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A Hoosier Adrift

January 9, 2018

“[I] am determined to keep a Journal but have never had the courage to begin before, for it is a great undertaking…I think I’ll call it ‘The Log of the Hoosier Adrift.’ Because a log is a good thing to have when any one is adrift.”

In 1878, a clever and verbose Indianapolis native named Harry Ohr commenced writing his first journal. Over the course of 256 days and 271 pages, Ohr would sail thousands of miles as a Captain’s Clerk aboard the U.S.S. Alaska. He would visit New York, witness an insurrection in Panama, see Francisco Pizarro’s (supposed) skeleton, and spend his evenings listening to fellow sailors’ gruesome tales of shark attacks on the high seas.

But this entry isn’t about those things. It’s about a truly golden practical joke that Ohr had the good fortune to witness:

“Yesterday at noon when we crossed over the equator, all of us Greenies were grouped on the poop [deck], watching for the line in the water. One marine exclaimed after gazing intently for a few moments at the water through a telescope, ‘I see it! There it is!'”

“‘What?’ I inquired. ‘The line’ was his answer. On examining his telescope we found some mischievous sailor had put a piece of thread across the glass.”

The Hoosier Adrift’s Log is available in the LaFollette Family Materials (collection M 1124). Minor revisions to spelling and punctuation have been made here for clarity.

Kate Scott

Kate Scott works in Reference Services, answering your questions about everything in Indiana history from Civil War uniforms to tenderloins the size of your head.

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