Category Archives: Historic Ships

Sunday Titanic News

1. Bideford Blacksmith Is A Walking Titanic ‘Encyclopaedia‘(2 Aug 2014,North Devon Journal)
A former shipbuilder is creating “fireworks” with iron in a workshop at Bideford’s Pannier Market. Michael Burton, 56, is part of a long line of his family to work in the shipbuilding industry and has worked in some of the major shipyards in the UK and now runs his own blacksmithing business. Before Michael took up residency at the Pannier Market, he worked at Appledore Shipyard for years as well as Belfast Harbour – where the Titanic was built. The self-professed Titanic “encyclopaedia” has always had a passion for the ill-fated ship and has even hand-crafted 3ft models of the vessel. Through research, he also found out one of his relatives, John Edward Burton, worked in the furnaces and died on the ship.

2. Long-Lost Anchor May Soon Be Identified(28 Jul 2014,Discovery.com)
After decades, possibly centuries, at the bottom of the sea — and a 2,200-mile-long (3,540 kilometers) road trip wrapped in damp blankets in the back of a pickup truck — a barnacle-crusted anchor arrived in Texas this week for a major cleaning.The men who raised the object from the floor of the Puget Sound hope conservation efforts will uncover proof that they found the long-lost anchor from a historic British voyage around the world.

3. Hall Things Considered: God’s Faithfulness Is Our Anchor(30 Jul 2014,TheTimes Tribune)A review of Titanic Pigeon Forge.
Once you enter the museum, you are given a passenger boarding ticket. The ticket has the name of an actual Titanic passenger telling you which class they were traveling. At the end of the museum, you enter the Titanic Memorial Room to find out if your passenger survived. But before you get to the end, you get to take part in a two-hour self-guided tour designed to give guests the sensation of being an original passenger on the Titanic’s 1912 maiden voyage. There are about 20 different galleries of actual items salvaged from the ship after it sank. The items included old photos, letters, clothing, silverware and many other personal effects from the folks who were aboard the Titanic. You also get the chance to place your hand in a little pool of water that was the same temperature as the water the ship sank in.

War Decorations awarded to Father Francis Browne for his service in World War I. The decorations shown are, from left to right, the Military Cross and Bar, and miniatures of the Military Cross and Bar, the British War Medal, the Victory Medal (US) and finally the Croix de Guerre (France). Photo:Bjørn Christian Tørrissen(Wikipedia)
War Decorations awarded to Father Francis Browne for his service in World War I. The decorations shown are, from left to right, the Military Cross and Bar, and miniatures of the Military Cross and Bar, the British War Medal, the Victory Medal (US) and finally the Croix de Guerre (France).
Photo:Bjørn Christian Tørrissen(Wikipedia)

4. “The Bravest Man I Ever Met” Father Brown In World War I(29 Jul 2014,IrishCentral.com)
Ministering to soldiers in the thick of the action, Father Browne was wounded five times and badly gassed. “Father Browne’s First World War” gives an account of his wartime experiences and contains 100 photos from his remarkable collection. There are also extracts from his letters home describing his experiences, and from his messages to the families of the fallen. The book includes a moving account of the time he spent working alongside fellow chaplain, Fr Willie Doyle, killed by a shell.

5. Slumbering Off Louisiana Coast: Sunken Nazi Sub(16 Jul 2014,Fox News)
Many never knew how close German U-boats came to US soil during World War II, but new high-def footage reveals several wrecks on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. Robert Ballard, known for discovering the Titanic, is now mapping some of these wrecks, including the SS Robert E. Lee that was torpedoed by the German U-166 in 1942 and sank 45 miles off the coast of Louisiana. While most of the Lee’s 286 passengers survived, the U-166 was hit by the Lee’s Navy escort and sank less than a mile away with all 52 still aboard; it now slumbers as a protected war grave.

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Remembering the SS Eastland

SS Eastland circa 1911 Photo: public domain (Library of Congress)
SS Eastland circa 1911
Photo: public domain (Library of Congress)

On this date in 1915, the passenger ship SS Eastland rolled over while docked in the Chicago River. 844 passengers and crew were killed making it the largest loss of life from a shipwreck on the Great Lakes.

The SS Eastland was owned by St. Joseph-Chicago Steamship Company and was launched in May 1903 . Problems were discovered from the start. Design flaws made it top heavy and its center of gravity was too high. When lots of passengers congregated on top deck, the ship would list. While some modifications fixed issues, there were still listing problems. SS Eastland also achieved notoriety in August 1903 for a mutiny by the ships firemen. On 14 Aug, while traversing between Chicago to South Haven, Michigan some fireman refused to stoke the fires because they had not received their potatoes. The captain ordered the men arrested. Two firemen who did not participate in the mutiny had to stoke the fires until they docked. The six men were arrested by the police and later the captain was replaced.

