Monday, January 18, 2010

There’s Something About Mary: The Mary Ellen Carter

Stan Rogers: The Mary Ellen Carter


Mary, for your birthday, I offer you a song of hope that once saved a life.

The Mary Ellen Carter tells of five sailors who were aboard her when she sank. The owners of the ship declare her a loss, and refuse to consider a salvage operation, preferring to pocket the insurance money. But the five survivors vow to bring the ship back to the surface, and back into service. Stan Rogers could have given his tale a fairy tale ending, and told of the sailors’ moment of triumph. But the song is all the more powerful because it ends not with success, but with the hope of it.

On the twelfth of February, 1983, Bob Cusick was a sailor on the Marine Electric when she was caught in a fierce storm and went down. Cusick swam until he was at the point of exhaustion, and found a damaged lifeboat that was barely afloat. At that point, Cusick had two choices: he could climb onto the boat, and face the certainty that he would freeze to death with the air temperature in the 20s; or he could stay immersed in the 39 degree water, and hold on for dear life as the waves tried to separate him from the lifeboat. In his exhaustion, it would have been all to easy to let go and let the sea claim him. But suddenly, Cusick remembered the song The Mary Ellen Carter. He sang it for hours until rescue arrived. Cusick’s full account of the incident can be found here.

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