“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Buffalo in Erie County, New York — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)

The Legend of John Maynard

Immortalized in a poem by Theodor Fontane

The Legend of John Maynard Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Anton Schwarzmueller, February 28, 2016
1. The Legend of John Maynard Marker
John Maynard
“Who is John Maynard?”
“John Maynard, he was our helmsman
Who held out ’till he brought us safely through,
Saved us and wears a hero’s crown above.
For us he died, and his reward our love.
John Maynard.”
The Buffalo-Dortmund Sister City Committee honors the legend of John Maynard, immortalized in a poem by Theodor Fontane 1819–1898.
Translated from the German language by Burt Erickson Nelson.
Across Lake Erie the “Swallow” wings, Foam like snow the ship’s bow rings, Detroit to Buffalo she makes her way, All hearts aboard feel free and gay, And passengers with kith and kin, Can see the shore in the twilight dim, And chattering to John Maynard say, “Helmsman, how much further away?” He looks ahead, then around and explains,

“Still thirty minutes ... half an hour remains.”

Every heart is cheerful and every heart feels free, When from below a cry suddenly: “Fire!” was the awful shout, As smoke from cabin and hatch poured out. First smoke, then flames, a blazing glow.

And still twenty minutes to Buffalo.

And passengers crowd around
Northward image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Anton Schwarzmueller, February 28, 2016
2. Northward
Towards the end of the breakwall at the entrance to Erie Basin Marina.
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the bow, The colorful mass pressed together now; At the bowsprit there’s still air and light: But at the helm the smoke’s grip is tight; A moan is heard, “Where are we? Do you know?”

And still fifteen minutes to Buffalo.

The wind increases but the smoke cloud says. Towards the helm the captain turns his gaze, He can discern his helmsman no more, But through the speaking tube implores: “Still there, John Maynard?” “Yes, sir, I am.” “Head to the beach! Into the surf!” “Yes, sir. I’ll ram.” And the people cheer on: “Please don’t let go!”

And still ten minutes to Buffalo.

“Still there, John Maynard?” Then this reply, with a dying man’s voice, “Yes, sir, I’ll try.” And into the surf among rocks and stone, he guides the “Swallow” steering alone; Should rescue come it will only come so. Rescue: the beach of Buffalo.

The vessel’s broken, it smolders like coal. All have been saved, all save one soul.

All the city bells peel, then woes upswell, To heaven from each church and chapel, A ringing and tolling, all else is silent. Just one goal on which all will bear: Ten thousand or more make up the train, And none in the crowd the tears can restrain.

The coffin’s lowered upon flowers laid, With flowers they then close the grave, And out in the marble in letters of gold, The city’s debt of thanks is told: “Here rests John Maynard. In smoke
Southward image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Anton Schwarzmueller, February 28, 2016
3. Southward
Towards the 1833 lighthouse on the opposite side of the entrance to the Buffalo River.
and flame, He held onto the rudder with might and main... Saved us and wears a hero’s crown above. For us he died, and his reward our love.
John Maynard.”

Sie lassen den Sarg in Blumen hinab, Mit Blumen schließen sie das Grab, Und mit goldner Schrift in den Marmorstein Schreibt die Stadt ihren Dankspruch ein: “Hier ruht John Maynard! In Qualm und Brand Hielt er das Steuer fest in der Hand, Er hat uns gerettet, er trägt die Kron, Er starb für uns, unsre Liebe sein Lohn.
John Maynard.”
This poem celebrates an actual event: The burning of the Paddle-Wheel Steamer “ERIE” on August 9, 1841 with Luther (Augustus) Fuller at the helm.
Erected 1997 by SUNY at Buffalo Casting Institute.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Arts, Letters, MusicDisastersWaterways & Vessels. A significant historical date for this entry is August 9, 1841.
Location. 42° 52.859′ N, 78° 53.325′ W. Marker is in Buffalo, New York, in Erie County. Marker is on Erie Street, ¼ mile west of Marine Drive, on the left when traveling north. Marker is at the midpoint of the north-south breakwall for the Erie Basin Marina. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Buffalo NY 14202, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. International Shipmasters' Association (approx. ¼ mile away); Penobscot-Morania Collision
John Maynard at the Helm of the <i>Erie</i> image. Click for full size.
Via Wikimedia Commons from Student and Schoolmate, vol. 21, no. 1, January 1868
4. John Maynard at the Helm of the Erie
(approx. ¼ mile away); The 1833 Buffalo Lighthouse (approx. ¼ mile away); Buffalo Water Intake, Horseshoe Reef Light (approx. ¼ mile away); Buffalo Main & Harbor Lights (approx. ¼ mile away); Buffalo Harbor (approx. ¼ mile away); Buffalo Lightship (approx. ¼ mile away); Historic Lake Erie (approx. ¼ mile away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Buffalo.
More about this marker. Designer: Erica L. Andres. Relief sculpture: Jeff Slomba.
Also see . . .
1. Luther Fuller - Wikipedia.
Augustus Fuller, also known as Luther Fuller and John Maynard, was the helmsman of the steamboat Erie. He died on August 9, 1841 at 23 years of age, at the wheel of the ship which was destroyed by fire. He was praised for his heroism for remaining at his post. ...

