|Life may have been hard but clean underwear was
always a priority in the McFinn family.
My grandfather, Gill McFinn, was an only child, born of immigrants recently arrived to New York from Ballingary, Ireland in the spring of 1905. The family spent Gill's early years in a small tenement in Hell's Kitchen. It was indeed a hard life. Gill's parents never adjusted to life in the sprawling city and spent their days terrified, locked in their room, and living solely on whatever income Gill could bring home working odd jobs as a paperboy, numbers runner, and delivery boy for a local fishmonger. In 1919, Gill was orphaned when his parents smothered in the linen closet on a particularly hot summer's day, surrounded by the clean underwear they were so proud of. Setting off on his own, Gill made a vow to embrace the world and all its mysteries, adventures, and dangers on that very day. At the young age of ten, Gill stowed away aboard a tramp steamer headed for Africa and parts unknown.
|Gill became tough as nails, his tasks included walking
barefoot through discarded clamshells
Discovered by the kindly cook, Gill was well-fed and kept a secret from the rest of the crew of the Frankie Anne until the Captain, "Scabby" Peterson (he had a skin condition), found Gill gazing at the night sky on the poop deck just off the coast of Sierra Leone. Scabby was a tough yet understanding man and soon grew to like the young boy, eventually taking him under his wing and becoming a mentor to him. Scabby was a legend to those in the maritime world, a consummate fisherman, an adventurer, and a man who possessed an insatiable thirst for the natural world.
|Gill fit in with the hardened crew in no time.
Legend has it, he drank a British Royal
Marine under the table at a dive bar
in Singapore at the age of 12.
For the next ten years, Gill and Scabby sailed the world, traversed perilous mountain trails, crossed deserts, and explored the secrets of the deepest jungles. Over these years, Gill became a consummate artist and recorded the exotic specimens he came across in his travels in his many sketchbooks. On the pages of these early sketchbooks, The Legend of Gill McFinn was being born. Unfortunately, on December 12th of 1925, tragedy entered Gill's life again when Scabby was swallowed whole by a giant manatee in the Florida Keys while exploring a sunken galleon. At the age of 20, Gill McFinn set off his own to become the legendary explorer and outdoors-man whose name has become part of the fabric of the American quilt... or fishing net.
The 1930's and '40's were the heyday of the Gill McFinn empire. As his exploits and discoveries became more and more well-known by the American public, he found himself entertaining celebrities and movie stars of the day on his new ship, the explorer-class Frankie Anne II. During these years, people wanted to be part of the Gill McFinn legend and soak in the salt water that ran in his veins.
|Broadway funnyman and bon-vivant"Shorty"
Fernbuckle and the lovely Rita Nesbitt admire
the very first Saw-Toothed Sailfish caught
in the South Seas.
Every expedition was covered by newspapers and movie newsreels the world over. He had a passion for drawing and painting the rare species he encountered, and he made a small fortune simply selling this artwork to museums and collectors when he wasn't out on the high seas. The original series of these prints are highly sought after to this day.
In 1932, he was briefly married to the Brazilian film star Rita Bodega, and in 1933 a son, my father, Gill McFinn, Jr. was born. My grandfather did his best to raise the boy to enjoy the many expeditions and find wonder in the diverse species of our planet, but alas, his mother proved too great an influence, and the young McFinn, Jr. was drawn to the easy and luxurious life of High Society. He lived the life of a playboy, eventually marrying briefly and fathering one son: me, Gill McFinn III. Rumors abound of other children, but nothing has been substantiated.
As my grandfather began to age, his exploits became less frequent and his name slipped from the headlines to the bylines to the occasional mention in a documentary. He began to realize that the Golden Age of exploration was coming to a close and was slowly accepting a life of retirement and fishing from his small boat the Bailey Bee off the coast of Maine.
|The Bailey Bee at her dock
Then, in 1965, Tragedy once again reared its head as my father, The Worthless Gill, Jr., was killed in a drunken car wreck off the Pacific Coast Highway after leaving a party at the home of fashion magnate Shecky Suskin. My mother, destitute with an addiction to expensive shoes and cheap vodka, sent my little, infant body to my grandfather to raise. He accepted me with open arms (actually, at this point his left hand was a hook, but that's not important), and relished the opportunity to at last pass on his knowledge to a new generation. I soaked up my grandfather's knowledge like a swabbie soaking up seawater from a well-worn deck, and at the age of 19, with the help of my grandfather, I purchased the Frankie Anne III, and we began sailing the globe again. A new age of discovery had begun. Gathering a team of divers, climbers, hunters, scientists, and hearty outdoors-men, my grandfather and I began to traverse the globe in search of the world's new mysteries. My lifelong friend and artist, Rich Powell, studied under my grandfather, and he now chronicles our adventures and discoveries for our museum and society with a hand that mirrors his mentor.
|The Frankie Anne III
We've been from Borneo to Bismarck, from Kathmandu to Klamath Falls. In 1995, while exploring the mountains of Xishuangbanna, China in search of the Red-Whiskered Ridgebacked Catfish, the Great Gill McFinn stopped once again to have a smoke and drop a line into a nearby pond. I found him sitting with his back against a tree, surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery we'd ever encountered. He had a smile on his face and a fish on his line. He was buried at sea in an undisclosed location on the South China Sea. Today, I, Gill McFinn III, vow to keep my grandfather's legend alive with a thirst for adventure, a love of the outdoors, and an undying quest for the next great mystery lurking in the wilds of the untamed world.