Bibliography Texts

Chronology of the
Seth Parker Voyage

John Woram

The four-masted schooner Seth Parker visited Galápagos in November 1934, where ship owner Phillips Lord was the last outsider to see Dr. Friedrich Ritter alive. Both Margret Wittmer and Dore Strauch mention the visit briefly in their books, but there is no other known record of the event. For general interest, this page makes an attempt to document the entire cruise, from its start in late 1933 to its premature conclusion in early 1935. More details will be added when (if?) additional information is found.

In 1933, radio broadcaster Phillips Lord purchased the schooner Georgette, which he renamed as Seth Parker after the character he played on his popular radio show, “Sunday Evening at Seth Parker's.” Before setting out on a round-the-world cruise in December, 1933, Lord outfitted his ship with refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment manufactured by the Frigidaire Sales Corp, and the company sponsored a weekly series of radio programs to be broadcast from the ship as it visited various ports. Later on, Frigidaire published Aboard the Seth Parker, a 32-page booklet containing sketches, photos and descriptive text about the Seth Parker, with Frigidaire products prominently featured. Tbe publication was obviously planned well in advance of the voyage, because the illustrations would have to have been prepared before the Seth Parker began its voyage. However, there are watercolors on the inside covers dated January, 1934, which is about one month after the voyage began. From this, plus a 1934 copyright date, it can be determined that the booklet was published after January of that year.

The booklet offered the following information:

“Frigidaire Presents the Cruise of the Seth Parker.”

On Tuesday evenings, this announcement thrills millions of radio listeners as they sit back in their chairs and eagerly await another half-hour of the world's most unusual entertainment — broadcast direct from an old sailing ship.

An undated watercolor drawing of the Seth Parker shows the inscription “Drawing by Edward A. Wilson for Frigidaire” and an oriental junk in the background, presumably drawn in anticipation of the ship actually arriving in the Orient. Given the green hull color, it was probably drawn before July 1933 when, according to the July 15 issue of Stamps Magazine, “The dingy green of her hull has been changed to a battleship gray.” The ship name and accompanying text were apparently added later in the year, after Lord re-named the ship as Seth Parker. Text printed at the top of the drawing notes that Lord's Tuesday broadcasts would continue through February 27, 1934. Other references to the Tuesday evening program were in Wilmington Morning-Star reports dated February 12 & 16, 1934.

The booklet also announced that “Seth Parker had disbanded his Sunday evening radio meetings — and had become Phillips Lord again.” Nevertheless, the Sunday, April 22 and 29, 1934 editions of The New York Times listed “Voyage of the Seth Parker” as being broadcast over the NBC-WJZ radio network (10:30-11:00 pm). The title for the Sunday evening program is puzzling, because neither Lord nor the ship itself is mentioned by name during the broadcast. Instead, the actual setting is the village of Jonesport, Maine, with “Mother Parker”§ and others singing hymns. At one point during the April 29 broadcast, the fictional character “Seth Parker” briefly joins them via shortwave from Haiti. In this context, it would seem that the earlier “Sunday Evening at Seth Parker's” title would more accurately describe the program setting.

§ Notwithstanding the name, “Mother Parker” was the Seth Parker character's wife, not mother. Played by Effie Palmer, her character's first name (if any) is unknown.

In addition to the April 29 broadcast from Haiti, an envelope with a May 23 postmark indicates the ship was still there, or had recently departed, almost one month after that broadcast. Months later, the November 19 edition of The New York Times reported that “Last week (presumably, November 11), Mr. Lord interviewed Dr. Ritter and Frau Koerwin [Dore Strauch] on Charles Island via short wave.” If a transcription of that broadcast survives, it has not yet been located.

United Air Lines Press Release

A United Air Lines (now, United Airlines) photo shows Phillips Lord at an unidentified airport, with the following photo legend:

Philip [sic, Phillips] Lord, better known to radio fans as Seth Parker, shown boarding a United Air Lines plane for New York, where he will meet sponsors, with a view to signing some new radio contracts, after which he will set sail in his schooner, to tour the South Seas. During the tour, he plans to continue his broadcast on board ship.

The photo text is date-stamped May 10, 1935, which is perhaps an error for 1933, since by that date in 1935 the voyage had already been terminated.

Journey's End: “Seth Parker Ship In Peril”

A February 9, 1935 New York Times story reported that the Seth Parker was “… In danger of capsizing” as a result of storms encountered about 300 miles off Tahiti. The ship was in no shape to continue the voyage, and in April, 1935, Phillips Lord sold it. The new owner brought the Seth Parker to Hawaii, where it eventually became a prop in the John Wayne film “Wake of the Red Witch.”

