Inspired by a Chap Named Storm

‘A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner,’ says the English proverb. This lovely little saying is quite apt for a story that I discovered in the papers of Henry Scripps and Carolyn Farr Booth.

In a folder of correspondence, I came across two letters to Henry Booth from a man named Brad Storm, a Bloomfield teenager who had sailed around the world solo in a boat, a journey which took him four years to complete. While there is little documentation on the story, it’s possible to piece together an inspiring tale of challenge, adventure, tenacity, and discovery.

An article in The Detroit News on October 24, 1983 (p. 3) tells us that Storm had planned the trip since he was 13. After working jobs and saving throughout his high school years, he bought a 27-foot cruising sloop named Dream Weaver. The initial voyage started disastrously in a shipwreck only three days after setting sail, on Friday, October 13th, 1979. Storm, determined and wiser, set sail again and successfully voyaged through Pacific Islands, Oceana, Australia (where he stayed for a year), the Indian Ocean, Mauritius, South Africa, the Caribbean, and home via the Panama Canal.

In the article, Storm describes the marvels and the struggles of his voyage, and recounts that his only companionship was a supply of classic books. As he deliberates his future voyages, he is certain of one revision: “Man wasn’t meant to sail alone. I’ll always go with a crew now so there’s someone to share the experience with.”

From Booth’s diary and History for 1983, I learned that upon reading about Storm’s journey in the newspaper, Booth phoned him up and invited him to visit Cranbrook. A couple of days later, Storm came to talk about his experience to Dr. Jeffrey Welch’s English class at Cranbrook School. He also spent time with Alice and Warren Booth (third child and second son of George and Ellen).

The first letter to Booth is dated December 1983, and Storm had sailed again in search of a place to settle and look to the future. He was writing from the coast of New Zealand to thank Booth for a poem, Inspired by a Chap Named Storm, that he had sent to Storm’s parents. Storm was considering how he could help and inspire others from the lessons he had learned through his experience and said that it was meaningful to him to receive Booth’s poem.

Inspired by a Chap Named Storm, a poem by Henry Scripps Booth. November 2, 1983. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

The second letter describes how Storm had arrived in Honolulu in June 1984 and planned to stay there to write about his journey and to pursue higher education. He writes,

“I’ve spent so much time at sea alone it’s terrific with friends all around me and other things I’ve denied myself for so long. Just walking to the shop and buying a pint of milk is still a pleasure. The sea showed me not to take things for granted so I’m not and enjoying life immensely… Writing is a very strange and new voyage to me with an unknown end, but I’m enjoying the challenge it’s bringing me. A lot of new challenges in a new life, I wake every morning enjoying the anticipation of the new day.”

Letter from Brad Storm to Henry Scripps Booth, July 2, 1984

Like Booth, I felt inspired by this chap named Storm, whose persistence in following his dream led to a great discovery. In searching the world for life, he discovered his relationship to it, giving him a most wonderful gift—the gift of taking pleasure in simple things.

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

A Delightful Trip in a White Swedish Ship

Between 1925 and 1939, the Saarinen family made annual trips to Europe, always stopping for a time in Finland. They travelled by sea, usually departing from New York and arriving in Southampton, England or Gothenburg, Sweden. When they sailed directly to Scandinavia, they were abaord the MS Gripsholm.

MS Gripsholm 1951 mailed

The MS Gripsholm in New York City, c. 1951. Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

The Gripsholm was built in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, in 1924 for the Svenska Amerika Linien/Swedish American Line (SAL). The SAL was founded in 1914 as a direct Swedish-North American cargo and passenger shipping line, and the Gripsholm was the company’s first luxury liner. She was also the first diesel-engine transatlantic passenger liner, which is why she is the MS (or Motor Ship) Gripsholm. After 1929, all the SAL fleet was painted white, giving rise to the moniker “A delightful trip in a white Swedish ship.”

