Hundreds Turn Out To Hear Harbor Tales

By Nicole Hess, Contributing Writer

OSWEGO, NY – The annual Tales of the Harbor was held under clear skies Friday night. The program was held in the Historic Maritime District at the end of West First Street; with historic Derrick Boat 8 as the stage for the evening.

Jonel Langenfeld-Rial
Jonel Langenfeld-Rial

It was a clear night with stars visible overhead. However, an ominous black cloud hovered over Lake Ontario, perhaps foreshadowing some of the tale to come. A light breeze blew the fresh smell of the lake over the large crowd.

There was an excellent turnout as hundreds of people crowded in front of the stage, some on blankets, others in lounge chairs.

Jonel Langenfeld-Rial, the evening’s storyteller, stood at the podium. She was dressed in a lime green shirt with a black shawl, her blonde hair tied back.

Tales of the Harbor is particularly interesting for her considering that she has always been interested in maritime history.

In fact, she joked, she was possibly a sailor in another life.

She also has a curiosity for water and coastal areas.

Her love for historical maritime facts definitely shown through in her stories, which the audience took notice.

She spun the tale of the Legend of the Christmas Tree Ship by Carl Behrend about Captain Schuenemann’s perilous trip to deliver Christmas trees to hopeful families.

She made note of how Schuenemann’s loving wife waited for him as he set out to sail. Langenfeld-Rial has a true gift with her voice and audience members were impressed by the fact she could play more than one character.

After Schuenemann’s ship sailed, Langenfeld-Rial remarked how his loving wife watched his ship off. She waited for its return every time he set sail.

Langenfeld-Rial was able to incorporate determination, romance and mystery in the story.

The story almost began as a story of two lovers separated by the water.  There was no happy ending, however, as dangerous weather sunk the ship to a watery grave.

The most eerie aspect of the story was that the boat was found 55 years later by a diver. It was completely intact with the trees standing upright.

Another story told the trials of the SH Dunn which was trapped in the icy water’s of the lake, filled with cargo that had to wait months before it was released from the lake’s grasp.

Even the King of England was no match for the lake when his boat, the 8th Kings Regiment, went missing one cold winter night.

The stories reminded the audience of the power the lake held over its visitors with the ability to end any journey.

Langenfeld-Rial has been living in the Oswego area for about 10 years. She is a professor in theatre and theatre education at SUNY Oswego. So, this was an excellent opportunity for her to show off her performance abilities.

She was asked by H. Lee White Marine Museum executive director Mercedes Niess, to take over the storytelling duties for Rosemary Nesbitt, who passed in August of 2009.  Mrs. Nesbitt had presented the tales for many years.

A group of friends heads to the Maritime District to hear some Tales of the Harbor.
A group of friends heads to the Maritime District to hear some Tales of the Harbor.

Taking over for the beloved Oswego city historian was an honor, Langenfeld-Rial said, but not much pressure as she has been performing since she was eight years old.

“We had more than 200 folks attend,” Niess said. “It was a great night and we are pleased with the turnout.”

One audience member, Nate Macdonald, commented on the differences he noticed between Mrs. Nesbitt’s stories and overall performance and Langenfeld-Rial’s.

“Jonel was very historical and more theatrical. She definitely had a more theatric flare. However, Rosemary Nesbitt was a historical fixture. She dealt more with legends, actual ghost stories,” he said.

Even Langenfeld-Rial admits that she is partial to the true stories when asked which is her favorite Oswego harbor tale because the audience knows that the accidents happened so they can, “immediately put themselves in the role of the protagonist, or any of the character and begins to (unconsciously most of the time), put themselves in that person’s shoes.”

As a child in Minnesota, Langenfeld-Rial would always listen in on her father’s radio show. Not only that, but her family was always sharing stories with each other.

“Life can be so hard. Being able to share your experiences with others, hopefully with some humor at times, can really help put life into perspective for both the listener and the storyteller,” she explained.