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San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 500, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

05 November 2016

❖ JOAN LOWELL and her HOAX WITH A MORAN BROS. SCHOONER ❖

Fiction creeping into the Non-fiction: 
Readers were "had." 
Actress, author, Joan Lowell (1902-1967)
and father Capt. Nicholas Wagner

with Capt. Jack Apple on board their 48-ft
Schooner BLACK HAWK.
Original photo from the archives of S.P.H.S.©

Words by legal historian Molly Manning.
From: The
Legal Historian.com 14 May 2012.
The theatrics are from New York and California; for a connection to home, the schooner was built by Moran Shipyards, Seattle, WA.

Schooner MINNIE A. CAINE
Launching 1900 at Moran Brothers Shipyard, Seattle, WA.
Photographer unknown,
Washington Rural Heritage site.
      "In 1929, Simon and Schuster, along with a myriad of readers and reviewers, developed a keen interest in Joan Lowell, whose recently published book––Cradle of the Deep––told of her harrowing adventures on the high seas as she traveled with her father in his glorious four-masted ship. Her book's foul-mouthed accounts of being the only female on a ship full of hardened sailors, of learning life's lessons (including how to swim, which occurred after she was literally thrown into the ocean to see whether she would sink or stay afloat), and fighting for survival was shocking, engaging, and page-turning.
      When the New York Times reviewed the book, it sang its praises. The book was deemed a "jolly yarn," told with "dash and ardor" and a "vocabulary as replete with expletives as one will encounter at sea or in a highly modern Broadway show." Although the Times noted that the book seemed plagued with dramatics as Lowell described "each and every calamity at sea--shipwreck, scurvy, fire and so on," the reviewer was quick to add that he did not "question the veracity of the sea-going author."
      Oh, but he should have. Nautical experts who read the book found "innumerable flaws" in Lowell's account, including facts that any amateur sailor would not have mistaken. Some were so enraged that it was said that they 'called upon Heaven, Homer, and Herman Melville to witness that she didn't know her ship's lee scuppers from a marlinspike."'The truth was soon revealed that Lowell grew up exclusively on dry land in California, not on a ship.

Simon and Schuster 1929
Schooner MINNIE A. CAINE, 1929.
A pictorial refutation of one of the two statements
made in Joan Lowell's Cradle of the Deep.
The schooner is moored 
to her dock in Oakland, CA,
 that proved the ship did not burn and sink,
  as related in the book.
Original World Wide photo dated 8 April 1929.
From the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
      Lowell's publisher and her readers had been "had." Not knowing before publication that it was entirely make believe, Simon & Schuster was forced to offer a refund to its fooled readers (as the first printing was 75,000 copies, the refund was a costly punishment). Further, since the book's true nature was not discovered until after the Book-of-the-Month Club recommended it to its members, the hoax's repercussions leaked into the courtroom as this book club was publicly ridiculed and criticized by powerful figures in the book world, which resulted in litigation.
Joan Lowell
Aboard BLACK HAWK, 1 April 1933,
attempting a circumnavigation with her father
Capt. Nicholas Wagner. They got as far as Guatemala.
      Lowell seems to have escaped her mischief unscathed, as she continued to write and even starred in a movie of her own making. In 1934, her film, Adventure Girl, was shown in theaters; the movie supposedly re-enacted her adventures with her father and his crew while on board a schooner headed for the West Indies and Central America. Lowell was said to have created the film to lend credibility to Cradle of the Deep––but there was no redeeming the latter after it was exposed for the hoax it was. Lowell never abandoned her tales of navigating the seas; it almost seems that she spent most of her life trying to revitalize her first fictitious book about such adventures. She even married a sea captain in 1936 and sailed with him to Brazil, where they built a home in the jungle. Her attempts to escape from her hoax were unavailing--even twenty years after its publication, the book- world still reeled from her shenanigans--Cradle of the Deep was declared "one of the most violent literary controversies of modern times" in 1952.
      Should Lowell's hoax be considered harmful or hilarious? Should it be taken seriously or with a sense of humor?"


Below, Anne Colby writing for the L.A. Times, 2008:

In an interview at the time, Lowell maintained that a writer's primary obligation was to provide readers with color and excitement: "Any damn fool can be accurate––and dull."
She never admitted deceit, and though the scandal followed her, it didn't put a halt to her literary adventures.
1936: Lowell moved to the jungles of Brazil where she died in 1967.

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