Category Archives: Historic Ships

New Year’s On The Great Lakes

Here is the James R. Barker leaving Duluth this morning. Notice all the ice in the harbor and in the canal. The Barker has a very distinctive horn. A few people were there to see it off at 7:53 am (local time) this morning standing  in a chilly 24 degrees F (-4 C) in Duluth.

 


Arthur Anderson Entering Duluth with Sea Smoke

The Arthur Anderson has been on service on the Great Lakes since 1952. She was the last ship in communication with the Edmund Fitzgerald when it sank in 1975. On Saturday she headed into Duluth Canal early in the morning. As you will see from the video, sea smoke was abundant that morning. Sea smoke occurs when you have cool air above a warmer liquid causing condensation to appear. The effect is quite dramatic when you see it on the Great Lakes or on any body water. That means the air is colder than the water causing this effect.

Remembering the SS Daniel J. Morrell (29 Nov 1966)

Launch of the SS Daniel J. Morrell in Bay City, Michigan
22 August 1906
Unknown Author
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The sinking of the SS Daniel J. Morrell in 1966 during a fierce November storm on Lake Huron is often compared to the Edmund Fitzgerald, but less remembered. It broke up during the storm and only person out of29 crewmen survived.

The ship was launched in 1906 and at 603 feet long was considered one of the largest bulk carriers on the lakes at the time. Her sister ship, Edward Y. Townsend, was of the same length and both worked the Great Lakes transporting bulk cargo. By 1966, they were no longer the largest but were still making bulk freight deliveries. Both the Morrell and Townsend were making their last run of the season on 29 Nov 1966 when disaster struck. The infamous “Gales of November” were roaring on Lake Huron with wind speeds that topped 70 mph (110 km/h). Seas were high with swells that topped the ship. The Townsend decided to seek shelter in the St. Clair River while the Morrell continued its journey to Thunder Bay for shelter.

At 2 am, noises that sounded like a loud banging drove the crew to the deck. They could see the ship was in dire condition, so many jumped into the frigid waters to die. At 2:15 am the ship broke in two. The crew still on the bow got into a lifeboat mostly wearing light clothing since they had come up from below. Some thought another ship was coming, but the aft was still moving as the propellers were turning. It went about five miles before it sank. Since they had no chance to send any messages, there was no SOS sent from the ship. The surviving crewmen fired off flares to get attention to no avail.

The Morrell was deemed overdue the next day at 12:15 pm at Taconite Harbor, Minnesota. The Coast Guard began looking and at around 4:00 pm located a lifeboat with one survivor in it. The other three had perished from the cold. 26-year-old Watchman Dennis Hale was the lone survivor. He was wearing boxer shorts, a life jacket, and a pea coat. He would need many surgeries to deal with the injuries he suffered that night. Most of the bodies of the rest of the crew were found, though two were never located. Hale’s testimony would prove important to the investigation that followed.

Hale would testify that the Morrell was well known as leaky. He reported to Captain Arthur I. Crawley, who responded they did not have time to fix since they were not in port long enough. The Coast Guard inspected the Townsend and found a large crack in her deck caused by the storm. She was immediately taken out service and never sailed again. Ironically, she would sink on her way to be scrapped off Newfoundland during a storm. She was being towed, so no lives were lost when she sank.

The investigation showed that the steel used in her construction had too much sulfur in it resulting it becoming brittle in cold weather. And the ship finally met a storm on a very cold night that finally did her in. Brittle steel has been identified as to one of the reasons the Titanic sank so quickly. Hale would never sail on the Great Lakes again after surviving the sinking. He spoke rarely about his ordeal but did write a book about it.

Sources:

Bingham, Emily (27 April 2018)
Remembering the Daniel J. Morrell, a 1966 Great Lakes shipwreck lost to the gales of November
Michigan Live. Retrieved on 17 Nov 2022.