An anonymous prose sketch entitled The Helmsman of Lake Erie did not appear until four years after the loss of the Erie. Many researchers have stated that the sketch referred to Fuller, probably due to the magnitude of the tragedy, which up to 1841 was the worst steamer conflagration on Lake Erie. Nonetheless, it is claimed the helmsman in the sketch is not Fuller, but “Old John Maynard.” ...

In Germany ... Fontane's “John Maynard” was hugely popular
Theodor Fontane, Novelist and Poet (1819–1898) image. Click for full size.
Public Domain, unknown source, circa 1860
5. Theodor Fontane, Novelist and Poet (1819–1898)
and still is compulsory reading in school and thus the City of Buffalo was urged by enthusiastic German tourists to install a commemorative plate (explaining the legend and the man) at the lake in 1998.
(Submitted on March 9, 2016, by Anton Schwarzmueller of Wilson, New York.) 

2. Erie (Steamboat) , fire, 9 Aug 1841 - Maritime History of the Great Lakes. The poem varies greatly from the actual event, recounted here in great detail.
... The ERIE left the dock at 10 minutes past 4 P. M., loaded with merchandise destined for Chicago, and as nearly as now can be ascertained, about two hundred persons, including passengers and crew on board. The boat had been thoroughly overhauled, and although the wind was blowing fresh, everything pronounced a pleasant and prosperous voyage. Nothing occurred to mar this prospect till about 8, when the boat was off Silver Creek, about 8 miles from shore, and 33 miles from this city, when a slight explosion was heard, and immediately, instantaneously almost, the whole vessel was enveloped in flames. ...
(Submitted on March 9, 2016, by Anton Schwarzmueller of Wilson, New York.) 

3. Who is John Maynard? For many Germans, the ballad of this heroic helmsman is linked to Lake Erie. 2019 article by Klaus Grimberg in The German Times.
Perhaps the <i>Erie</i> Engulfed in Flames image. Click for full size.
Public Domain
6. Perhaps the Erie Engulfed in Flames
This uncredited undated illustration is often used on Internet pages when discussing Fontane's poem.
years after the event, Theodor Fontane elevated the helmsman into the legend of John Maynard, who has lived on in schoolchildren’s imaginations ever since. Fontane did not adhere strictly to the facts. His steamer sailed in the opposite direction – from Detroit to Buffalo – and all his passengers survived the inferno. He turns Maynard into a heroic figure, one who sacrifices his own life to save countless others. Very much in the spirit of his time, Fontane condensed an actual event into a gripping drama of courage, duty and devotion, extolling the protagonist as the standard-bearer of these outstanding human virtues.
(Submitted on August 7, 2021.) 
Credits. This page was last revised on August 8, 2021. It was originally submitted on March 9, 2016, by Anton Schwarzmueller of Wilson, New York. This page has been viewed 1,623 times since then and 535 times this year. It was the Marker of the Week August 8, 2021. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on March 9, 2016, by Anton Schwarzmueller of Wilson, New York.   4, 5, 6. submitted on August 7, 2021, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio.

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Dec. 3, 2022