Book: The Captain, The Missionary, and the Bell

Book Review: The Captain, The Missionary, and the Bell: The Wreck of the Steamship Atlantic

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September 28, 2020

by Eric Larson

By Dr. Craig E. Philip (OpEd) In January of 1996, as President of Ingram Barge Company, I walked into the main lobby of the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) for the first time. Outside, attached to the exterior of the building above the fifth floor was the Bell of the Steamship Atlantic. Eric Larsson, author of the new self-published book The Captain, The Missionary, and the Bell: The Wreck of the Steamship Atlantic, met me that morning and explained that it had adorned the various chapels and buildings of SCI for more than a century. I knew that SCI had a history of mariner training going back to WW I and that was the reason I was visiting that day, to establish a partnership for training our mariners on the Mississippi River. I did not know the details of the incident until I cracked open this marvelous true story.

Larsson’s passion for SCI led to his research about the Bell This true story has been meticulously researched and follows the exploits of Captain Isaac “Kip” Dustan and the missionary, Rev. Benjamin C.C. Parker who was the first executive of an organization found in 1834 that would become the present-day Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI), and still the owner of that Bell today. On November 25, 1846,  the Steamship Atlantic left Allyn Pt and New London, CT bound for New York with that same Bell in the rigging of the vessel and 106 passengers and crew on board. An hour later, after being struck by heavy seas on Long Island Sound, a steam pipe exploded leaving the vessel without power at the mercy of an intense gale.

The surprising ways the characters in the story intersect at various places and times and the coincidences that connect different parts of the story to this very day are compelling reading. Larsson also seamlessly takes us to the helm of that doomed vessel by adding his own personal reflections on how the captain must have felt because of his own seagoing experiences.

As a current board member of SCI, I am always proud of the portrayal of the organization through history and its dedication to working seafarers and mariners from the rough and tumble “Sailortown” area of Lower Manhattan, the construction of two floating chapels to serve those that arrived at the great port of New York, and today to the mariners that ply the Inland waters of the Mississippi River.

The Captain, The Missionary, and the Bell is available to purchase via Amazon.

Dr. Craig Philip is a Research Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Director of VECTOR at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Philip’s research focus includes infrastructure sustainability and the application of risk management tools to transportation systems, carrier safety management, and transport policy and regulation with a particular focus on Maritime Systems. Prior to joining Vanderbilt, Dr. Philip spent 35 years in the rail, intermodal and maritime industries, including Conrail and Southern Pacific Railroads. He joined Ingram Barge Company, the largest US marine transport carrier in 1982 and from 1999 until 2014 served as President/CEO.

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