14 – Just Sail Away

(this chapter is an excerpt from The Man Who Mastered Gravity, to be published in 2023; to be notified when the book is available, please subscribe to our mailing list)

We Will Just Sail Away

(1927)

Josephine Beale's high school yearbook photo from 1928
Josephine Beale’s high school yearbook photo from 1928

Josephine Beale was a pretty, slender girl with soft, dark blonde hair, an enthusiastic smile and blue-grey eyes, a junior at Lash High School in Zanesville. She had seen Townsend Brown around town, heard people refer to him as “the second coming of Einstein,” and knew that he was the heir to one of the town’s more prominent families. 

Josephine caught Townsend’s eye while performing in a school play. She didn’t know what to make of it when her gossipy girlfriends mentioned that Townsend Brown had been asking about her. 

Josephine heard all kinds of stories: That he owned his own cruiser out on Buckeye Lake – a refitted pilot boat called the Viking. His devilishly handsome friend Paul Grey had a reputation with the girls. Josephine’s girlfriends giggled whenever they mentioned Paul Grey and Townsend Brown. Now the gossip mill was starting to grind on Josephine Beale, who did all she could to feign disinterest. 

As the Beale family gathered for dinner one night, Josephine’s father Clifford Beale – a prosperous businessman with an avocation in woodcraft – mentioned an inquiry he’d had that day about a carpentry project. 

“I had an interesting visitor today,” Dr. Beale started. “That young man Townsend Brown came to ask what I would charge to build a curio cabinet for his mother’s birthday.”

Dr. Beale watched his daughter hold her breath.

“He asked about you,” Dr. Beale said. “Well, more precisely, he asked my permission to call on you.” 

“Poppa, are you serious? He came here? Oh Poppa! You don’t know what everyone is saying about him! I can’t believe that he would have the nerve to come straight to you like this!”

Dr. Beale delighted in his daughter’s reaction. “Don’t be so quick to believe what others say,” he said. “This fellow made quite an effort to ask my permission in the most proper way. He stressed that you could select a chaperone if you wanted to. But I don’t think that will be necessary.”

Josephine and Townsend’s first date was a picnic on the shore of Buckeye Lake in the spring of 1927. In a fitting prelude to their future together, Townsend showed up late, having found it difficult to pull himself away from his laboratory. Josephine acted indifferent when he finally arrived in the Brown family’s chauffeur-driven Packard. 

Their second date was more memorable. It began with Townsend showing Josephine around his private laboratory, which she found impressive even if she understood little of what he was showing her. After another chauffeured drive out to Buckeye Lake, he took her sailing in his gaff-rigged catboat, the aptly named TomCat. Josephine tried to tease him about the name, but Townsend just laughed and swore that was the name of the boat when he’d bought it. 

It was a perfect day for sailing, warm and clear with a light zephyr chasing over the surface of the lake. She was new to sailing, but took naturally to the trim wooden boat; Townsend showed her the ropes, and even gave her a turn at the tiller.

“See that area over there, the ripples on the water?” Townsend said. “There’s more wind over there, try to steer toward it.” And when she did, they little boat picked up the fresh breeze and accelerated over the surface. 

The visit to the lab and the adventure on the lake gave Josephine a better sense of her suitor. “We talked about everything that day,” Josephine later told Linda. “I kept watching him and noticing how wonderful and blue his eyes were. He was very handsome and so tanned and when he smiled at me I just lit up inside. My previous impressions of him just melted away that day.”

Tacking toward the far shore of the lake, Townsend told Josephine about dreams he’d been having and the ideas that came to him in his sleep that inspired him to experiment in his laboratory. 

“He didn’t have any one who would just listen to him, so that was my role from the first,” Josephine told Linda. “I didn’t understand half of what he was trying to explain to me. It took a couple of weeks before it began to sink in. I just knew that it was the most important information that I probably would ever hear, and here was a man who was going to need me.”

As the little sail boat skimmed across the lake, Josephine tried to lighten the mood. 

“OK, Mr. Smarty, if you could travel through time, what do you think you will find in the future? Will there be more wars? What will become of Mankind in the future?” 

The young dreamer with the tiller in one hand and the mainsheet in the other knew it was time to share the vision he had seen in his dreams. 

“We will just sail away,” he said. 

“What do you mean?” 

“Someday, men will travel in space, just as easily as we are sailing now. Great ships will silently push away from the Earth just as easily as this sail boat pushed away from the dock.”

Josephine lingered in silence, listening to the water lapping against the hull. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine their little boat sailing across the void of space. In her heart she knew she was hearing something not only strange and fantastic, but also true. 

She opened her eyes and smiled. “Mr. Brown, you are different, aren’t you?” 

Townsend smiled back.

“That was pretty much it for me,” Josephine recalled. “I was a gone goose!” 

When they got back to the yacht club, Townsend took Josephine home, and left her on the doorstep without so much as a kiss on her cheek. 

“That night, I couldn’t sleep,” Josephine recounted. “So I knew what I was going through!” 

“Yes,” Linda thought to herself, as she listened to her mother that morning as the sun rose over Ashlawn. In her tangled feelings for Morgan, Linda knew exactly what her mother was talking about.

We Will Just Sail Away - as easily as this boat pushed away from the dock.
We Will Just Sail Away – as easily as this boat pushed away from the dock.

(this chapter is an excerpt from The Man Who Mastered Gravity, to be published in 2023; to be notified when the book is available, please subscribe to our mailing list)

 

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