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Night Watch: The Strange Story of the FV Shenandoah

Officer Hootie here, Museum Night Watch. Reporting in on some strange late-night activity around the museum.

I caught a mouse poking suspiciously around the gallery and swooped him up just before he managed to squeeze into the Norwegian costume case. I was a beak’s breath away from swallowing him whole, when he begged me to hear his strange and twisted story. He claimed it was the true story of the FV Shenandoah or, as he called the boat, “Drakedal.”

Drakedal, he said, meant Dragon Valley, which caps a deep fjord in Norway where the most seaworthy fishing and merchant vessels are built. His ancestors had stowed away in the boat’s bilge as it cast off on its virgin voyage. As they sailed out of the fjord, a terrible storm overtook them and the Drakedal was tossed and turned for days upon days in the driving storm. When the waters finally calmed, the Drakedal was surrounded by ice, making the crew certain that they had been pushed North to arctic seas near Svalbard. Skolsgaard, the crew's moody navigator, took the boat’s bearings and said they were all wrong; they had been pushed to the New World’s northern sea. With winter coming, they forged a route through the closing ice that brought them to the treacherous Bering Strait.

As winter closed in, said Knorrmus, for this was the name the mouse claimed (roughly translated as “boat mouse”), the crew took shelter in a harbor along the Alaskan coast. It was not so different from home, there in the north among sea lions, fish, and whales. They built a shelter, fished, and hunted. They planned to sail south, to see and learn about this New World.

What they didn’t plan for were the New American Pirates that attacked as they sailed south along the inland passage on the leeward side of Vancouver Island. There, said Knorrmus, was a ferocious band of Slavs, settled in from the Island of Brac, who saw the beautiful Drakedal and wanted her for their very own. Their leader was a heavily mustached man named Pasqual who, with a single swing of his boat builder’s hammer, claimed the Drakedal for his own. The crew, sick and tired of being stuck on the boat for nigh on two years, was more than happy to hand her over in exchange train fare back to the eastern edge of the New World.

It was then that the mighty Drakedal was hauled out, re-calked and tarred, and her dragon’s head figure sawed from the stem and tossed aside. Had it not been for the Family Knorrmus, the Drakedal’s figurehead would have been lost forever. As Pasqual set out for the fishing grounds, the Family Knorrmus lashed the figurehead to a dangling line, hopped aboard and were towed south to Pasqual’s new home in Gig Harbor. When people asked Pasqual where he had obtained the beautiful fishing boat that carried more fish than any other, he claimed to have had it built by his brothers from Brac.

But the mouse and his family knew the truth, and they rolled and pushed and hauled and levered the Drakedal’s figurehead to a secret place for safekeeping until the day came that it would be restored to its rightful place. Wriggling free of my clutch, Knorrmus reached into his vest and retrieved a tiny bronze horn. He held it to his lips and released a bellow that would call a dragon from its cave. Instead, a stream of tiny brown mice appeared all wearing artfully knitted Norwegian sweater vests. They begged me to help them reveal the true story of the boat that had been wrongly labeled Shenandoah, and restore her figurehead once and for all. It took every ounce of my willpower not to snatch a mousey snack, but their big-eyed appeal and promise to vacate the premises once the boat’s rightful identity was restored struck a chord somewhere in my hungry and hopeful heart. So I called upon my brothers of the Night Watch and we worked for the next two hours lifting the figurehead into place, while the Family Knorrmus secured it to the boat’s massive stem.

I realize, as an officer of the Night Watch, that everything about this story is counter to what is right and proper for a museum guard to entertain. My job is to protect the museum from all invaders, to uphold truth and justice for all artifacts. And so, at the risk of losing my most honorable post, I swear to you by badge and talon that this is a true and fantastic… April Fools!

A special thanks to artist Mike Cressy for his fabulous Drakedal Dragon art!

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