Swimming With Sharks

Today’s #historyfriday is a little off the cuff.

Usually I research and try to write about little known events in history that occurred on the specific day in question. Or I’ll take a larger event and write about some little known tidbit behind it. But, as I was researching for December 10, I kept coming across this bizarre, seemingly out-of-place news article about an overboard woman swimming with sharks.

Credit The Hutchinson News; Hutchinson, Kansas, 10 Dec. 1937

Here’s the news article from the Madera Tribune:


Big Freighter Starts Search


NEW YORK, Dec. 9. A woman passenger came running up to the bridge, crying: “I can’t find by cabin mate. I think she jumped overboard.”

The second mate in command pulled the engine room telegraph around to “Stop” and sent the watch for the captain. The freighter Lillian Luckenbach with six passengers was off Cuba, bound for New York from Los Angeles. It was 1 a. m. Her engines stopped and she rode stationary in a glass-like sea.

Worst Feared

Captain Gilbert C. Down came up from his quarters under the bridge, looked at Mrs. G. B. Brundett, the informer, and realized his worst fears.

“It’s Miss Offutt?”

“Yes. I can’t find her.”

“Turn back on the course,” Captain Bown ordered. “Man the search light. Stand by at the gig. All hands on deck.”

Miss Eleanor Offutt had worried Bown from the moment she boarded the ship at Los Angeles, appearing overwrought, depressed, highly nervous.

In Shark Area

As the ship turned about, almost all the crew went over the ship from forecastle to poop. There was no trace of Miss Offutt. Mrs. Brundett had seen her packing her bags, writing letters.

“There’s lots of sharks in these waters,” said the first mate.

“Yes, I know, but we’ll look anyway.”

The Luchenbach moved slowly back over her course, it searchlight dancing over the sea.

As dawn broke, Bown had his ship turned about again to go back over the same course.

Found Swimming

Soon afterward, there was a cry from the forward lookout. From the bridge, through the murky dawn, directly in front of the ship, officers saw a woman swimming. The engines were stopped, a boat was put aver the side, and as the rowers pulled up alongside the swimmer, she did not so much as look around, but swam doggedly on. It was Miss Offutt. She had been swimming for over six hours and she was only semi-conscious.

Refuses to Talk

Taken back aboard the Luchenbach she was put in sick bay and Captain Bown supervised her care. She had fever, she was delirious, but soon got better. Every day Captain Bown went to sick bay and asked her to explain herself. She would say nothing. Four letters had been left sealed in her room, one addressed to the captain. But, since she had been rescued, he returned them to her unopened.

This happened Sunday morning last night the Luchenbach made New York and Miss Offutt was taken to a hospital, still refusing to discuss her experience or to say whether she had jumped or had fallen overboard.”

That’s it. That’s all I could find. The story of Miss Eleanor Offutt ends with that article, and we are left with nothing but burning questions.

THIS is why I find history so fascinating, folks. There are a million stories out there just waiting to be discovered.

Now can anyone tell me what happened with Miss Offutt?!

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