The story of an adventurous boy who captured America’s imagination in an age of significant exploration.
During the 1920s, when the spirit of adventure surged through the country, nobody felt it more strongly than Billy Gawronski, the first-generation son of Polish immigrants. Even in high school, he appeared fated for a life in his father’s business, but Billy not only had other plans, he had the determination to see them through. He idolized Cmdr. Richard Byrd and ached to join what was heralded as a historic voyage to Antarctica during a time when America’s appetite for such adventure had been whetted by the exploits of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart. Billy collected news stories about Byrd’s expedition, of which there were many, for this was as much a public relations campaign as it was an exploring expedition, with the Byrd camp feeding reporters what their readers wanted. “Was anyone more determined than Billy to hitch a ride on the most famous rig in America?” asks journalist and documentary filmmaker Shapiro’s book debut. “It was the bold, he was certain, who won the right to adventure.” Billy was bold, but he was by no means alone, as he discovered on his first stowaway attempt that others had had the same idea. All of them were discovered, captured, and taken off the ship. But Billy persisted, following the ship from its New York launch down the coast to Virginia, far from his home, where he continued to try to join the expedition and continued to be rejected. He was remanded to police custody on his third attempt, but his persistence ultimately paid off, as Byrd and the newspapers caught wind of his story and decided to make it a highlight. So Billy joined the crew, and his determination changed the course of his life. This book isn’t so much a seafaring adventure as a getting-to-sea adventure, but it ultimately reveals as much about a country’s changing values as it does about one boy’s pluck.
Thoroughly researched, but the narrative reads like a yarn from that era.