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August 2001 - Nr. 8


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Head without a Story

by Klaus Christian Hofer

"Head without a Story" and Klaus Christian HoferIn 1975, Tim Joys, a salvage diver, was diving near Sambro Nova Scotia when stumbling across a piece of metal that looked like brass to him. When he went for a closer look, and turned it around in the murky waters, he suddenly stared a face straight into the eye. "It scared the shit out of me," recalled Tim. After his nerves had settled somewhat, he decided to bring this face, a well sculpted bronze bust, to the surface - what a lovely present it would be for his young fiancée Judy. Their ways have long since parted, but this solid bronze bust has remained with Judy. Mounted on a pedestal, this British face has collected dust instead of barnacles for nearly 26 years - but: who is this person? Who sat for the sculptor? Why did it lay there on the ocean floor off the coast of Nova Scotia? When I met Judy about two and a half years ago I became intrigued by these questions.

Just over 81 years ago today, the head spilled from the cargo hold of a British freighter called the SS.Bohemian. Strong winds and a blinding snowstorm had sent her off course and smashed her into the rocks off the coast of Nova Scotia. It happened on March 1, 1920.

SS. Bohemian (1920)

The SS Bohemian was a steamship, powered by a triple expansion steam engine. Built in 1900 in Glasgow, by A. Stephens and Sons, she had completed several ocean crossings and survived the U-boat menace of WWI. On February 29, 1920 she left Boston for Liverpool. Due to an acute shortage of bunker coal in Boston at the time, a brief stop in Halifax was scheduled. She needed to fill her bunkers before commencing the ten-day ocean crossing. On board were a crew of 150 sailors, 64 passengers and a full load of what was described as general cargo.

About 18 hours after leaving Boston, with most passengers and non-essential crew resting comfortably in their berths oblivious to the snowstorm and the strong winds the Bohemian was battling, a crushing sound blessed them with a rude awakening. It was 3:15 am. The Bohemian had struck rocks. Although in grave danger and doomed to go down, the ship was not severely damaged and no one was hurt. Captain Hiscoe sent a signal to the Halifax Port Authority requesting immediate help. He then ordered all passengers and some crew into the lifeboats. The boats were tethered to the beached Bohemian by long ropes to prevent them from drifting into the open ocean. Diligent rowing was necessary to keep the boats from colliding with their mother ship while they awaited help. Help from Halifax arrived about six hours later and a dangerous transfer of passengers and crew began. During this process, seven lives, all crewmembers, were lost in the furious waters of the North Atlantic.

Captain Hiscoe was the last to leave his ship before she broke up and sank minutes later... taking with her just one more head – a bronze head.

And now, while I am writing this, this bronze bust of an unknown someone stares at me. Who are you? Where were you going? Would we have been friends had we met and lived at the same time? For now his name is Purtzel, and if Purtzel ever speaks, you will get the rest of the story.

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