A Captain- My Captain

February 11, 2008 at 12:51 am 14 comments

in the pink
that woman by Loraine Ritchey Contact Info- thatwb@yahoo.com

He has become “my” captain,from the moment Renee Dore came through my front door with his story, this man of the inland sea captivated my imagination and part of my heart.

It all started in frustration and anger -this romance. Charleston Village Executive Board were holding a meeting in my home- we were under threat of blight and had been told that the little park that had been a public green space for two centuries was to make way for “condos”. We were meeting to plan a course of action . What could we do , this small band of neighbors, to show the worthiness of Lorain’s history and this oldest neighborhood, from which Lorain eventually grew, to those that only saw limited revenue for the short term?
the park

As we sat there, Renee mentioned that she had received some papers from a contact at Bowling Green University. Renee, who loves this old neighborhood, played as a child on her streets, and has given back to her three fold, including building a “new” home – Renee's home

hoping to restart a community, had gone in search of a man- a ship’s captain. Her captain may have lived in the house where she lived as a “wee bairn” and in her search through the archives of the Black River Historical Society and the Lorain Public Library, in order to document the stories and the worth of Portside – before it went to the wrecking ball-
Portside sketch click to enlarge
had come across a story of a ship’s captain who had saved his wife, children and crew from a shipwreck.

I remember Renee coming in that evening, full of excitement, even though the meeting was going to be “dour”, as we started reading the old news paper accounts; I came to the overwhelming realization ,that inspite of what we were facing ,I had to chronicle this man’s tale. It is a tale of love, bravery, adventure and humanity, one that my grandfather would’ve described as a “cracking good yarn” .

I persuaded Renee to leave me the documents and started to piece the tale together, my theatrical background switched into overdrive, in my mind I saw the play , the movie that could be made from this…. my creative instincts saw so many possibilities.Charle's Aunt
I kept studying the old black and white photo copy of the man in question, Captain Wilford
I was experiencing deja vu – I know this face, his eyes -why? I am not even from here originally; he was originally from England , but nowhere near where I had lived. Why was this face amongst the old newsprint so familiar? I asked my mother who came over the next day as I was typing “Her Book

“Mum look at this picture what do you think?”


He certainly reminds me of someone but who? – well lets get on with “my memories” mumsince you have nagged me to do this for decades”

and the Captain stayed on the desk.
The days went by and the Captain’s face haunted me, as I typed my mum’s memories of her childhood and young life. I would take a break and look at the photo on top of the printer

“you know me- you know – you know me “


it seemed to accuse but I just couldn’t make the connection.
I eventually got lost in the problems facing Lorain, the root cause
when a phone call took me back to The Captain. It was my very good friend, fellow actor Dave Cotton. Dave and I have gone through the good times and the bad, we laugh and moan together. It was one of those dreary days -

“tell me something good”

he said
Dave, I have just been putting together a story about a sea captain , it would make a great play even a better movie- the visual , the romance , the tragedy, the bravery I just can’t get this guy out of my mind.
Dave hadn’t heard of such a significantly adventurous tale from Lorain’s past and he and his family had lived in the area for generations.
I then went rabbitting on about this Captain Wilford,

That’s funny

said Dave

my great grandmother’s name was Wilford

THE FACE – of course that face -it was David- the moustache , the hair was a little different but the eyes – it WAS DAVID!!!!!

Dave IT IS YOU!!!

David who has known my penchant for the dramatic, laughed and said

” I have never heard of this guy in our family stories or documents” Dave.this is just too coincidental ! You have to look and see

after a couple of days research it was confirmed the heretofore unknown Captain Thomas Wilford was Dave’s great,great uncle.
Dave had passed his home on his way to meetings at the Black River Historical Society , never knowing that he had a connection. Wilford Bartenfeld home
From there the tale continued to grow, in order to raise funds for the Charleston Village Cemetery, Dave, his theatrical talent blessing us, started telling the tale of the shipwreck, and in order to make sure his facts were correct embarked on a journey of his own discovery .
Dave as Captain Wilford

Not only was a remarkable piece of Lorain’s history found, more was uncovered , his wife-Fanny who had had his arms protectvely wrapped around her as the large Canadian ship came out of the fog to slice into their schooner) her own connection to the Civil War
Fanny  Gilmore
, her family and Lakeview Park , General  Gilmorethe worth of a rental, Wilford house
the people who laid this towns foundations, once again living and breathing as we celebrated the two hundred years .
The fact that the State of Michigan deems the story of the shipwreck and the preservation of the wreck as important to the history of the Inland Seas and the archiver of the Titanic- Ken Marschall has also archived the Osborne but Lorain knew not the worth of her people to the maritime history………
Note to access the photos of the Osborne as she rests at the bottom of Lake Superior – near White Fish Point click here and scroll down
to be continued……….proposed maritime museum

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Entry filed under: history, men of substance. Tags: .

