Capt. T. A. Scott’s cultural legacy

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I’m happy to report that my research on Captain T. A. Scott is drawing to a close. I’ve read hundres of newspaper articles, sifted through all the extant legal material, and gone through all my research notes from the Records of the T.A. Scott Company, located at the Mystic Seaport Library. I’m getting a real sense of Scott as both a professional ‘wrecker’ and an individual. Now I need to round out my understanding of the development of marine salvage in the region and place it all in a bit of historiographical context (read as: lots of reading in the weeks ahead!).

The most surprising “research find” about Scott was his long cultural legacy–shadow might be a better term. Scott was an impressive individual and a successful businessmen. He was a national figure, widely regarded as one of the best submarine divers and wreckers in the country. But it was his one-time employer and long-time friend F. Hopkinson Smith who embedded Scott in the American consciousness.

Smith began writing fictionalizing stories about Scott in 1889 with the publication of “Captain Joe” in the Century Magazine. The tale was remarkably familiar to readers of George Parsons Lathrop’s “Captain Billy,” which had been published several months before “Captain Joe” appeared in print. Smith claimed that he “told the story to Mr. Lathorp… as I told it before and have since to a hundred others.” Probably so. Either way, lot’s of people became familiar with the heroism of T. A. Scott. Whether the story was actually based on fact, which Smith claimed it was, will be the subject of some future post.

Capt. Scott inspired Smith for more than two decades, most notably in Smith’s best-selling 1898 novel Caleb West, Master Diver. Three years after the novel’s publication, playwright Michael Mortion adapted Caleb West for the stage. The melodramatic, Jacob Lit production opened in New London on September 3, 1900. It was later staged in Providence, Rhode Island, New York City, Chicago, and Minneapolis to wide acclaim. [The lithograph poster is a gem]. Caleb West was adapted again in 1912 when the Reliance Film Company released the two-reel short Caleb West. It was shown around the country even making it Juneau, Alaska’s Lyric Theatre. Eight years later, Paramount Pictures released the 50-minute Deep Waters, which was based on Caleb West and directed by noted French filmmaker Maurice Tourneur.

I haven’t looked past Deep Waters yet, but I suspect Scott’s cultural shadow falls well into the 20th century. Unfortunately, I do not think scripts or copies of the films exist. At least reviews and advertisements (like the ones included above) do.

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1 Comment

Filed under Dissertation Digest, Shipwreck culture

One response to “Capt. T. A. Scott’s cultural legacy

  1. Pingback: Salvage Yards and Postcards | Ships on the Shore

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