Nearly 30 years ago, in 1990, Fred Langill of Edinboro, Pennsylvania decided to locate his grandparents’ graves at the Spring Street Cemetery in Essex. After a nine-hour drive, he stopped at the Story Shipyard to ask for directions, and after exchanging some pleasantries and giving the man there some casual details, Fred mentioned that his grandfather’s name was Angus Langill.
Whip-sharp, the man looked at Fred and said, “Your grandfather worked for my father.” The man was Dana A. Story, known locally for his encyclopedic memory. Indeed, Angus worked for his father and others for 20 years as a ship carpenter.
That fateful meeting began an elaborate series of connections — and coincidences — that would eventually lead Fred Langill to the Lettie G. Howard. “The Lettie” is a great, two-masted schooner, built here in 1893 at the Arthur D. Story Shipyard with the help of his grandfather. It’s a schooner that has driven Fred Langill to become somewhat of a historian and genealogist, and this Saturday he will — along with Essex Historical Society curator James “Jim” Witham – host 40 Langills for a family reunion at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum.
“None of us in our family had any idea that we had a connection to Essex,” said Fred. “But now, we know what a rich, deep history we have, and it’s really an amazing story.”
Angus Langill was born in River John, Nova Scotia in 1852. He immigrated to Clearfield, Pennsylvania in 1879, and it’s estimated that he moved to Essex with his wife Margaret in 1885. He purchased a home from his boss, Arthur D. Story, on Pickering Street in 1892. The couple’s third son, Fred’s father, was born in Essex in 1899. “I didn’t know Angus,” said Fred. “I didn’t know his story.” Sadly, Angus died in 1942, before Fred was even born.
From the time the Langills moved to Essex until sometime until 1906, Angus worked for the A. D. Story Shipyard, a career spanning approximately 20 years. And between 1890 and 1900, shipbuilding in Essex produced some 76 schooners, marking an incredibly productive industry. Throughout its history, the A.D. Story Shipyard assembled many more schooners as well as over 450 various other boats.
Last year, back in Pennsylvania, the Erie Maritime Museum sent out a press release announcing it would be receiving the refurbished Lettie G. Howard on loan from the South Street Seaport Museum in New York, which owns the schooner today. Fred Langill had been pushing for a revival and recognition of the city’s maritime heritage since he moved to the area in 1980. As a regular collaborator of the museum, he read the press release, which referred to the ship being built in Essex in 1893. It reminded him of that chance 1990 meeting with Dana Story.
Could there be a connection? Fred contacted Maritime Gloucester and the Essex Shipbuilding Museum in search of more information. He met up with Jim Witham, and the pair dove into the Essex Historical Society archives. Witham discovered a rare payroll book that covered 10 years of shipbuilding in Essex, documenting Angus’ work on the Lettie G. Howard. Then, when visiting the Shipbuilding Museum, Fred spotted a replica of the commemorative pennant that flew from the Lettie on the day it hit the Essex River (pennants were created and flown as a tradition to celebrate newly minted schooners coming “off the yard”). Of all the hundreds of schooners spun out of the Story Shipyard, Fred couldn’t believe the one chosen for the museum’s rafters was from the Lettie.
So, when the Lettie left New York on May 1, 2018, en route to the Erie Maritime Museum, Fred Langill traveled to meet her. “I watched a ship. A life. A person I didn’t know come into my life, sailing into our channel,” said Langill. “And as she passed by, it was emotional. I never knew that man. But here’s something in my life that directly touched to him.”
Connections that persist through time and place. And a legacy, which is what the Lettie G. Howard represents for Fred Langill and his family, which extends from Washington State to Virginia and up to Maine. This Saturday, they will come together for their reunion. To reminiscence and to celebrate, and to honor Angus Langill and his story.