Broadcast historian Elizabeth McLeod's Old Time Radio Moments of the Century lists Lord's Cruise of the Seth Parker as one of “her top 100 old-time radio moments of the century.” After mentioning the ship being wrecked in a tropical storm, she writes:

“The program's reputation is wrecked as well, when it's revealed that Lord wasn't exactly living up to Seth Parker's Yankee-parson image during his adventure: accompanied by wine, women, and the sort of songs that weren't found in the hymnals back in Jonesport.”

Ms. McLeod does not reveal her source for this information, and there is no known record of women aboard the ship, nor of any damage to the reputation of the program, which had in fact ended almost one year before the termination of the voyage.

Stamps Magazine and the Seth Parker

Stamps: A Weekly Magazine of Philately published a regular series of feature articles about the voyage, beginning with “Seth Parker Sets Sail” in the July 8, 1933 issue. At that time the ship had not yet been re-named, and the article refers to its owner alternately as Phillips Lord and as his character Seth Parker. The article reported that “Seth [ie, Phillips Lord] will take with him fifteen of his old friends.” The friends are not identified, and there is no record of them in subequent articles or reports.

The same article also noted that “Seth … will issue cachets from the ports he visits along the way.” The next issue (July 15) contained an offer to subscribe to a series of from one to forty of these “cacheted letters.” The July 22 issue published a list of 25 scheduled stops, stating that an additional “… 15 will be decided upon during the cruise.” United States ports of call are not listed, even though envelopes were postmarked and mailed from New York City, Washington, Charleston and Miami.

The first Stamps feature indicated that the ship would proceed eastward across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Mediterranean Sea, Suez Canal, across the Pacific, and then through the Panama Canal on its return to the United States. Shortly after the ship (now re-named as Seth Parker), departed, the December 16 issue announced a change of course: “Phil thought that a more picturesque and adventuresome trip could be made by sailing to Buenos Aires, Argentina, across to Capetown [sic, Cape Town], South Africa, and up the east coast of Africa to Ceylon [the present Sri Lanka].

However, the actual course was changed again, and the Seth Parker sailed down the east coast of the United States, through the Panama Canal, to Galápagos and westward across the Pacific until the voyage was prematurely terminated, as mentioned above.

The cachets issued by Stamps Magazine are a puzzling mix of covers, each bearing an illustration of the port visited, with the legend “from Seth Parker at …” followed by the name of that port printed directly below the illustration. Two exceptions are covers (Haiti and Tahiti) which bear the “from Seth Parker” legend but do not identify the port.

The magazine ads do not list any covers posted from American ports, nor the Galápagos cover (which was actually posted from Panama). Some months after the termination of the voyage, the September 21 issue of Stamps announced that “ … all subscribers to the Seth Parker World Cruise cachets were notified that the cruise had been abandoned, and all who have responded to date have already or will shortly receive reimbursement.” Despite that notice, many additional covers were posted in 1935 and 1936, all from locations never actually visited by the ship. These may have been sent to people who elected to maintain their subscriptions, despite the termination of the voyage.

One additional envelope bears the legend “From the Captain of the Seth Parker” beneath an illustration of a man with a moustache, goatee and three stripes on his jacket, instead of the customary four to denote a captain. The man bears no resemblance to Phillips Lord, his radio character Seth Parker, or the Seth Parker's Captain Flink. The only known copy of this envelope is addressed but not stamped, as is another envelope (Timor) addressed to the same recipient. Additional details about these covers are yet to be explained, pending further investigation.

An undated letter found in several envelopes appears to be a “generic” form letter enclosed in envelopes posted from Miami to the Stamps Magazine subscriber list. Many other covers contain nothing but a piece of thin cardboard, apparently inserted as a stiffener.

The Galápagos Cover

The cover posted from Panama bears an illustration titled “From Seth Parker at Galapagos Lighthouse” which was based on a photograph in Ralph Stock's Cruise of the Dream Ship published in 1921. A comparison of the illustration and the photo shows many details in common, such as items hanging from two open windows, the light appearing through the crawl space under the building, and the general orientation of the building itself. The Seth Parker did not visit the site of the lighthouse; Isla San Cristóbal in Galápagos, but instead stopped at Isla Floreana. Why that island's famous Post Office Barrel was not selected for the envelope is unknown. In any case, and like the other covers in the subscription series, it was obviously prepared well in advance of the cruise. Still unanswered is the question, Why was this cover posted prematurely§ in Panama, a few months before the Seth Parker arrived in Galápagos? Perhaps Phillips Lord did not want to entrust these covers to the Post Office Barrel, and so chose the Panama alternative.