Werner, Gene (27 Nov 2016)
50 years after shipwreck took 28 lives, the lone survivor’s tale
The Buffalo News. Retrieved on 17 Nov 2022

SS Daniel J. Morrell
U.S. Data Repository. Retrieved 17 Nov 2022

SS Daniel J. Morrell
Wikipedia. Retrieved 17 Nov 2022

NPR (6 Nov 2013)
Adrift In Frigid Water, Not Caring ‘If You Live Or Die’
NPR. Retrieved 17 Nov 2022

Remembering Britannic (21 Nov 1916)

HMHS Britannic seen during World War I.
Image:public domain

On 21 November 1916, HMHS Britannic was sunk by mine near the island of Kea in the Aegean Sea. The ship sank in 55 minutes and 1,035 people were rescued, only 30 perished. Britannic was the third and last ship of the Olympic class liners built by White Star Line. The other two were Olympic and Titanic. Britannic was launched in February 1914. Many design changes were made prior to launch due to lessons learned from Titanic. Those changes were:

  • Double hull along the engine and boiler rooms raising six of the watertight bulkheads up to B deck.
  • More powerful turbine installed due to increase in hull width.
  • Watertight compartments were enhanced so that the ship can stay afloat with six compartments flooded.
  • Motorized davits to launch six lifeboats (only five out of eight were installed before war service). Manual operated davits were used for the remaining lifeboats. The new design also allowed all lifeboats to be launched even if the ship was listing. There were 55 lifeboats with capacity for 75 each so that 3,600 people could be carried.

When World War I broke out, the ship had to be retrofitted as a hospital ship. Most of the furnishings were stored in a warehouse to be placed back aboard after the war. The Britannic began service as a hospital ship on 12 December 1915. She was sent to the Aegean Sea to bring back sick and wounded soldiers. Her first tour of service was ended on 6 June 1916 and she was sent back to Belfast to be refitted back as a passenger liner. As this was underway, the ship was again recalled to military service on 26 August 1916 and was sent back to the Mediterranean Sea.

On the morning of 21 November 1916, the Britannic under the command of Captain Alfred Barnett was steaming into the Kea Channel when at 8:12 am a loud explosion shook the ship. The explosion, unknown at the time whether it was a torpedo or mine, damaged the first four watertight compartments and rapidly filled with water. Water was also flowing into the boiler room. Captain Bartlett ordered the watertight doors closed, sent a distress call, and ordered the lifeboats be prepared. Unfortunately, while they could send messages, damage to the antenna wires meant they could not hear the responses back from ships responding to their SOS.  Britannic was reaching her flooding limit and open portholes (opened by nurses to ventilate wards) were bringing more water in as well.

As the ship was still moving, Bartlett did not order lifeboats be lowered but two lifeboats were lowered anyway. They were sucked into the ships propellor and torn to bits killing everyone in those two lifeboats. Bartlett ordered the ship stopped to assess the damage. The ship was listing so badly that the gantry davits were inoperable. Thinking the sinking had slowed, he ordered the engines back on to try and beach the ship. The flooding increased as more water was coming in aided by the open portholes the nurses had opened to air out their wards early in the morning. Bartlett ordered the engines stopped and to abandon ship. She would sink at 9:07 am, 55 minutes after the explosion. Thankfully the water temperature was high (70 F), they had more lifeboats than Titanic, and rescue came less than two hours. Nearby fisherman were able to help and at 10:00 am, the HMS Scourge arrived and later the HMS Heroic and later the HMS Foxhound.

1,035 survived. Of the 30 lost, only five were buried as their bodies were not recovered. Memorials in Thessaloniki and London honor those lives lost. Survivors were housed on the warships and the nurses and officers were put into hotels. Most survivors were sent home, and some arrived in time for Christmas. Speculation about whether it was a torpedo or a mine was resolved when it was learned that a German submarine (SM U-73) had planted mines in the Kea Channel in October 1916. The loss of two Olympic class ships was a major blow to White Star Line. They would get, as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, the German ocean liner Bismarck (renamed Majestic), which replaced Britannic. They also got Columbus which was named Homeric.

Britannic has been largely forgotten except when news of expeditions were made to the wreck site over the years. The wreck itself was bought by noted author Simon Mills, who has written two books on the ship. An expedition in September 2003 located by sonar mine anchors confirming German records of U-73 that Britannic was sunk by a single mine. The expedition found several watertight doors open making it likely the mine strike was during a watch change on the ship. One notable survivor was Violet Jessop. She had been on Olympic as stewardess when it collided with the HMS Hawke, aboard Titanic in the same capacity when it sank, and then aboard Britannic as a stewardess with the Red Cross.