Scottish Link-up Capt. Wilford – a Hero of the Inland Seas

14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. renee dore  |  February 11, 2008 at 3:13 am

    Thanks Loraine for writing this – As Loraine said- she couldn’t get the ship captain out of her mind for a few days until she put the connection with Dave Cotton together. That was how it was with me-it never happened to me before- to be so compelled to learn more about this man- who lived on the same lot I grew up on, and then down the street by the Masonic Temple.We all began a quest to learn more about him- his wreck- and meet his family. His story is one of many connected with the great ship captains/ shipbuilders from this small commnuity of Chalreston Village. What made me sad was that I neve knew about Captain Wilford nor his fellow captains. Unlike other older lake cites, (Vermilion, Huron, )- the early nautical history seemed to be overshadowed with the industrial era and the International flavor of this city that came with the 1900’s. But the nautical history of the 1800’s here is what things – as Loraine said- is what movies are made of. Their homes are still here and their stories are here- at the Black River Historical Society and the Library. Can’t wait to read more….Renee Dore

  • 2. dave cotton  |  February 11, 2008 at 6:13 am

    I am very grateful to Loraine and Renee for bringing this piece of my family history to my attention. The story and my continuing research have enriched my life so much.
    The thing is that there are so many more stories to be told about the ancestors of Charleston village and Lorain. As Renee says their homes are still evident. Their stories are there as well waiting to be discovered and told. Charleston Village was a vibrant, living community that endured great hardships to build the city we enjoy. We owe it to them to tell the stories and keep the memories alive.
    Thanks Loraine and Renee for doing this!

  • 3. thatwoman  |  February 11, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    Renee, Dave it amazes me the connectivity in all of this how one thing keeps leading to another…it is like some hunt for lost treasure and in this case I believe the lost treasure is Loran’s History and thank heavens for the Black River Hisotrical Society and the Library….the Port of Lorain saved Lorain twice before and maybe that same stretch of land and water will be the “turning” point again…..I just hope we aren’t ALL history before it happens …. I will be running the Wilford Shipwreck story on Wednesday Loraine

  • 4. Anne Molnar  |  February 11, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    Loaine,
    This is truly a great story. More indeed needs to be told.

    . Why can’t it be told to the whole world. I suggest someone contact a producer in Hollywood and inquire if a movie can be made of this wonderful story.

    Stories of years past are always interesting.

    Keep writing Loraine, Enjoy reading that woman blog.
    Anne

  • 5. thatwoman  |  February 11, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    Thanks Anne, an independent film company could be a possiblity the script is written all they would have to do is flesh out the dialogue. There are so many remakes of stories. on film now …. this one has the daring rescue of a child through blowing steam boilers, heroism from a passenger of the liner …a young couple sharing a romantic evening on the deck, faith , a town that waited holding their breath for a week waiting to find out news of their loved ones…..and that is just one week in this old town of Charleston Village .think how many other great stories from this port …..

  • 6. Kaye Coller  |  February 11, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    I’ve I’ve known Dave for years, heard him speak as Captain Wolford, looked at that photo, and never before realized the uncanny resemblance. As soon as I looked at it today, I knew it was Dave. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  • 7. Kaye Coller  |  February 11, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Of course, I meant to spell it Wilford. My bad, as the kids would say.

  • 8. Henery  |  February 12, 2008 at 12:32 am

    From the Black River Bicentennial.

    If the pic doesn’t show above,

  • 9. Kelly Boyer Sagert  |  February 12, 2008 at 2:08 am

    Loraine . . . I read the title of the post and then I just scrolled down to see what photos were included — and the juxtaposition of the two caused a light to turn on, and I thought, “The Captain sure looks a lot like Dave!!!”

    Amazing genetics . . .

  • 10. thatwoman  |  February 12, 2008 at 3:36 am

    Kelly yes you can see why I thought I KNEW this man and actually introduced him the Ogleby Norton tonight :) as he was the Commodore of their fleet when they were the Richardson line :)

  • 11. renee dore  |  February 12, 2008 at 5:08 am

    Learning about this family and where they lived in the 1870’s and 1880’s caused me to add another layer of fondness for this neighborhood here. I can look across the street and imagine what it might have been like here back then- from a warm summer night to a very cold winter evening. You know, from the windows in the back of their homes here they could glance over to the river and out to the lake on mornings before leaving port here to deliver their goods elsewhere on the Great Lakes. It has added imagination and fascination to this old area of town. I could go on and on about this. Renee Dore

  • 12. FORGOTTEN- NOW GONE!!!!!!! « That Woman’s Weblog  |  May 1, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    […] all “foreigners” to this area- the “olde” families gone or their offspring unaware of their roots […]

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