How a Jersey teen stowaway became an international celebrity

How a Jersey teen stowaway became an international celebrity

A couple of minutes previous four a.m. on Aug. 25, 1928, 17-year-old Billy Gawronski dove into the Hudson River and swam out to board a ship known as the Metropolis of New York, which was crusing to Antarctica the subsequent day.

Gawronski had no expertise at sea or as an adventurer. However he had a want to reside a extra thrilling life than the one he was born into.

As Laurie Gwen Shapiro writes in her new e-book, “The Stowaway: A Younger Man’s Extraordinary Journey to Antarctica,” (Simon & Schuster), out now, Gawronski would go on to realize it.

He was born on Sept. 10, 1910, to latest Polish immigrants. His father, Rudy, had a one-man upholstery enterprise and seemed ahead to his son becoming a member of him. However with adventurers like Richard Byrd, who reached the North Pole, and Charles Lindbergh, who flew around the globe, making headlines, Gawronski’s desires went method past furnishings upkeep.

So when Byrd introduced an expedition to Antarctica that acquired nonstop media protection, Gawronski hatched a plan.

Ten days earlier than the expedition’s begin, a number of thousand New Yorkers paid $1 every to stroll the deck of the Metropolis of New York. Gawronski used the time to stake out a hiding place, which he discovered underneath a small, darkish shelf close to the boat’s prow.

Earlier than serving within the Service provider Marines, Billy Gawronski discovered himself in an explorer movie.His plan set, Gawronski swam from New York Harbor to the docked ship, a number of hours earlier than the expedition’s launch.

He pulled himself onto the deck utilizing a rope that hung off the ship, and crammed himself underneath the shelf. He deliberate to disclose himself when the boat was too far out to show again and enchantment to Byrd to let him be a part of the crew.

He caught some sleep till he heard one thing creak, and was surprised to see one other stowaway, a 16-year-old named Jack. They argued for an hour about who had extra proper to be there — Gawronski arrived first, so he believed he did — till a voice within the darkness stated, “Maintain quiet! They’ll discover all of us!”

Bob Lanier, a 20-year-old black man, had been hiding on the ship for 2 days.

The boat took off shortly earlier than 1 p.m., and the loud argument between the three gave them away. The ship’s second mate found Gawronski first, and he was dropped at Byrd.

Regardless of the commander’s light method — he stated he “understood the tearful child was an adventurer like him and informed him to not be scared” — Gawronski was dropped off in New Jersey and despatched dwelling.

The following day, an image of a moist and scowling Gawronski graced the duvet of The New York Occasions.

However his aim was Antarctica, not fame, and when it was introduced Byrd provide ship known as the Chelsea would embark in mid-September, en path to a primary cease in Norfolk, Va., Gawronski hatched his second try.

On Sept. 15, he swam out to the ship whereas it was docked within the Gowanus and hid in a provide closet. He was caught once more and eliminated to the pier.

Then, a number of hours later, he tried once more. And once more he was caught and eliminated.

Gawronski tried to affix the fun-loving and musical crew of the ship Metropolis of New York.However when the ship pulled into Norfolk on Sept. 19, there was Gawronski, ready for the crew on the dock in Virginia. After his dad and mom had chewed him out on his return dwelling a number of days earlier, he had snuck out the window and hitchhiked to the southern metropolis.

By this level, the ship’s chief prepare dinner, George Tennant, was amused by Gawronski’s persistence and supplied him a job as an assistant. However Commander Byrd would want to provide last approval.

Byrd spoke to Gawronski and was about to approve his place when police arrived and arrested Gawronski for truancy. His dad and mom, terrified by his newest disappearance, had known as the cops.

The arrest was unlawful, as Gawronski had turned 18 a number of days earlier than. However this proved moot when his father confirmed up in Virginia and, after an indignant, tearful forwards and backwards between the 2, lastly gave his permission. Ultimately, Gawronski’s dream of seeing Antarctica would turn out to be a actuality.

Aboard the ship, Gawronski was simply one other inexperienced crew member, shoveling coal and dealing with any odd job that wanted doing. As soon as in Antarctica, he was assigned to catch penguins, which Byrd deliberate to donate to American zoos.

The ship Metropolis of New YorkGetty ImagesHe additionally continued getting nationwide press for his antics, because the expedition’s publicist despatched fixed updates on him to The New York Occasions and others, making him a family identify.

The expedition lasted a 12 months and 9 months. A few of the crew have been aboard all through, whereas others have been despatched dwelling for a time. To his dismay, Gawronski was on this latter group, as Byrd despatched him again after 5 months on the ship, to signify the expedition to the press.

He turned a New York media darling virtually instantly upon his return, giving an interview on WOR, then one of the vital highly effective radio stations in New York, and turning into the topic of a two-page characteristic within the Occasions.

Throughout his radio interview, Gawronski displayed none of his disappointment over his shortened journey and praised his fellow seamen: “The motto of this expedition is one for all, and all for Commander Byrd. The commander is a person to encourage youthful creativeness, and the gods of destiny have enabled me to serve him.”

The expedition additionally hosted a number of cameramen for a documentary known as “With Byrd on the South Pole.” Launched on June 20, 1930, and premiering on the Rialto Theater on the nook of Broadway and 42nd Avenue, the movie did respectable enterprise on the field workplace and gained an Academy Award for Greatest Cinematography, the one documentary ever to win it.

Whereas Gawronski was not credited, he might be seen briefly within the movie, “unloading provides on ice and constructing an igloo.”

Gawronski’s newfound fame nevertheless didn’t translate to employment, and he struggled, particularly because the nation was on the verge of the Nice Despair, leaving Gawronski scrambling for work all through the 1930s.

At decade’s finish, when he was 29, he joined the Service provider Marines and have become one of many youngest sea captains in World Conflict II.

The Service provider Marines would turn out to be his lifelong profession. He married twice, had two sons and died in 1981.

In the end, his choice to stow away with Byrd set a course for a life way more adventurous than one spent upholstering chairs.

“His [time] with Byrd . . . launched him to a world of hazard and discovery that had existed solely in his scrapbooks,” Shapiro writes, “and gave him the essential seaman’s coaching with which he made a profession.”