Sources:
Britannica
Thoughtco.com
Wikipedia

,

Arthur Anderson Enters Duluth 11/10/2020

The SS Arthur M. Anderson, the ship that was following the Edmund Fitzgerald on that fateful night of 10 November 1975. And the last ship  that had communication with her. She was also one of the first ships to go in search of the ship. Here she is entering the Duluth Canal on that same night in 2020. The night is cold and snowy, and the water is sloshing around quite a bit on the lake and in the canal due to a storm. Despite the cold, some brave people went out to see the ship enter. She gives off the master salute to the harbor. One of the people there started playing the famous Lightfoot song adding more to the occasion.

 

 

Chinese Titanic Survivors; Little Known Ferry Disaster

 

Collapsible lifeboat D photographed by passenger on Carpathia on the morning of 15 April 1912.
Public Domain(Wikipedia)

6 Titanic Survivors Who Were Refused Entrance Into the US
History of Yesterday, 30 Sept 2022

Once they had reached the shore of New York on the 18th of April, the six Chinese men were pulled apart from the other survivors and detained based on the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This act was implemented back in the late 19th century due to the United States wanting to maintain white “racial purity” despite Chinese people within America making up only 0.002% of the whole American population at the time.

=

 

MV Le Joola at Ziguinchor in 1991
Photo: Yamboo via Wikimedia Commons

It Was Worse Than the Titanic. You Likely Haven’t Heard of It
Newser, 2 Oct

As far as maritime disasters go, the Titanic stands alone—at least in our minds, but not in the history books, at least as far as victims go. In a piece for the New York Times, Elian Peltier revisits the Joola, the passenger ferry that departed on a 17-hour journey along Senegal’s coast toward the capital of Dakar on Sept. 26, 2002. It wouldn’t make it. Passengers streamed below deck as rain started that evening. Then the ferry listed toward the left and capsized. There were just 64 survivors among the 1,900 aboard; every baby and toddler perished. (Roughly 1,500 people died on the Titanic.)

Joola Disaster Books

Remembering Canada’s Titanic, Cruise Ships Sunk Harland & Wolff Financial Troubles

RMS Empress of Ireland 1908
Photo:Public Domain (Library and Archives Canada / PA-116389)

Remembering Canada’s Own Titanic-Like Maritime Disaster (TVO today, 15 Aug 2022)

I’m also willing to bet that almost none of you knows that two years later, on May 29, 1914, a similar passenger ship called the Empress of Ireland suffered a similar fate in the St. Lawrence River, in Canada, causing the deaths of nearly 1,000 souls.  Why are we so familiar with one tale, while we know next to nothing about the other? Maybe because Titanic was on its maiden voyage, and the Empress had nearly 200 missions to its credit. But I can spend the next several paragraphs trying to rectify the situation.

==

Costa Concordia, 12 Feb 2012
Horacio Arevalo via Wikimedia Commons
The Costa Concordia was righted, re-floated, and sent to Genoa where it was scrapped. All that remains are the surviving lifeboats now on other vessels. The area it sank had to cleaned up to prevent environmental damage.

How Many Cruise Ships Have Sunk? (Cruise Mummy, 15 Aug 2022)

Within the last 100 years, only 10 cruise ships have sunk, if you include river cruises. Almost 900 people have died in these incidents but around half of those can be attributed to one river cruise ship sinking. Many of the incidents involved no loss of life at all. Arguably the most famous cruise ship sinking in the last 100 years is that of the Costa Concordia. She sank in 2012 and is the only modern major ocean cruise ship serving passengers from around the world to have sunk during a cruise.

(I suspect they will get lots of email on this-MT)

==

Harland & Wolff David and Goliath crane in Belfast, 2006
Plastic Jesus (Dave) via Wikimedia Commons

Harland & Wolff Reports £25.5m Loss As Expenses From Growth Swell (MSN, 16 Aug 2022)

Shipbuilder Harland and Wolff has reported a widened pre-tax loss of £25.5m as expenses swelled during its Covid-19 recovery. It added that it had £20m in future contracted revenue. More recently, outside of the reported period, Harland and Wolff has struck two deals – worth £8.5m and £10m – with waste management company Cory Group and its subsidiary Riverside Energy Park to build barges for transporting waste on the River Thames. Bosses said the company had made an operating loss of £22.3m (up from £9.1m in July 2020). Chief executive John Wood said the company had gone from a “one-project non-revenue generating” company to having “one of the largest” fabrication footprints in the UK.

