Captain Lawrence Distel
Captain Lawrence Distel was born September 18, 1858, at Irving, N.Y., where he attended the public schools until he was fourteen years of age, when he went as an apprentice to learn the carriage-making trade, at which he worked about two years, but his fondness for a life on the water lured him from the shop to the boat. In 1876 young Distel engaged in the finishing business out of Irving for two years, after which he went to Fairport to engage in the same business, remaining two more years. He then shipped on the schooner H.R. Newcomb until fall.
On July 4, 1880, Mr. Distel entered the United States life-saving service at Fairport station as surfman, where he remained two years. During his term of service at Fairport, the life savers rescued the crews of the barges N.M. Standard and Mary Stockton, and the schooners Negaunee and H.A. Lamar, all ashore and flying signals of distress, at varying times, Surfman Distel displaying activity and bravery. On March 20, 1882, he was transferred to the Buffalo life-saving station, but without many episodes to mark the time, there being but two calls for the service of the life-saving crew, one from the schooner Groton, and the other to take of the crew of the P.S. Marsh. At the close of navigation Surfman Distel found employment on the Buffalo & Southwestern railroad, where he remained all winter.
In the spring of 1883, Surfman Distel shipped at the Cleveland station with Capt. C.C. Goodwin, and all went well until May 22, when some of the cribs intended for the construction of the west breakwater were torn away by the violence of the gale, and a tug and the life crew went out to recover them. Mr. Distel, was standing on the crib, in order to avoid the tow line of the tug, stepped on a cross plank which broke, and he was thrown into the pocket of the crib, and the plank following him broke his leg, which laid him up for four months. Soon after he returned to duty the schooner Sophia Minch hoisted signals of distress off the mouth of the river, and went to anchor. Two tugs with Captain Goodwin and part of his crew went to her assistance. The Captain and his crew boarded the Minch, leaving Surman Distel on the tug to handle the lines. After parting the tow line several times the tugs found they could do nothing with the schooner, so great was the violence of the gale, and ran behind the breakwater for shelter. The schooner was scuttled to keep her from drifting on to the rocks, and the crew took to the rigging. Surfman Distel, who had landed from the tug, acted promptly. The beach gear was taken abreast of the sunken vessel. The first shot from the mortar, aimed by Surfman Distel, was successful and the breeches- buoy hauled off. Captain Goodwin was the first man to come ashore to direct operations, followed by all those in the fore-rigging except Surfman Hatch, who remained to assist two men in the mizzen rigging. Another shot from the mortar put a line into the mizzen rigging, and the three men came ashore, sixteen in all. Surfman Hatch being the last. This episode is related to show that by the promptness and courage of Surfman Distel, aided by a volunteer crew, sixteen men were taken off a sunken vessel in the face of a terrific gale.
The other vessels from which the crews were rescued at the Cleveland station were the tug American Eagle, which was on fire, the schooner John B. Merrell and the barge J.T. Johnson, The crew also went to the assistance of the schooners Erastus Corning, Emma C. Hutchinson, Zach Chandler, General Burnsides and David Vance. These vessels were all brought safely into port. During the operations Surfman Distel acted with courage and judgement, as did the entire crew, and at the close of the station each member was presented with a first-class United States gold medal for saving life at extreme hazard.
By diving Mr. Distel has saved five lives from drowning, three boys and tow men. On one occasion he nearly lost his own life. He saw a boy's hat floating, and dived for the person who had occupied the hat, and when he came up he had two boys. One of the little fellows had crawled upon his back and clutched his throat with both hands so that he could not recover himself, and was sinking with both boys when Deloss Hayden, the lighthouse-keeper, who was passing, saw the danger and swam to his assistance. It is for such brave deeds as the foregoing that the United States Government gave Captain Distel his first-class gold life-saving medal. In 1888 he resigned his position as No. 1 surfman at the Cleveland station to accept a position as special policeman in the Society for Savings Bank, where he remained until the spring of 1893. On April 1, 1893, he was appointed by the government as keeper or captain of the Cleveland life-saving station, vice Capt. C.C. Goodwin, deceased. During the flood which occurred in the Cuyahoga River in the spring of 1893, while the lifeboat crew were going to a rescue, the boat capsized and four of the surfmen were drowned. Captain Distel on this occasion came nearly losing his life, and was in the icy waters two hours almost unconscious before he was rescued. After a long and serious illness which resulted from the above exposure and other permanent injuries received in the life-saving service, in the line of duty, he found that his health had been so impaired that it became necessary the following spring for him to resign his position as keeper of the station.
In 1886, at Cleveland, Ohio, Captain Distel was united in marriage to Miss Mattie H. Goodwin, daughter of Capt. C. C. Goodwin. Mrs. Distel is also a sailor, having been born aboard her father's boat, the brig Commerce. Two children have been born to this union: Irvington W. and Genevieve.
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This version of Volume II is based, with permission, on the work of the great volunteers at the Marine Captains Biographies site. To them goes the credit for reorganizing the content into some coherent order. The biographies in the original volume are in essentially random order.
Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.