, Newburyport, MA

February 3, 2014

A real home-grown hero

As I See It
Ralph Ayers

---- — Guess what, folks — it’s only three more months till spring, so hang in there, as our weather will improve, now won’t it?

Let’s see, what is there to write about that will draw your attention? Can’t talk about our Patriots, as my column is written before the Super Bowl, so I know what, why not talk a little history about our hometown and how our history repeats itself.

You have probably been reading about the stranded expedition ship stuck in 7 inches of ice in the Arctic, and rescue was made between ice breakers and helicopters. Well, would you believe that the same story was written back in 1881, when a schooner, captained by Adolphus Greely, a Newburyport-born man, who happened to be Army Capt. Greely at that time, and commanded 25 crew members, taking off to a polar expedition in the Arctic for our government but was stranded, not for a couple of weeks, but for three years.

Adolphus (where did that name come from?) was born in Newburyport in 1844, and at the age of 17 joined the Army as a private, fought gallantly in several battles, was wounded and promoted to an officer, ending up as a major general. Following the war, and for some unknown reason, he was given command of a ship and crew, having no seamanship whatsoever. Yes, the ship and crew were stranded and remained in that capacity for nearly three years, with vain attempts to save them.

The captain and crew made attempts to survive, but the bulk of the crew died of many ailments. Finally, they were rescued, how, I’m not sure, and received a hero’s welcome in the States as well as Newburyport. It has been said that the captain and crew were near starvation when saved. It was further documented that Capt. Greely was later attached to the Signal Corps and was responsible for setting up communications in various parts of the world. He later became chief of this division and given and rank of major general, as well as receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor. Gen.Greely spent his later years in Washington and died in 1935. His remains are entombed in the Arlington National Cemetery.

To some residents this story may have no impact whatsoever, but to us natives, we pride ourselves in having native-born sons make a mark for themselves by their heroism in war and their contribution in peacetime. Such a man was Adolphus Greely, who was born here, educated here, visited our home here, went to our houses of worship, ate in our restaurants, did his banking here, and walked our streets. Not all cities can boast of such an individual. By the way, back in the ‘60s we in Homecoming honored this hero by having a re-enactment of his triumph return to his hometown. Who played the part? No other than Micky Curran, yup, another native son.


Ralph J. Ayers of Newburyport calls himself a “local yokel.”