==

Treasures That Survived From Titanic, And Today Are Worth A Fortune (MSN, 16 Aug 2022)

Slideshow of many Titanic items that survived the sinking and their astronomical value.

==

Poster Advertising Vinolia Otto Soap for Titanic
Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Reality of Bathroom Accommodations on the ‘Titanic’ Show How Much Times Have Changed (MSN, 18 Aug 2022)

For example, did you know that there were only two bathtubs on the ship for first class passengers to use, one for men and one for women? And that this was considered a big deal, since most ships didn’t have any bathtubs on board at all?  Most of the first-class passengers didn’t even get to have their own private bathrooms, since those were reserved for the wealthiest people on the ship.

[The article does not quite explain that first and second class, they did have their own sinks to wash up . There were showers available but, to conserve water, the use of bathtubs was limited so you had to reserve them in advance. It was considered a luxury to have two bathtubs. Even today cruise ships use showers rather than bathtubs to conserve water. Pity the poor stewards that had to clean the bathtubs after every use or make sure the water tanks were filled in the first- and second-class suites so that people had hot and cold running water in their basins. MT]

==

Image: Duncan Harris via Wikimedia Commons

New Theory Argues That It Wasn’t The Iceberg That Caused The Titanic’s Demise (25 Entertainment.ie, 16Aug 2022)

The theory of a fire on board had been suggested in the past, but new analysis of rarely seen photographs has prompted researchers to attribute the fire to being the primary cause of the ship’s demise. Irish journalist Senan Molony, who has spent more than 30 years researching the sinking of the Titanic, studied photographs taken by the ship’s chief electrical engineers before it left Belfast shipyard. He identified 30-foot-long black marks along the front right-hand side of the hull which suggest this area was damaged before the iceberg struck the ship’s lining.

==

Public Domain

The True Story Behind Titanic’s Priest (He’s A Real Life Hero) (Screen Rant, 20 Aug 2022)

Thomas Byles was played by James Lancaster in Titanic, and he only appears in one scene, and it’s a very brief appearance. In it, Byles is seen reciting the Rosary and Revelations 21:4, while many passengers prayed with him and held his hand. Unfortunately, Titanic failed to show Byles’ heroic acts in helping save the lives of many third-class passengers and instead left that to Jack, Tommy, and Fabrizio, who broke their fellow third-class passengers free when they were locked by the ship’s security guards.

==

‘Minnesota’s Titanic’: The Sea Wing disaster killed 98, yet the tragedy remains little known (Inforum, 23 Aug 2022)

On July 13, 1890, the steamer Sea Wing was returning from a carnival-like day at a military encampment when it capsized from a sudden and violent storm. Many of the excursionists made the understandable but fateful decision to retreat to the ship’s passenger cabin for protection. When the ship flipped over, they were trapped inside the upside-down boat and drowned. Ninety eight passengers – nearly half of the people on board – died as they were tossed into or submerged in the churning waters. The sense of tragedy was accentuated by the fact that the day had begun so promisingly: a pleasure cruise down the Mississippi River from Diamond Bluff to a National Guard encampment at Camp Lakeview near Lake City.

==

 


Remembering History: The Sinking of the Andrea Doria (26 July 1956)

SS Andrea Doria
SS Andrea Doria
Circa 1953-1956
Unknown photographer
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

On the night of 25 July 1956 the passenger liner Andrea Doria would collide with the Swedish passenger liner Stockholmoff Nantucket resulting in 51 deaths. It also resulted in one of the largest maritime rescues in modern history.

The Andrea Doria was considered one of the most beautiful of her day, She was not a large ship at 697 feet nor the fastest of the time. With three outdoor swimming pools, paintings and murals that got her dubbed a “floating art gallery,” many passengers loved traveling aboard her. The Andrea Doria had radar and with 11 watertight compartments was considered safe. Its captain, Piero Calamai, was highly regarded mariner and veteran of two world wars. The Doria was returning from Europe having departed Italy on 17 July, was after making some stops, on its way to New York. It would be its 101sttransatlantic crossing.