§ Given that the “Agencia Postal Panama” postmark lists the month, day and time when the envelope was posted, but not the year, there is the unlikely possibility that the envelopes were deposited in the barrel, picked up by a subsequent visitor and mailed from Panama in 1935. However, the evidence (or lack thereof) seems to rule this out. Anyone depositing mail in the barrel will have no idea from what country it will eventually enter the international postal system, and therefore postage stamps are not used. That would oblige the post-voyage visitor to go to the trouble of carrying hundreds, perhaps thousands, of envelopes to Panama, and then take on the expense of mailing them from there. Although barrel mail was certainly slow, it would be a remarkable coincidence for these envelopes to take about a full year after Lord's visit to Panama to enter the mails there. And therefore, the year of 1934 is given in the table below.

A World Map illustrates the actual track of the Seth Parker, along with the tracks described in Stamps Magazine, but not followed. The map also shows each location at which a cover was posted, plus the locations of eight covers announced in the magazine, but thought not to have been issued.

Departure Details

According to a November 12, 1933 Pittsburgh Press report, the ship—still named Georgette—was in New York to be refitted, and was to depart for Portland, Maine (date unknown). The December 5 reports confirm that the ship—now named Seth Parker—was now in Portland and began its cruise on that date. Several months earlier (July 8), Stamps Magazine reported that the ship would “set sail from Jonesport, Maine.” This leaves us with the unanswered question; When was the ship in Jonesport? There are several possible answers:

Chronology of the Seth Parker Voyage
Year Month Details Source §
1918 (unknown) Ship Georgette built as lumber hauler, Portland, Oregon Wikipedia
1933 (unknown) Ship purchased by Phillips Lord, renamed Seth Parker Offshore Radio Guide [1]
after Nov. 12 Ship will depart New York for Portland, Maine Pittsburgh Press, November 12
December 5 Ship departs Portland, Maine Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 3
Text at top of drawing by Edward A. Wilson
December? Ship will depart Jonesport, Maine Stamps Magazine, July 8
December At Boston, Massachusetts Dockside photo thought to be Boston
New York Times, Jan 8, “Seth Parker … sailed recently from Boston.”
December At Providence, Rhode Island New York Times, December 30, “Shipping and Mails” section, pg. 29
December 28 In Bridgeport, Connecticut harbor The M. I. T. Tech, February 27, 1934 [1] & Envelope
December 29 Arrives New York Harbor New York Times, December 30, “Shipping and Mails” section, pg. 29
1934 January At New York City Wikipedia [sic, states June departure]
January 2 Envelope postmarked New York City Envelope
January 15, 18 Dated sketches of the ship at a Philadelphia pier [2] Inside covers of Aboard the Seth Parker booklet
January 26, 28 At Pier 7 wharf, Washington, DC Diary entries of Alton “Tonny” Calderwood [3]
January 30 Envelope postmarked Washington, DC Envelope
February At Newport News, Virginia Wilmington Morning-Star, February 12 & 16
February 12-15 At Wilmington, North Carolina (with February 13 broadcast)
(no date) Undated envelope postmarked Charleston, South Carolina Envelope
(no date) will sail to Savannah, Georgia Wilmington Morning-Star, February 12 & 16
February 27 Final Tuesday evening broadcast (location unknown) Text at top of drawing by Edward A. Wilson
March 1 At Savannah, Georgia Atlanta Journal, date unknown
March 6 At Jacksonville, Florida The M. I. T. Tech, February 27
March 13 At St. Augustine, Florida St. Augustine Record, October 6, 2004
March 27 Envelope postmarked Miami, Florida Envelope and letter
April 22 Shortwave broadcast from Bimini, Bahamas Stamps Magazine, April 28
April 29 Shortwave broadcast from Haiti “Voyage of the Seth Parker” radio program
May 23 Envelope postmarked Haiti Envelope
June At Kingston, Jamaica Stamps Magazine, July 28
August 3 Envelope postmarked Balboa, Canal Zone Envelope
September 4 Envelope postmarked Panama (but with Galápagos illustration) Envelope
September 24 Ship thought to have departed Panama New York Times, September 24: “Today on the Radio” lists broadcast “From Schooner Seth Parker, Off Panama; Sea Chanteys”
September 26 Seth Parker passes Gardner Island [sic, Isla Coco] [4] New York Times, September 27
October 1, 8, 15 (Having passed Isla Coco, presumed to be in transit to Galápagos, arrival date unknown, no reliable information found) New York Times, October 1, 8, 15 (same as September 24)
October 22 New York Times, October 22 (as above, but “Off Panama” omitted)
October 29 New York Times, October 29 (“Music—Schooner Seth Parker”)
November 6 At Isla Floreana (Charles Island, in New York Times), Galápagos Strauch (1935, p. 282; 1936, p.262), Wittmer, Margret & Heinz (1936)
November 11 New York Times, November 19
November 13, 14 Wittmer (1961, p. 85)
November 19 Ship still near (or at?) Galápagos New York Times, November 19
1935 January 11 Envelope postmarked Papeete, Tahiti Envelope
February 8 Ship damaged in storms between Tahiti and American Samoa Wikipedia, New York Times, February 9
February 12 H. M. A. S. Australia longboat removes nine crew members [5] Photo by Australia crew member Joe Harvey
April 19 Envelope postmarked American Samoa Envelope
April Phillips Lord terminates voyage, sells Seth Parker Offshore Radio Guide
1936 (various dates) Envelopes posted world-wide long after voyage was terminated in April, 1935
ca. 1950 (unknown) Seth Parker in Hawaii Photo, source unknown
§ Unless otherwise noted, year is same as in “Year” column.

