The Wreck Lady

August 29, 1996|By Ellsworth Boyd

THE RECENT DEATH of Jean Haviland at her home in Roland Park generated much sadness among thousands of divers, to whom the 84-year-old marine historian was affectionately known as the ''Wreck Lady'' -- an authority on shipwrecks throughout the world.

I was living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 1957 when my mother sent a clipping from The Sun's old ''Brown Section'' describing Dr. and Mrs. Kenneth Haviland's marine library and research. I immediately wrote to Mrs. Haviland, asking about a shipwreck, listed on a navigational chart as ''Brentwood,'' that I had explored off Key Largo. It's no wonder I failed in researching it. Mrs. Haviland informed me it was the ''Benwood,'' and included details on how the tanker was stalked and sunk by a German U-boat in World War II.

I met the Havilands when I returned to Baltimore in 1961. Ken, a retired Johns Hopkins University professor who died seven years ago at age 87, was the ship authority, while Jean was the shipwreck expert. Together, they amassed the largest private marine library in the world.

Bookcases in the living room bulged with 144 bound volumes of Lloyd's Register of Shipping dating to 1834 and 73 volumes of Jane's Fighting Ships, standard references of navies of the world dating to 1898. Ship owners' reprints called ''redbooks'' and underwriters' ''greenbooks'' dating to 1764 filled the corner shelves. Next to these perched one of the finest sets of Brassey's Naval Annual to be housed in a private collection. The Havilands also owned one of four copies of The Underwriter's Registry for Iron Vessels. Two museums and the Library of Congress own the other three.

Tips, enthusiasm, kindness

Questions poured into Mrs. Haviland's home in 1970 after I wrote a feature article for Skin Diver magazine entitled, ''Wreck Lady.'' Most correspondents knew her as ''Jean'' and relished the helpful tips, enthusiasm and kindness flowing from her letters.

When Mrs. Haviland responded to a diver's request for information on a favorite wreck, she usually included the shipbuilder, dimensions, where and how the vessel sank, its cargo and resources for further study. Sometimes there would be a photo. The Haviland collection included 41,000 ship photographs, in addition to 20,000 pictures, illustrations and drawings, all filed alphabetically by ships' names.

Tall metal cabinets lined the dining room walls. They contained scrapbooks filled with thousands of clippings about launchings, strandings, sinkings and mysterious disappearances of ships -- 74 years worth of collecting. Mrs. Haviland started her scrapbooks at age 10 after her first Atlantic crossing aboard the steamship Baltic. Next to the cabinets and in other rooms she hung framed mementos: brass keys, locks, switches, etc., that divers retrieved from wrecks she helped research. She treasured these gifts from her appreciative fans.

The Havilands met in 1949 aboard the stately steamer, City of Richmond (which the Wreck Lady helped a diver research when it sank years later) on their way to a steamship society meeting in Richmond. She belonged to several ship societies and continued to attend meetings and conventions until her husband's death.

Many of Jean's meticulously researched articles appeared in the American Neptune, a journal of maritime history published by the Peabody Museum, Salem, Massachusetts. Peabody and the Mariner's Museum, of Newport News, Virginia, will divide the priceless Haviland collection.

George Catlin, an American painter in the mid-1800s, said, ''The history and customs of people, preserved by illustrations, are themes worthy of the lifetime of one man.'' In this case, they were worthy of a husband and wife whose ships and shipwrecks will sail on forever.

Ellsworth Boyd writes a regular column, ''Wreck Facts,'' for Sport Diver magazine.

Pub Date: 8/29/96

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