Aboard the ship were 1,134 passengers that were a varied lot of business travelers, those vacationing, and Italian immigrants. A crew of 572 was aboard making it a total of 1, 706 people aboard the Andrea Doria. The ship’s crew was used to the transatlantic voyages and thought nothing would be any different this time. The sea lanes off the Northeast coast of the United States are heavily trafficked, so most crews are good about watching for other vessels, Radar made that much easier for ships as they would detect another ship even if there was heavy fog. The Swedish passenger liner Stockholm, returning to its home port of Gothenburg, had departed earlier that day from New York. Both ships were coming in opposite directions off Nantucket.

There was heavy fog, but Captain Calamai did not reduce speed that much so as to stay on schedule. The Stockholm was actually steaming north of the recommended eastbound route hoping to cut down its journey time home. Neither ship was following established rules as they approached each other at around 22:30 (10:30 p.m.). Around 22:45 (10:45 p.m.) the Andrea Doria picked up a blip on its radar that was the Stockholm. Third Officer Johan-Ernst Carstens-Johannsen was the watch officer on the Stockholm and picked up the Doria on its own radar as well. Carstens plotted a course that would have the Stockholm pass the Doria port-to-port. Captain Calamai on the Doria decided on a starboard-to-starboard maneuver. However, one of them misread the radar and steered his ship toward the other.

At 23:10 (11:15 p.m.) Captain Calamai spotted the Stockholm’s lights through the fog. A bridge officer shouted the ship was coming at them. Calamai ordered a hard left turn to outrun the Stockholm. Carstens once he saw the Doria attempted to reverse propellers and slow down but it was too late. The Stockholm crashed into the starboard side of the Doria like a battering ram penetrating 30 feet in the hull snapping bulkheads. When it broke loose, it left a large gaping hole in the Andrea Doria. Passengers on the Doria felt a huge jolt followed by the sound of clanging metal. An orchestra in one of the lounges were thrown from the stage by the force of the crash.

Five perished on the Stockholm and forty-six on the Andrea Doria. One Italian immigrant with her children were killed. One man saw the exterior wall of his room was sheared off and his wife, in the bed next to him, gone. One famous story concerns Linda Morgan. The crash killed her stepfather and stepsister, but Morgan’s bed had been lifted and thrown into the Stockholm. Her only injury was a broken arm.

The Stockholm was damaged but not in danger of sinking. The Andrea Doria was another matter. The Doria suffered critical and was listing 20 degrees starboard allowing seawater to spill through the watertight compartments. There was nothing that could be done so Captain Calamai had to abandon ship. However the list was so bad that the eight portside lifeboats could not be launched. The one starboard side craft remaining could only carry 1,000 people. Radio calls went out at once asking for help from any nearby ships.

“Need lifeboats-as many as possible–can’t use our lifeboats.”

The Stockholm took on passengers but others in the area soon answered the call. A small freighter Cape Ann arrived at 00:30 (12:30 a.m.)  Two U.S. Navy ships arrived as well. Finally, the Ile de France, a massive ocean liner, arrived beside the Doria. With its floodlights it lit up the darkness and began making rescues with its lifeboats. Aboard the Doria, it was quite dangerous. Some passengers were trapped in their cabins and many had to brave smoke-filled hallways and knee-deep water to get to the main deck. The list though had turned the main deck into a steep and slippery slope.  Many had to slide down on the starboard side to get to the lifeboats. The rescue was a massive undertaking and took several hours until by 05:30 (5:30 a.m.)

753 were aboard the Ile de France and everyone else scattered on the four other ships and Stockhold. Captain Calamai was the last to leave and seemed initially to want to go down with his ship. The last lifeboat with crew on it, refused to leave him behind. The rescue fleet then made its way to New York. The Andrea Doria capsized, flooded, and sank at 10:09 (10:09 a.m.). Investigations began right away with both ship owners accusing the other of being responsible. Depositions and court testimony had begun but a court trial was averted with an out of court settlement. Both shipowners contributed to a settlement fund for the victims and absorbed costs of their own damages. The Stockholmwas repaired and put back into service, The owners of the Italian line had to absorb the $30 million loss of the Andrea Doria.

