Celebrating History

By Chris Ordiway, Naturalist Specialist

Photo of Alice Ferguson’s father, John Lowe, taken in 1905

It seems only fitting, during this month when we celebrate our Independence as a nation, to share with you one of our own connections to a military hero of years past. John T. Lowe (1838-1930), father of Alice Ferguson, was born in Liverpool, England. He moved to the United States and became a naturalized citizen in 1860 and joined the military the following year. He served in the Civil War and was injured during the First Battle of Bull Run (or the Battle of First Manassas if you fought for the Confederacy) and later transferred to the Navy as a 3rd Assistant Engineer.

His claims to fame during his military career include serving on at least 10 different ships, including his time as the engineer aboard the USS Bear during the Greely Relief Expedition to the Arctic. He was also instrumental in the Navy’s decision to accept the Holland submarine design based on his recommendations as an engineer. He was aboard the first trial of the Holland in 1898, which stayed submerged for 15 hours and fired a dummy round to prove that the craft was worthy of military service. He retired from the Navy in 1900 as a Captain but was promoted, retroactive to 1900, to Rear Admiral in 1911 for his continued service to the Navy even after retiring.

John Lowe N.17 Greely Exp

Greely Relief Expedition rescuers and rescued in Upernivik, Greenland, 1884

Although he was away a lot during his career Mr. Lowe was a family man that wanted to be at home with his wife and children. One story of note is that his ship returned to the League Island Yard in Philadelphia in the midst of a terrible blizzard. The crew hunkered down to wait out the storm but John was determined to see his family and have a hot cup of tea. He wrapped up in extra layers and walked through the storm for 7 miles, his wife had to steam the ice from his beard when he arrived home. A servant repeatedly cleared the sidewalk during the remainder of the night, when asked why he didn’t just wait until the storm was over he replied “Because the United States Government will be needing the walk clear soon.” Throughout the next day sailors came by to see the man “who walked home last night”.