Table Notes

[1] In the M. I. T. Tech report, Max Eugene Nohl refers to the Seth Parker's Captain Flink and Stamps Magazine (July 15 and subsequent issues) identifies him as Constantine Flink. However, the Offshore Radio Guide refers to “ …a radioed SOS by Captain Frank Eckmann” [Eckman in many newspaper accounts] received when the ship encountered a typhoon off the coast of American Samoa.

[2] The artist who drew these illustrations is unknown, pending further investigation.

[3] Alton “Tonny” Calderwood was a young man temporarily working at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC in 1934. He kept a diary from which the following excerpts were taken:

Jan. 26, Friday. We went to the Congregational Church at 10th & G to hear & see an illustrated lecture on Seth Parker's life as presented by Dr. Albert Lord, Seth's father.

Jan. 28, Sunday. We went to 7th St. wharf to see the “Seth Parker,” Philip [sic, Phillips] Lord's four master. She is a big brute.

Calderwood may have written “Seth's father” in error, when he actually meant Phillips Lord's father. Lord's parents were the Reverend Albert J. and Mrs. Maude Phillips Lord―and of course the fictional character Seth's last name was Parker, not Lord.

Diary Source: “Calderwood Diary Project” at North Haven Maine Historical Society (page 3 of PDF file).

[4] As stated in Note [1] above, the captain's name was Constantine Flink. But to add a bit of confusion to the story, the following excerpt is from a New York Times report dated September 30, 1934 (p. S10):

Radio reports from the schooner Seth Parker promise possible solution of the disappearance in June of the tuna clipper Belle Isle, out of San Pedro. Ten men, according to the reports, were sighted on the southern shore of Gardner Island, southernmost of the Galapagos group, 400 miles off the coast of Panama. They were thought to be natives, but when Captain John Gabelich discovered that the island is supposedly uninhabited he notified authorities. Ten ships in the vicinity have been asked to aid in determining the identity of those on the island.

Gardner Island is neither the southernmost, nor are the Galápagos Islands 400 miles off the coast of Panama. Presumably the men were sighted on the southern shore of Isla Coco, which is 400 miles from Panama. In context, the news report implies that John Gabelich was the captain of the Seth Parker. However, in The History of San Diego, author Richard F. Pourade refers to “… the Belle Isle, skippered by John Gabelich… .” From the evidence, it appears that the New York Times got the story wrong on two counts—the name of the island, and the name of the captain.

[5] Crew list published in the February 14, 1935 issue of The Argus (Melbourne, Australia)

NameRank or PositionNameRank or Position
Phillips Lord *MasterMaynard McAlisterCook
Constantine Flink *Navigator (actually, Captain)James McGaheyMess Boy
George MullerFirst EngineerArthur MorganCabin Boy
Eric CarlsonSecond EngineerRoy GlostonCadet
Charlie P. Sweeney *Radio OperatorJack Love
George SchwannamanSeamanRobert Pays *
“Sam” a Marquesan nativeRobert Rueschle *
* identifies the five crewmen who remained aboard when the others were taken off by the Australia.