A U.S. Congressional hearing later heard testimony from a variety of experts, witnesses, and survivors. It provided some determination though to this day arguments as to who was responsible and other factors in the sinking remain debated. Everyone agrees that heavy fog played a critical factor in what happened. Other factors that played a role are cited as follows:

  • The failure of the Andrea Doria’s officers to follow proper radar procedures or accurately plot using the chartroom equipment to correctly determine its position and that of the other ship. This would have led them to determine the Stockholm’s correct speed and course.
  • The Andrea Doria was traveling too fast in heavy fog. This was a common practice but violated navigation rules which required speed reduction in these circumstances. In these instance, speed would have been reduced substantially or to completely stop in heavy fog.
  • The ballast of the Andrea Doria was not properly maintained. The fuel tanks were half empty and had no seawater pumped in to make up for the spent fuel. This resulted in a greater list and also violated the Italian line’s directives on this issue. Also the greater list rendered the lifeboats on the port side inoperable.
  • A missing watertight door may have contributed to its sinking as well by letting in more water.
  • The navigation officer on the Stockholm misread the radar thinking he was 15 miles away but instead 5 miles. He also failed to get guidance from a senior officer as required by liner rules. Also this was his first time working the watch alone on a passenger liner.

Captain Piero Calamai would retire and never command a ship at sea again. He used to love the sea but after the sinking hated it. He was vilified for his role in the tragedy. He died in 1972 but sadly never learned that his role in the disaster had undergone a major retrofit. Based on the reconstruction of events by retired US Naval engineer John C. Carrothers, it was determined that the Stockholm’s Third Officer was responsible. A letter to this effect had been sent to him by Carrothers but he died and was never read by him.

In the aftermath of the collision, several rule changes were made so such a tragedy could not occur again. Since radar played a prominent role, shipping lines had to improve training so operators of this equipment could accurately determine the correct distance a ship or other object was on the screen. Rather than rely exclusively on radar equipment, radio contact between approaching ships were required. And new guidance was given to avoid a head-on situation, to turn starboard (right). The sinking of the Andrea Doria was the worst maritime disaster in territorial waters since the Eastland sank in the Chicago River in 1915.

Today the wreck lies in 160 feet of water putting it out of the reach of recreational divers. Many professionals have dived down and come back with pictures of the wreck. Even then, diving to this wreck requires both skill and precision since it requires a mixture of gasses and staged decompression. While initial dives early after its demise showed it in mostly good condition, in recent years the decay has become pronounced and in poor condition. Also due to the difficulties of diving to and from the wreck, 22 divers have died between 1956-2017.

Sources

Remembering the Tragic Sinking of the General Slocum (15 June 1904)

General Slocum, date and author unknown.
Image:Public Domain (National Archives)

On 15 June 1904 the PS General Slocum was taking was taking members of the St. Mark’s Evangelical Church to a church picnic. It was supposed to be a wonderful outing for all, and many children were aboard. Fire broke out, most likely in the Lamp Room, and then spread. Due to inadequate safety inspections, failure of Knickerbocker Steamship Company to maintain safety standards, and the ship’s captain, the safety equipment aboard was completely unusable. Ship hoses could not function due to age, most life preservers were so old they fell apart or were weighted inside, and lifeboats were inaccessible. An estimated 1,021 of the 1,342 passengers perished in the tragedy mostly from drowning. It was the single worst loss of life in New York City history until the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Sadly, many who died were children though sometimes parents or members of the extended family also perished. Some victims were never identified because there was no one living to do so. The funeral procession of the dead was witnessed by many, and the small coffins caused many to cry. One notable incident was a man accompanied by his wife carrying a small coffin under his arms. He could not afford a funeral wagon and so was walking to the cemetery. Fortunately, a man delivering flowers offered him a ride.

The subsequent investigation revealed the poor state of safety equipment on General Slocum. The company laid the blame on Captain Van Schaick and the government inspectors for failing in their duties (who were likely bribed). It would lead to reorganization of the government agency responsible and tighter accountability of ship owners to safety regulations. Today that function is handled by the U.S. Coast Guard and the United States has one the toughest maritime safety regulations in the world.

General Slocum Memorial Tompkins Square Park, Manhattan, New York City
Image:Public Domain (Wikipedia)

 

The Knickerbocker Steamship Company was fined, and Captain Van Schaick would be imprisoned for several years. He was paroled in 1911 and in 1912 President Taft pardoned him. Many believed, although he was captain of General Slocum, the company was ultimately responsible for the tragedy. St. Mark’s Evangelical Church was part of the Little Germany community in New York. The loss brought many together to help the church and its members. However, as people began to move away from the area, the Germans that had made up its base went with it. The church closed and is now a synagogue. A stone memorial to the victims of the General Slocum is at Tompkins Square Park on Manhattan. Today there are those that get together to remember this terrible event in New York City history. Sadly, all the survivors have passed away, the last one in 2004.

