Tag Archives: NYC

ONLY THE NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED

The U.S.S Sequoia is currently in dry dock pending the outcome of a lawsuit over legal ownership.

Some stories never get old, such as the one told to me about my Aunt Betty being a Michigan gun moll during the rum running 1920’s when the vast majority of illegal liquor was smuggled into the United States on boats crossing the Detroit River from Canada. As a child, I didn’t know what a gun moll was, and since my ostensible relative was long gone before my birth, she remains somewhat of  a  mystery, similar to Cassandra’s friendship that Elizabeth and I made much later on.
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The thing is, we didn’t know Cassie was married to a goodfella until after we’d accepted her invitation to be part of the Statue of Liberty Centennial Celebration of vessels gathering in New York Harbor on July 4th, 1986.
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Granted, we should have suspected it when the wives arrived decked out in their patriotic best for the occasion of a lifetime, while their husbands donned those homogeneous black Robert Hall suits, black Wembley skinny ties, black Hanover oxfords, and black Dobb’s Fedoras contrasted by crisp white shirts and matching white socks for partying under a midsummer sky.
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But it wasn’t until the custom-made 44’ Cabin Super Cruiser (with it’s master stateroom, two guest bedrooms, three heads, dual galleys, a dining room, and helm reception area) had cast off  from it’s Long Island berth and began racing down the Sound to group-greet the largest assembly of international Tall Ships and an American Armada did his capo status become evident.
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That’s when Cassie’s husband, Carmine, appeared on a flybridge far above the main deck where we happily clasped our umbrella drinks while lounging in the open console on cushioned deck chairs. We looked up to see a long line of his soldiers on the steps to his tower, waiting for an individual audience, each honoring him by kissing the ring on his extended hand.
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“Doesn’t that look just like a scene from The Godfather,” Liz whispered.
“It does indeed,” I agreed.
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Wiser women might have jumped ship, but we had no wish to swim with the fishes. And besides, I couldn’t swim. So instead, I chose to acquiesce by placing my brand new Canon SureShot on a table with all the other cameras voluntarily surrendered, and drank up.
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The boat ride into Manhattan was otherwise unremarkable, but our arrival was exhilarating as we joined 30,000 spectator crafts gathered to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Lady Liberty. What’s more, setting anchor alongside the U.S.S. Sequoia Presidential Yacht seemed momentous.
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I’d only ever seen the Sequoia in photographs before then. Built in 1925 as a rich man’s cruiser, it was purchased by our government in 1931 as a decoy to patrol the harbor during Prohibition when black market booze was supplied to boaters trolling the bay. Any bootlegger rowing over to sell liquor to the Sequoia was immediately arrested.
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But during his final two years as president, Herbert Hoover began borrowing the Sequoia from the Commerce Department to utilize it as the Presidential Yacht for fishing trips. It quickly became a floating White House. Over subsequent years, every other POTUS found both political and pleasurable uses for it until Jimmy Carter sold the Sequoia as part of a cost-cutting campaign promise. Nonetheless, just knowing the history (coupled with our being up close and personal to it) felt daunting.
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That is, until we became sitting ducks when our yacht’s anchor couldn’t be raised. While all other vessels cleared the lane, we sat alone, moored to the river bottom, in the direct path of the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy, an aircraft carrier three football fields long, 192 feet high, 300 feet wide, and weighing more than 82,000 tons that began five-blasting it’s horn in an effort to make us move-move-move-move-move out of harm’s way as it barreled down on us.
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Let me say, not one of the 5,000 seamen standing at attention in their service dress whites on the carrier deck flinched while Carmine struggled with the controls to avoid our being sliced and diced. The other thirty-one of us strapped on lifejackets and remained calm, fixated on the humongous ship targeted to hit us, awaiting our fate.
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In retrospect, we might have been in shock, since I can’t remember any details of how Carmine got the anchor up. But I do recall the yacht rocking quite a bit from the bow waves hitting our accelerating stern, and the quiet that blanketed us as we gradually recovered from the close encounter.
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One thing is for certain, nobody made light of the incident, and during the following 4 years of our mostly-holidays friendship with Cassie before we moved to Florida, the Centennial trip was never mentioned again.
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Upon our midnight return to port, I went to retrieve my SureShot and discovered someone had poured saltwater over it before removing the film.
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A week later I received a package in the mail containing photographs of me and mine relaxing in lounge chairs aboard Cassandra and Carmine’s yacht. There was no return address on the envelope, no note enclosed, and no mention of my camera.
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Today I sent my brothers and sister each an email, asking what more they could add to the story of our mysterious Aunt Betty being a Detroit gun moll.
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While none of them claimed knowledge of the gun moll variation, there was talk of my grandfather being a Chicago gambler who was widowed with three very young daughters — one of them named Betty. To rectify his situation, he placed a mail order bride advertisement in the Tribune wherein he claimed to be single and childless. Receiving a reply, he promptly abandoned the three little girls to a Catholic orphanage on the way to marrying my grandmother, without revealing the truth to her, or ever returning to retrieve his children.
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So, technically, Betty was only my half-aunt — whom my sister remembers as being a paramour of a Chicago mayor, but my brother says was the mistress of the mayor of Detroit. 
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It never gets old.
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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.
Her book, Imogene’s Eloise : Inspired by a true-love story
is available AMAZON, in paperback , and on Kindle.
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