Phil Luciano: Salty Sam needs help from fans

Phil Luciano

In a perfect world of youthful imagination, the late Captain Jinks and Salty Sam forever would trade silly jokes and ply the heavens in their S.S. Albatross.

For the captain, that just about came true. After Stan Lonergan died at age 67 in 1989, his cremated remains were scattered over Peoria by plane, thanks to WEEK-TV colleague and friend Bill Houlihan.

Meanwhile, not only did Sam stay grounded, he pretty much became forgotten. After the death of George Baseleon at age 76 in 1985, he was buried in a plot he'd bought at Springdale Cemetery. To this day, however, the site remains unmarked.

"The Peoria icon does not have a tombstone," says Pat Lewis, graveyard manager. "It's just a blank ground."

Lewis learned that only recently. That's why he's trying to drum up ideas for a fundraiser to erect a marker for Salty Sam.

Granted, the cause isn't up there with ending world hunger or curing childhood diseases. Still, for just a few hundred bucks, Peoria could pay tribute to the kiddie-TV legend.

This sort of thing drives Lewis crazy. He wants the cemetery to serve as a historical resource, a place where visitors and scholars can seek information about all the folks lying there.

Often, Lewis finds celebrity graves only by luck. That was the case with Salty Sam, thanks to Gus Baseleon.

The 63-year-old retired mechanical engineer lives in the far south suburbs of Chicago. Gus Baseleon's grandpa ran a candy store on Adams Street in Peoria during the Depression but moved the family up to Chicago when times got too tight.

One of the grandfather's brothers, George, decided to stay in Peoria. He ended up in TV and became Salty Sam, first mate to Captain Jinks.

The series enchanted Peoria children from 1956 to 1972. The pair never worked with a script, preferring to ad-lib their way through high-seas antics.

George Baseleon loved the role so much that long after the end of the series, he told this paper, "I actually prefer to be called Salty."

He spent his last years as assistant manager at the Heritage House restaurant. Some Saturday nights, he'd sign upward of 200 autographs.

"He never turned down an autograph," says Gus Baseleon, who often would see the "Captain Jinks Show" while visiting kin in Peoria as a lad.

Over time, his thoughts of George Baseleon faded somewhat. But over the past few years, many of his relatives have died, prompting Gus Baseleon to become a genealogist.

Recently, he got a hankering to visit Salty Sam's grave site. At Springdale, he introduced himself to Lewis, who helped him find the plot - but was shocked to see no marker.

"It seems inappropriate that an icon of Peoria is not properly identified," Lewis says.

Salty Sam doesn't have many kin left. Gus Baseleon says he is trying to get relatives to kick in money for a tombstone but is having some trouble coming up with much dough.

So Lewis is wondering if any old fans of the "Captain Jinks Show" have any interest in a fundraiser to come up with the cash to cover the cost. A small marker would cost just $350 or so. But that would just be a flat headstone; anything more intricate would cost a little more.

"I'd like to do something with his picture on it," Lewis says.

Gus Baseleon says he is more than willing to help with any work that needs to be done to raise the money. Lewis, too.

Any ideas, mateys?

Phil Luciano can be reached atpluciano@pjstar.com or (309)  686-3155.