episode 7

God's Almighty Luck

Episode 7

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Audio Transcript - Episode 7

God's Almighty Luck

MP3 - Mollie Satko

God's Almighty Luck

Tacoma and Seattle are brothers—Seattle the successful one, flush with cash, somewhere along the way it's lost a bit of its soul. Tacoma the stubbly faced ne'er do well that enjoyed a brilliant beginning, only to fade a little as chance and fate conspired against it. So maybe it's not surprising that when the Satko family—with the cheers of the people of Tacoma still echoing in their ears—fell foul of Seattle's maritime authorities. Well, the sibling rivalry between the two cities burst forth like an argument over the family silver at a family funeral. Like an ancient grudge at a family reunion.

Three days out from Tacoma, towed free of a sand bar by the coastguard, the Ark rounded West Point by what's now Discovery Park and arrived in Lake Union. Enter the arch villain of our story—as far as Tacoma was concerned anyway - the secretary of Masters, Mates and Pilots' Association, Local Number 6—Captain John M Fox. With admirable economy, Captain John M Fox declared: 'The Ark isn't safe. Besides thinking of the lives of the children aboard, we're thinking of the lives of everybody else on Puget Sound.' Something had to be done.

Needless to say, Captain John M Fox's opinion didn't carry much weight with Paul Satko—as Paul explained at to a local reporter who asked him for comment...

I told him I had no statement to make, I didn't know anything about any trouble. He told me that Captain Fox Secretary of the Master Mates Association had sworn out a warrant for my arrest due to the fact I was jeopardizing the lives of these minor children. And he wanted to know what I had to say about it. So I told him I didn't know anything about Captain Fox and didn't care anything about him. I wasn't interfering with him and I didn't choose for him or anyone else to interfere with MY progress.

But nevertheless I was planning on leaving there but the entire crowd came over there—police, detectives, photographers—looked like they were all in on it except me. They all knew what was going on. And they decided that I couldn't take those children—they wanted to take those children up to the juvenile detention home until after the trial. I said 'What trial?' Well they said they was going to have a trial about whether or not this boat was safe to take those children, up to Alaska.

Well while that was going on why, I contended they had no authority and no jurisdiction over me anyway because I was on federal waters and I was under the jurisdiction of federal courts. And while they were consulting each other whether or not I was or not, I slipped out and started the engine—cut loose the boat and started the engine—and while I was doing that they tied my boat back up and caused the arrest. And arrested me because I refused to surrender the children and put me in jail.

Such was the furor caused by the manner of Satko's arrest that the Tacoma News Tribune reported a woman from the 'middle west' sending in a clipping with the front page picture of the Seattle police man-handling Satko. Across the face of the picture she had written in crayon: 'Who are these men? Members of the O.G.P.U.? Has the Russian fleet captured Seattle?' The OGPU was the forerunner to the KGB.

Meanwhile nearer to home the Tacoma Satko Defense Committee was formed—their mission to co-ordinate fundraising for the family. They paid the 25 dollar bail levied on Paul for disorderly conduct; they arranged a fundraising dance at the Century Ballroom in Kent, with Paul and Hazel both in attendance; and they issued statements like this—just to give you an idea of their conciliatory tone:

From the moment six hot headed policemen boarded the Ark and tore the children from their parents, Seattle adopted the family...as long as an injustice exists, as long as the Seattle police arrest innocent children and manhandle their father without due process of law, the Satko committee of Tacoma will be in there fighting.

The Defense Committee even filed a writ of Habeas Corpus in an effort to free the children and re-unite them with their parents on board the boat. Assault charges against Paul were dropped by the Seattle Police court and his $25 bail returned to the Defense Fund. However, it wasn't ALL a chorus of support coming from Tacoma—as The Times of April 24th 1940 reported from the city:

Officialdom here expresses no sympathy whatever for the 'skipper' of the Ark of Juneau...Satko, the investigation has disclosed, has spurned job after job here, including a spot on WPA. It appears WPA starts its employees as laborers at something around $60 a month, and Satko, after all, is a master welder. Tacoma offers, it appears, have been made to Satko of work in shipyards, at a door factory; offers had even been made of safe transportation for the entire family to any spot in Alaska they elected to pick for their start in the new life ahead. All these were given up for Skipper Satko's personal determination to proceed under his own power.

The ultimate fate of the children—and the whole trip—now rested on the outcome of hearings convened in front of Juvenile Judge William G Long. After some deliberation, during which they were looked after by the city, the minor children were released into the custody of their mother, on condition they didn't set foot aboard the Ark. An apartment was provided in Ballard by H Paul Norman—described in the papers as a Los Angeles showman. When asked about the cost of putting up the family in a Ballard apartment: 'I've put that much on a horse more than once, without nearly as much satisfaction.' Then attention turned to the boat itself.

Captain Baltasar W. Drufner, Federal Assistant Inspector of Hulls - testified that it would be utterly impossible for Satko to successfully reach Alaska. Satko would need 'God's almighty luck' said one witness. The Ark was inspected by a doctors to see if it was safe for human habitation; by engineers to see if it was structurally sound; by boatmen to see if it was seaworthy; and by fire inspectors who discovered there was only one hatch by which occupants might escape to the upper deck in the unlikely event of fire—as reported in The Tacoma News Tribune:

The interior of the hull was laden with household goods covered with newspapers in the same compartment with two 100 gallon gasoline tanks 'improperly installed,' and that there were an oxygen tank, attached to a blow-torch, and two five gallon tins of gasoline on the top deck. I could hardly draw a worse picture of fire hazards than those I found,' Reid testified. 'The carelessness in handling that gasoline showed me the man has no knowledge of what he is monkeying with.'