Wednesday, January 24, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Likelike table outlives old ship

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Likelike table is one of those family treasures in Our Honolulu that turn up in unexpected places. I found this one in a split-level garden apartment in Hawaii Kai.

No, the Likelike table doesn’t belong in Iolani Palace although Likelike was a sister of King Kalakaua and the mother of Princess Kaiulani.

In fact, this table started out as something else. That’s what makes it one of a kind. It was once a ship’s wheel. And not just any ship. This wheel steered the Likelike, an interisland steamer.

Through a seasick century, colorful little steamships ferried passengers and cargo among the Islands. It was the only way to go. Each ship had its own personality.

Their whistles made different sounds. Some steamers were noted for rolling back and forth, making passengers line the rails. Others shook their rear ends at high speeds. A few even gave birth to other steamers.

The first Likelike was born in 1877, doubling Hawaii’s steamer fleet because there was only one steamer before her. The second Likelike came along in 1904 when steamships ruled the seas.

What makes all this so poignant is that not one of these heroic little vessels survived to tell its story. One by one, they burned or tore their guts out on reefs or were put to death like faithful old horses after a useful life.

One in a while, a scrap of history like the Likelike table comes along. Here’s how it happened:

Kay Napoleon of Kailua, 91, is related by marriage to the late Eben Low, who was widely known as a cowboy, legislator and ship owner. Her husband was a freight clerk for Inter-Island Steam Navigation Co. One day he came home and said they were going to scuttle some old ships. The Napoleons were living with her father-in-law, a butcher in the Metropolitan Meat Market, in a big house on Punchbowl’s slope. Uncle Eben and her father-in-law used to sit on the lanai overlooking the harbor and talk about ships.

The year was 1930. The Likelike sat forlorn in Rotten Row, stripped by scavengers. But her stately, elegant, 6-foot-high wheel remained. Eben Low and Kay Napoleon’s father-in-law asked permission to take it with them.

For a while, it was stored in Eben Low’s garage. Then her father-in-law said, "Let me make something out of it." He filled in the empty spaces between the spokes with koa and made a big pedestal table.

"We used it in the living room with a great, big koa bowl on it, filled with hibiscus and plumeria. It was lovely. The governor and mayor sat at that table."

When her father-in-law died, it went to his brother. It is now in the home of another Kay Napoleon in Hawaii Kai. The rest of the Likelike is at the bottom of the ocean outside Honolulu Harbor.

Call in your story to Bob Krauss at 525-8073.

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