return. On September 16, 1896, in New York
City's Jefferson Market Police Court, he had defended Dora
Clark, a known prostitute, because she had been falsely arrested
for soliciting while in his company. This incident and the legal
complexities resulting from it precipitated front-page stories in
newspapers throughout the United States which exploited the
seamier aspects of Crane's Bohemian life in the Tenderloin. The
New York police force was extremely powerful in the nineties.

Opposite: Cabinet photograpii of Stephen Crane during his assignment
as a war correspondent in Atliens in 1897, inscribed to Samuel S. Cham¬
berlain, managing editor of the New Yorli Journal. (Author's collection)
  v.32,no.3(1983:May): Page 3