by Claire Lindell
In the early half of the twentieth century Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio was a thriving port on Lake Erie. The Great Lakes were humming with cargo ships, barges and freighters moving slowly up and down the waterway delivering supplies.
One evening a young man of twenty or so stood on the shore and pondered his future. He was certain about one thing. He did not want to remain in the Harbor and become a dock worker like several of his uncles. He yearned to see what lay beyond. Where were all these ships going? What would it be like to live and work aboard ship? Where would it take him? His whole life lay ahead of him.
Alpo Hjalmar Lindell was the seventh child of eight children, born on November 9, 1917 to Johan Hjalmar Lindell, the Harbor blacksmith and Court interpreter. His mother, Ida Susanna Karhu, was a local activist in the Temperance Movement.
Alpo decided to become a merchant marine and fulfill his dreams The job description stated clearly that it was an arduous, tedious and strenuous occupation. Seaman worked long lonely hours swabbing decks, lifting heavy cargo, polishing brass. They were the custodians of the ship. Their responsibility was to see that everything aboard remained in “ship shape”.
Click to open a new window to view a current job description:
which is not that much different than it would have been back in the 40s, 50s and 60s.
The first indication that Alpo became a merchant marine was on September 12, 1944 . His name appears on a departure Passenger List in the Panama Canal, Cristobal Canal Zone. He was twenty-six years old.
Later at the age of thirty-one he is on an Immigration and Emigration List leaving Copenhagen, Denmark on June 18, 1948, destination, New York City.
A third document showed that in 1950 he was working much closer to home on board the “Cletus Schneider”, a long sleek freighter on the Great Lakes as third Assistant Engineer.
Cletus Scneider on the Great Lakes
Information about Alpo between 1950 and the middle 60s is mostly hearsay. We do know he continued to work as a merchant marine.
Over the years he fulfilled his dreams. After more than twenty years as a seaman he could no longer do the demanding work. He settled in New York City, a city he knew well.
In New York City he would occasionally have a short visit with one of his older brothers who visited the city regularly on company business. They would meet and chat briefly at Grand Central Station. Alpo would leave with a few extra dollars in his pocket and make his way back to the Bowery.
It was shortly after such an occasion on April 6th, 1968 that perhaps he flashed money, settled debts, or paid a round for his ‘friends’ that he was rolled and later found dead. He was only fifty years old! A broken man.
At the time of Alpo’s death the authorities could not locate any family members. He was buried on Hart Island in a pauper’s grave.
Shortly thereafter, his brother was made aware of Alpo’s tragic death. The brother had the body exhumed and brought back to Ashtabula where he was given a proper burial. He lies in Edgewood Cemetery close to his parents.
That brother was my father.
We are all our brothers’ keepers.
Sources: found on Ancestry
1920 United States Federal Census CENSUS & VOTER LISTS
1930 United States Federal Census CENSUS & VOTER LISTS
1940 United States Federal Census CENSUS & VOTER LISTS Click to view
New Orleans, Passenger Lists, 1813-1945 IMMIGRATION & TRAVEL
New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 IMMIGRATION & TRAVEL
U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 SCHOOLS, DIRECTORIES & CHURCH HISTORIES
Note: Alpo’s older brother, Karl, left home to study when Alpo was only six years old. They hardly knew each other and their paths did not cross for many years. Karl moved to Canada and became a successful Mining Engineer.
2 thoughts on “Harbour Lights”
Harbour Lights is a very touching story. I remember that you told it to me at the book club, and I was fascinated.