- Historic Sites
The Sway Of The Grand Saloon
In the sumptuous history of transatlantic passenger travel it wasn’t all mahogany panelling and ten-course meals. Consider, for instance, war and seasickness
October 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 6
In this naive disguise (almost everyone knew that funnels on German ships were placed in pairs, instead of equidistant, as on the British liners) the Kronprinzessin sped for the nearest American port. This, of all places, turned out to be Bar Harbor—and at the very height of the season. The breakneck pace of the ship through fog and black of night made some passengers uneasy, some panicky. They chose a delegation and sent it to the captain begging him to slow down. But his only concession to their fears was a more liberal use of his foghorn. He knew what passengers did not: The French liner La Savoie , having discovered his position, had alerted the several French and British warships that were in a position to intercept the Cecilie and lay claim to her treasure-trove. Three nights after the dramatic turnabout, her portholes covered over with canvas, not a gleam of light along her length, the big ship, guided by the American yachtsman C. Ledyard Blair, who happened to be aboard, moseyed into Maine’s Frenchman Bay and shut off her engines. A few hours later, early risers among the summer people looked out of their windows. There, riding at anchor among their own little flotilla of yachts and sailboats and Old Town canoes, they saw what most of them took to be the great Olympic , sister ship of the Titanic .
The Kronprinzessin had “dropped her starboard anchor in the inner harbor about midway between the steamboat wharves and the Porcupines,” said a local reporter. “The telephone operators were soon aware of her presence and those early upon the streets became excited as they learned of the presence here of the big German ship, and spread the news. By the middle of the forenoon the shore path was well covered with people and the [small boats] did a big business taking people out and back.” By the time the resort had learned that its own gilt-and-wicker environs had provided safe haven for what the newspapers termed “the German gold ship,” it had also learned of the unexpected return of two of its very own: Mrs. A. Howard Hinkle and her daughter, of Cincinnati, who were summer residents in one of Bar Harbor’s big villas, did not disembark in Plymouth, England, but in their own back yard.
Faced with the option of internment in New England or capture by the British destroyers that were already hungrily cruising just beyond the international limit, Captain Polack chose to stay for the season. Bar Harbor suddenly became Fiddler’s Green, the mythical sailor’s heaven. (A good number of the resort’s summer people knew the captain—“a moustachioed giant, over six feet tall” of “urbane charm and social graces”—because they had crossed on ships under his command.) The United States Coast Guard cutter Androscoggin had meanwhile sidled up to the Kronprinzessin and relieved her of her king’s ransom in gold and silver bars. Special trains carried the bullion back to the vaults of New York’s Guaranty Trust Company and the National Trust Company, from which, barely a week before, it had been removed for shipment to Germany.
Americans were still far enough away from the war and partisan emotions to see the whole thing as a great sport. Almost at once Captain Polack and his officers became part of a summer’s social whirl that saw them kissing the hands of hostesses at lawn parties, dancing at balls, going out on fishing and lobstering expeditions and sailing parties. A local man hired the Star movie theatre to entertain the Kronprinzessin ’s crew; the ship’s band gave concerts on the village green. Of the first of these the Bar Harbor Record reported: A large crowd assembled to hear the music and showed their appreciation by their applause which in itself is most unusual for a crowd in Bar Harbor. For the last piece the band played America . This called for cheers and the blowing of horns by the large number of automobiles which had gathered to hear the music. The band then played Watch on the Rhine , which was so well received the crowd demanded an encore.
But soon upon these revels fell the shadow of the long arm of the law. Annoyed by the failure of the Kronprinzessin to deliver their gold bullion to Plymouth, the bankers concerned sued the North German Lloyd Steamship Company for damages in the amount of $1,040,467, plus interest. When this action was brought in the Bar Harbor Federal Court, doughty Deputy Marshal Eugene C. Harmon, according to the local paper, “left at noon to seize the ship.” And he did.