In the 1940s, luthier Samuel Stochek created stunning instruments from the wood of demolished houses.
On August 24th, 1928, a 17-year-old high school kid jumped into the Hudson River and snuck inside a ship that was soon headed to Antarctica. Billy Gawronski, the son of Polish immigrants, wanted nothing more than to go to the ice continent with his hero, explorer Richard Byrd. But he was caught — and sent back home.
Teenagers dream about running away. They always have; they likely always will; often, when they do, the results are decidedly weird. (See: Haight-Ashbury circa the 1960s.)
But there’s packing a knapsack and setting out for the Summer of Love, and then there’s swimming across a major river intending to hitch a ride on a boat to Antarctica. In August of 1928, Billy Gawronski, the son of Polish Catholic immigrants, a Yiddish-speaking former “Shabbos goy” and a library-frequenting fan of adventure tales, did just that.
Laurie Gwen Shapiro talks about her new book The Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica. She tells the story of Billy Gawronski, a first generation New York City high schooler in 1928 desperate to escape a dreary future in the family upholstery business, who jumped into the Hudson River and stowed away on a ship bound for an expedition to Antarctica.
Laurie Gwen Shapiro is a fiction writer, award-winning documentary filmmaker and journalist whose writing has appeared in New York magazine, Slate, the Forward and the Los Angeles Review of Books, among others. In The Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica (just published by Simon & Schuster), her first foray into book-length nonfiction, Shapiro recounts the true story of Billy Gawronski, a scrappy and determined teenager growing up in 1920s New York who sneaks onto a ship bound for the southernmost continent.
Hear it! Laurie Gwen Shapiro dives into the Hudson River and sneaks aboard Richard E. Byrd’s flagship with Billy Gawronski, a plucky New York City teen bent on reaching the South Pole.
In 1928, 17-year-old Billy Gawronski decided it wasn’t enough to dream about going to Antarctica, so he set out to secretly join an outgoing ship. In an excerpt from Laurie Gwen Shapiro’s forthcoming book about Gawronski’s adventures, The Stowaway, we find Billy at a crucial moment in his plan.
My beloved editor Megan Hogan at SimonBooks just sent me a photo of a new “The Stowaway” display in the lobby of Simon & Schuster at Rockefeller Center – 1230 Avenue of the Americas. I’m going up there later this morning to take a photo with her! SO amazed- had zero idea this was going up! — feeling thankful.
Finding just the right story for a book was my New Year’s resolution in 2013. I just didn’t know where to look. But I’ve always loved writing about my neighborhood — Manhattan’s historic Lower East Side, where I grew up and still live — and so I was happy to be assigned a small magazine piece on Polish classes at St. Stanislaus, a local Roman Catholic church.
A few minutes past 4 a.m. on Aug. 25, 1928, 17-year-old Billy Gawronski dove into the Hudson River and swam out to board a ship called the City of New York, which was sailing to Antarctica the next day.
Gawronski had no experience at sea or as an adventurer. But he had a desire to live a more exciting life than the one he was born into.