Portrait of the poet as stowaway: Reuters remembers Dan Rifenburgh’s life of crime at 15

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Not a bad place to hide. Queen Mary in its heyday. (Creative Commons)

It’s tough for poets to get attention for their poetry. But some writers start young and get a head start on fame … or even  notoriety.

So it was for Dan Rifenburgh (we’ve written about him here and here), who found infamy sooner than most, at age 15. The poet, veteran, and former truck driver  shared his story on about his 1964 experiences as a stowaway on the legendary British ocean liner Queen Mary. In Dan’s own words:

“I walked on board in Manhattan. My folks figured out I might be on the Mary. The ship was searched at sea. I was found and put in the brig. At Southhampton, I was given a small cabin and had two guards on me (Cunard pensioners). I gave them the slip and hitchhiked to London. My last ride, a Polish bulldozer driver, put me up with his family.”

A more lasting kind of fame…

“I saw the Tower, the Palace, St. Paul’s, Trafalgar Square. My face was on the cover of all the English papers. I had no money. I walked into a police station and gave myself up. I spent two weeks in a juvenile Remand Home and played soccer and cricket, then was put on the Queen Elizabeth and home to New York.”

“My Dad had to pay, but we sold my story to a journalist for enough to cover the trip. My photo was in the centerfold of the Daily News and I was on all New York television and radio for days. In our town of Port Chester, New York, I was something of a celebrity. They still remember.”

The ocean liner was retired a few years later (nothing to do with Dan), and is now permanently moored in Long Beach, California. The newspaper clip above is from a Liverpool or Manchester paper – Dan can’t remember which.

Reuters verifies the story below, which is recounted in The New York Times, too – here and here

SOUTHAMPTON, England, July 15 (Reuters)—A 15‐year-old American stowaway escaped from the Queen Mary here today and vanished.

The boy, Daniel Rifenburgh, whose father is vice president of a Port Chester, N. Y., glass manufacturing concern, was trying to travel to Switzerland to visit a friend.

He walked down the ship’s gangplank and mingled with workers going through the dock gates into town.

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