Aboard the MS Gripsholm, first class passengers enjoyed all the traditional features of luxury transatlantic liners (libraries, writing rooms, gyms, a pool, garden rooms, smoking parlors, bars, etc.), along with distinctly Nordic options, like folk dancing, Swedish foods, and a fully Swedish crew.

Along with the port of Gothenburg’s closer proximity to Helsinki, it was perhaps these northern-European comforts that led the Saarinens, who were Swedish-speaking Finns, to repeatedly choose the Gripsholm for their summer journeys. Aboard the Gripsholm in 1929, this photo was snapped on deck showing Eliel, his son-in-law J. Robert F. Swanson, months-old Bob Swanson, and Eliel’s daughter Pipsan Saarinen Swanson. The family captioned the photo “Last Dash Before the Crash.”

Eliel Bob Bobby Pipsan on the Gripsholm 1929

Eliel, Bob, Bobby, and Pipsan aboard the MS Gripsholm, 1929. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

In 1934, Eliel, Loja, Pipsan, Bob, and their now five-year-old son Bobby were again aboard the Gripsholm. On the SAL stationery, Loja wrote a letter back to George and Ellen Booth at Cranbrook. She writes, “I wanted tell you again how happy Eliel and I have been at Cranbrook and how thankful we are to you because you want us there.” She continues:

“So far we are well off although neither Pipsan nor I knew what we took over us in taking Bobbi along. He is like a firework. He is nowhere and everywhere. He hasn’t climbed up the smoke stack yet neither has he ridden on a whale’s back, but he has done other things enough to worry us.”Letter from Loja Saarinen to George Booth_GGB Papers 19-4

On this same trip, a photograph of Pipsan and little firework Bobby was sent back stateside and ran in the local papers here in Oakland County. Pipsan is shown in a fashionable dress and hat, quite possibly of her own design, as at the time she was head of the Academy of Art’s short lived Fashion Department. Pipsan, like her mother, made many of her own clothes throughout her life.IMG_3206

In the Cranbrook Cultural Properties collection, we have the Saarinen’s steamer trunks and suitcases that they used aboard the Gripsholm and other ships. One of the suitcases has its stickers from the MS Gripsholm, still prominently called out in the Swedish pale blue and yellow.

IMG_0516

The Saarinen’s steamer trunks and suitcases. On view now in “Saarinen Home: Living and Working with Cranbrook’s First Family of Design”

During World War II, when the Saarinen’s remained in the States aiding the U.S. war effort and organizing the Finnish Relief Fund, the Gripsholm was charted by the U.S. as a repatriation ship. It carried German and Japanese citizens to exchange points for U.S. and Canadian citizens. Gripsholm (and her neutral Swedish crew) made these exchanges at neutral ports, including Stockholm, Lisbon, Portuguese Goa, and Lourenço Marques. Over 12,000 Americans who had been in enemy territory at the outbreak of war or were prisoners of war returned home aboard the Gripsholm in this diplomatic capacity.

In 1954, SAL sold the Gripsholm to a German company. She was rechristened the MS Berlin and entered into service as a Canadian immigration ship, sailing from points in Europe to Pier 21 in Halifax (the Ellis Island of Canada). The ship was retired and scrapped in 1966, but an image of the Gripsholm (in her Berlin livery) lives on in the Canadian passport!

Copies of the Saarinen’s letters sent from the Gripsholm, photographs of the family about the ship, and the trunks and suitcases used by the family are all currently on view in “Saarinen Home: Living and Working with Cranbrook’s First Family of Design” in Saaarinen House, open for tours Friday and Saturdays at 1pm and Sundays at 1 & 3pm through the end of July. Tonight is our last Finnish Friday, where there is an open house at Saarinen House and games and cake in its courtyard, also, the Cranbrook Art Museum will be open; there are Finnish-related treasures out in the Archives Reading Room; and a cash bar on the Peristyle. Come on by for our last Finnish Friday!

Kevin Adkisson, Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Website Powered by WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: