When I first picked up this book, Ships, Swindlers, and Scalded Hogs, I wasn’t sure it would be all that interesting. Sure, a history of the famous Crooker Shipyard in Bath is a worthy subject, and the book is written by the great-great-grandson of one of the Crooker brothers, but I’ve got a pile of books to read and write about, so I decided to simply flip through it quickly.
Well, it only took a few pages before author Frederic B. Hill had me hooked. There’s a whole lot more here than simply building ships. Swindlers and scaled hogs indeed.
Hill established the Office of Special Programs for the U.S. State Department, after serving as a reporter and editorial writer for the Baltimore Sun from 1965 to 1985, where covered the news throughout Europe and Africa from London and Paris. But despite the allure of those wonderful places, he retired to Maine, his native state. Smart move!
He didn’t know much about his great-great-grandfather Charles Crooker, other than he had built ships in Bath in the mid-1800s. For example, he didn’t know that Charles and his brother owned entire townships in the Moosehead Lake region, or that they were the most prominent shipbuilders of their day.
Oh, but there’s more, a lot more. “What I discovered was not one but two stories,” he writes, “a very interesting history of several generations of shipbuilders and leading citizens of a nationally vital port but also a compelling story of ambition and intrigue, trusting partnerships and double-crosses, success and failure, tragedy and redemption – all in a young vibrant, and transforming America.”
Turns out it’s a story of amazing accomplishments, but also of “tangled relationships, personal rivalries, and complex financial transactions within a large and influential family, beset by bad blood and betrayal, not one but two major cases of fraud and theft involving approximately $2 million in today’s currency, a sensational divorce trial, and protracted spells in a form of debtors’ prison.”
After quickly flipping through the book, I returned to page one and began a very interesting journey through this complex and compelling story. It’s a good one!