Not long after The Finest Hours was released in theaters, we received an inquiry that nearly knocked our clocks off (hehe). A young man by the name of Matt Fitzgerald told us he was the grandson of John J. Fitzgerald, the captain of the famed SS Pendleton tanker that went down off the coast of Chatham, on Cape Cod. The Coast Guard’s heroic rescue of the crew unfolds in the film, which a few of us here at Chelsea Clock had just seen in theaters. Matt wanted to know about the Chelsea Clock that was salvaged from the ship — were they still in production, and where could he get one? Since it’s nearly impossible to keep track of each clock that leaves our factory, up until that point we had never heard that a Chelsea came off the Pendleton. Needless to say we were thrilled to catch up with Matt to chat about his grandfather’s legacy and what he thought of the film.
Chelsea Clock: How did you find out about the Pendleton Chelsea Clock?
Matt Fitzgerald: I had gone to see the Finest Hours movie with my family two weeks before, and I was poking around on Facebook to see if anything was going on in Chatham. I saw that they had the little mobile museum set up. So my wife and I went down there. It was the first time I had seen anything from the ship that my grandfather was on. It was so surreal to see it.
CC: We heard that last surviving member of the rescue crew is Andrew Fitzgerald–in the movie they call him Fitz. Any relation?
MF: No, no relation, just a coincidence. Andy was in the Coast Guard, my grandfather was the captain of the Pendleton. Presumably they never met. But when I first read the book I was like, “Dad, are we related to him?”
CC: What can you tell us about your grandfather?
MF: Well, he’s my father’s father. And he went down with the bow section of the ship when my dad was only three. Lots of people don’t get to meet their grandparents, but to go through and see some of the history of my family, I’m fortunate to have that. I went to another shop that had the front page of the Boston Globe from the day after the rescue, and there was a picture of my grandpa and he looks exactly like my brother. It was awesome.
CC: The movie is very vague on what happened to him after the ship split in two. Do you have any insight?
MF: Not really. You saw it in the film, it was so unexpected. They couldn’t get into port so they wanted to ride out the storm on the ship and it just suddenly split in half. There was no mention in the book of there even being a rescue effort on the bow. Everyone on the bow went down with the ship.
CC: The Finest Hours comes out on DVD this month. Any last thoughts on the film?
MF: For me it was a great movie and a bit of an emotional experience. Obviously I knew the ending before I went in. But being there with my family — my parents, my aunt, my brother — thinking about what could have been, that was special.