After a long stay in the shipyard in Toledo, the BROWN was finally able to take a more leisurely cruise back home. The first leg of the homeward bound voyage included several port visits on Lake Erie and a transit of the Welland Canal. For me the “Great Lakes 2000” began on Lake Ontario in August. The stop-over in Toronto offered a wide spectrum of activities and hard work for the crew. In addition to conducting a Living History Cruise we opened the ship to visitors, but the highlight of our stay became our participation in filming the made-for-TV production “Haven”, starring Natasha Richardson.
“Haven” was the story of Ruth Gruber’s effort’s to bring nearly 1000 Jewish refugees to the United States to save them from Nazi death camps. The BROWN was used to represent life aboard the Army Troop Ship HENRY GIBBINS during the refugees terror filled crossing of the Atlantic. The JOHN W. BROWN spent the better part of a week cruising the waters of Lake Ontario while filming took place.
While all this activity required a lot of hard work, it also left time for a little romance.
The crew was lucky to have 10 year old Billy Whitney sailing with us as a deck cadet. His assignment was to act as a messenger and aide for the captain. This assignment allowed Billy some time to become attached to Mrs. Richardson. He followed her around everywhere she went. From day one, Billy continually begged Natasha to accompany him to dinner. Although she initially agreed, Mrs. Richardson’s hectic schedule aboard prevented her from keeping her date with Master Whitney.
On the last night of filming Mrs. Richardson had to tell Billy that she would not be able to keep their date. That night we would be setting sail for Montreal, so young Mr. Whitney’s last chance to see Natasha was at hand. With this news, Billy became depressed and asked the crew for advice. I suggested the following ploy:
I instructed Billy to approach Natasha one last time and say. “Mrs. Richardson, I am about to set sail on a dangerous voyage, and if tragedy should meet me, my last wish would be to remember the feel of your lips on mine!” Billy ran to meet Natasha and convey this message. Upon hearing Billy’s plea, Mrs. Richardson took young Mr. Whitney in her arms and planted a kiss on his lips. This experience caused a grin to form on Billy’s face that would last throughout the long voyage home.
Project Liberty Ship, Inc is a 501(c)3 non-profit, all volunteer organization engaged in the preservation and operation of the historic ship JOHN W. BROWN as a living memorial museum. Gifts to Project Liberty Ship are tax deductible.