The movie Manhattan Melodrama (1934), which stars a young Clark Gable, has as its opening moments the events of the General Slocum which sets in motion the lives of the two characters the movie depicts. Not a bad movie for its time and worth looking at if you have the opportunity.

A memorial plaque placed near the former church of St. Mark’s on the centennial of disaster states:

This is the site of the former St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (1857–1940) a mostly German immigrant parish. On Wednesday, June 15, 1904, the church chartered the excursion steamer, GENERAL SLOCUM, to take the members on the 17th annual Sunday school picnic. The steamer sailed up the East River, with some 1400 passengers aboard, when it entered the infamous Hell Gate passage, caught fire and was beached and sank on North Brother Island. It is estimated 1200 people lost their lives, mostly woman and children, dying within yards of the Bronx shore.

The GENERAL SLOCUM had been certified by the U.S. Steam boat Inspection Service to safely carry 2500 passengers five weeks before the disaster. An investigation after the fire and sinking found the lifeboats were wired and glued with paint to the deck, life jackets fell apart with age, fire hoses burst under water pressure, and the crew never had a fire drill. Until the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the Slocum disaster had been the largest fire fatality in New York City’s history.

Dedicated Sunday, June 13, 2004, by the Steam Centennial Committee.

The Maritime Industry Museum

SUNY-Maritime College, Fort Schulyer, The Bronx, NY


Remembering the Empress of Ireland (29 May 1914)

 RMS Empress of Ireland 1908 Photo:Public Domain (Library and Archives Canada / PA-116389)
RMS Empress of Ireland 1908
Photo:Public Domain (Library and Archives Canada / PA-116389)

The Titanic disaster of 1912 was still making waves when on 29 May 1914, the RMS Empress of Ireland collided with the Norwegian coal freighter Storstad in the Saint Louis River at  Pointe-au-Père, Quebec. It occurred around 0200 in the morning. Storstad hit the starboard side, causing severe damage. Empress began to list and quickly fill with water. Portholes had not been secured before leaving port so many were open (many passengers complained of poor ventilation) so that allowed a lot of water to enter. Many in the lower decks drowned from water coming in from the open portholes.

Also failure to close the watertight doors led to the quick sinking. Three lifeboats were launched quickly with passengers and crew that were in the upper deck cabins able to get away but as the ship listed further starboard, the other lifeboats could not be used. Ten minutes after the collision, Empress lurched violently on the starboard side allowing 700 passengers and crew to crawl out of portholes and decks on her side. Then 15 minutes later, after it briefly looked like she might have run aground, the hull sank dumping all the people left on her into the icy water. When the final tally was done, 1,012 people lost there lives. 465 survived. Many on the starboard side where asleep and likely drowned in their cabins.

The official enquiry, which began on 16 June 1914, was headed by Lord Mersey who had previously headed the British Titanic enquiry (he would also lead up the enquiry into Lusitania later). Two very different accounts emerged of the collision from the Storstad and Empress. At the end of the day, the commission determined that when Storstad changed course, it caused the collision. The Norwegians did not accept the verdict and held their own enquiry which exonerated the captain and crew of the Storstad. Canadian Pacific, which owned the now sunk Empress of Ireland, pursued a legal claim and won. The Norwegian owners countersued but in the end the liabilities forced them to sell Storstad to put money in the trust funds.

What happened to Empress, though not receiving the same attention as Titanic, was to change ship design. The reverse slanting bow was dangerous in ship-to-ship collisions resulting in below the waterline damage. Bows were redesigned so the energy of the collision would be minimized below the surface. Longitudinal bulkheads were discontinued as they trapped water beneath them causing the ship to list and capsizing. Needless to say portholes were to be secured from that point on (in fact nearly all cruise ships use decoratives that can never be opened). The wreck today has been salvaged many times and is now the only underwater historic site in Canada. The wreck is in shallow water (130 feet) but is notably dangerous dive due to the cold waters, currents, and often impaired visibility.

Sources:
1. The Empress Of Ireland Was Canada’s Titanic(2 Jul 2013, Niagarathisweek.com)

2. RMS Empress of Ireland(Wikipedia)

3. Royal Alberta Museum Online: The Empress of Ireland