Source:The Tacoma Times (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88085187/1915-07-27/ed-1/seq-7/) This image is now in public domain.
Source:The Tacoma Times (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88085187/1915-07-27/ed-1/seq-7/)
This image is now in public domain.

On 24 Jul 1915 the Eastland and two other passenger steamers were chartered to take employees of Western Electric to a picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. For the workers, it was a major event since many did not take holidays. Boarding began at 0630 and by 0710, the ship had reached its capacity of 2,572. The ship was packed and passengers filled every possible place on the upper decks. The ship had already begun to list to port and the crew tried to balance the ship using the ballast tanks. That did not work. Numerous passengers passengers apparently rushed to the port side making it worse. At 0728, the ship lurched sharply to port and rolled over to rest on the river bottom twenty feet below the surface. Because so many were below decks to keep warm, they were trapped by the sudden rollover. Heavy furniture-pianos, bookcases, tables-crushed many inside.

The Kenosha responded immediately and came aside to allow those stranded on top to jump aboard. But for those trapped below, there was no rescue. The bodies were retrieved and taken to temporary morgues.

The president and three officers of  St. Joseph-Chicago Steamship Company were indicted for manslaughter. The ship’s captain and engineer where charged with criminal carelessness as well. However during an extradition hearing (all six were in Michigan and had to be extradited to Illinois to stand trial) the federal judge believed there was not enough probable cause citing lack of evidence and refused to extradite. He further said the captain and engineer were merely doing their jobs.

Ironically because of the 1915 Seamen’s Act passed after Titanic’s demise, the additional weight of the lifeboats probably worsened the top-heavy issues of the ship.

A historical marker along the Chicago River marks the event. Plans are also underway to construct an outdoor exhibit where Eastland sank.

Eastland Goes Navy
The Eastland was raised and sold to the Illinois Naval Reserve and commissioned USS Wilmette . She was reconfigured as a gun boat and primarily used for training. Her only action came after the war when she was tasked with sinking a captured German U-Boat in 1921. Most of her career after that was training naval reservists. In 1941, her training duty was altered to train naval armed crews on merchant ships. Her most prestigious task was to take President Roosevelt and others to Whitefish Bay to plan war strategies in 1943.  She was decommissioned in 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946.

Sources:
1. SS Eastland (Wikipedia)
2. Eastland Memorial Society
3.Eastland Disaster Historical Society

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In Memoriam, PS General Slocum

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

Today marks the anniversary of the tragic sinking of PS General Slocum on the East River in New York City. She 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)
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 Indistry Museum
SUNY-Maritime College, Fort Schulyer, The Bronx, NY


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Whatever Happened To….RMS Carpathia?

RMS Carpathia (date unknown) Image: public domain
RMS Carpathia (date unknown)
Image: public domain

I got a note asking what happened to RMS Carpathia, the Titanic rescue ship, after 1912.

RMS Carpathia was a Cunard line transoceanic passenger liner and primarily made runs between New York, Gibraltar, Genoa, Naples, Trieste, and Fiume. During World War I she retained doing commercial runs but did carry both Canadian and American troops to Europe.

On 17 Jul 1918, she was sunk by a German U-Boat in the Celtic Sea. Three torpedoes were fired and one hit the port side and the other the engine room killing two firemen and three trimmers. A third torpedo hit as they were lowering lifeboats. All 57 passengers and 218 surviving crew members got off in lifeboats. The German submarine did surface and threatened the lifeboats. Fortunately the HMS Snowdrop arrived on scene and drove it away and rescued the survivors.

The wreck was thought located in 1999 by team headed up by Graham Jessop on an expedition sponsored by National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA). However that proved to be the liner Isis that sank in 1936. Noted author Clive Cussler announced in 2000 that his organization (NUMA-the fictional agency in many of his books that Dirk Pitt works for) had found the wreck at a depth of 500 feet and upright on the seabed. The wreck is now owned by Premier Exhibitions, the same group that also owns RMS Titanic, Inc which obtained salvage rights to Titanic. The company has recovered artifacts from the wreck for display in the Rescue Gallery in its Titanic:The Artifact Exhibition.

Source(s):
1. RMS Carpathia (Wikipedia)
2. Press Release:Artifacts From Titanic’s Rescue Ship, Carpathia, to Make World Debut at the Science Museum of Minnesota(9 April 2009, 4-traders.com)
3. Cunard Line: Carpathia (Encyclopedia Titanica)

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