The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Erie (Steamboat), fire, 9 Aug 1841


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ERIE paddle wheel steamer of 497 Tons, built 1837 at Erie, Pa. First home Port, Presqu'Isle, Pa. Burnt off Silver Creek, N.Y., August 9, 1841, with the loss of 242 lives.
      Merchant Steam Vessels of the United States
      The Lytle - Holdercamper List 1790 to 1868

      . . . . .
     
      A W F U L C A L A M I T Y
      THE STEAMBOAT E R I E BURNT
      175 Lives Lost.
      It is our painful duty to record another most appalling calamity on the Lake, involving the greatest destruction of human life known on our western waters. The steamboat ERIE, on her passage from Buffalo westward, on Monday evening last, when about 33 miles above that port, took fire from the explosion of some demijohns of oil and varnish, standing on the boiler deck, and so rapidly was the spread of the flames that in five minutes the whole boat from stem to stern was enveloped in flames, and the passengers and crew forced overboard, or surrounded by the fire and literally burnt alive. The number is computed at one hundred and seventy five, among whom were twenty-six citizens of this borough and vicinity. Twenty-nine persons only, ten of whom were citizens, were saved.
      From the Buffalo Commercial of Tuesday evening, furnished us by Capt. Niles, of this place, and from persons who were saved from the disastrous scene, we have gathered the following particulars: The account by the Commercial is mainly confirmed by the latter.
      From the Buffalo Commercial of Tuesday evening,
      "Little did we think yesterday in penning a brief paragraph in commendation of the ERIE, that, today we should be called upon to record the destruction of that boat together with a loss of life unequalled on our own or almost any other waters. The ERIE left the dock at 10 minutes past 4 P. M., loaded with merchandise destined for Chicago, and as nearly as now can be ascertained, about two hundred persons, including passengers and crew on board. The boat had been thoroughly overhauled, and although the wind was blowing fresh, everything pronounced a pleasant and prosperous voyage. Nothing occurred to mar this prospect till about 8, when the boat was off Silver Creek, about 8 miles from shore, and 33 miles from this city, when a slight explosion was heard, and immediately, instantaneously almost, the whole vessel was enveloped in flames. Capt. Titus, who was on the upper deck, at the time, rushed to the Ladies cabin to obtain the Life Preservers, of which there were from 90 to 100 on board, but so rapid had been the progress of the flames, he found it impossible to enter to enter the cabin. He returned to the upper deck, on his way giving orders to the Engineer to stop the engine, the wind and the headway of the boat increasing the fierceness of the flames and driving them aft. The Engineer replied that in consequence of the flames he could not reach the engine. The steersman was instantly directed to put the helm hard a starboard. The vessel swung slowly round, heading to the shore, and the boats -- there were three on board -- were then ordered to be lowered. Two of the boats were lowered, but in consequence of the heavy sea on, and the headway of the vessel, they both swamped as soon as they touched water. We will not attempt to describe the awful and appalling condition of the passengers. Some were frantic with fear and horror, others plunged headlong madly into the water, others again seized upon anything buoyant upon which they could lay hands. The small boat forward had been lowered. It was alongside the wheel, three or four persons in it, when the captain jumped in and the boat immediately dropped astern filled with water. A lady floated by with a life preserver on, she cried for help. There was no safety on the boat. The captain threw her the only oar in the boat, she caught the oar and was saved. It was Mrs. Lynde, of Milwaukee, and she was the only lady saved. In this condition, the boat a mass of fierce fire, and the passengers and crew endeavoring to save themselves by swimming or supporting themselves by whatever they could reach -- they were found by the CLINTON at about 10 P. M. The CLINTON left here in the morning but in consequence of the wind had put into Dunkirk. She laid there until nearly sunset, at which time she ran out, and had proceeded as far as Barcelona, when just at twilight the fire of the ERIE was discovered some 20 miles astern. The CLINTON immediately put about and reached the burning wreck about 10. It was a fearful sight. All the upper works of the ERIE had been burned away. The engine was standing, but the hull was a mass of dull red flames. The passengers and crew were floating around, screaming in their agony and shrieking for help. The boats of the CLINTON were instantly lowered and manned, and every person that could be seen or heard was picked up, and every possible relief afforded. The LADY, a little steamboat lying at Dunkirk, went out of that harbor as soon as possible, after the discovery of the fire, and arrived soon after the CLINTON. It was not thought by the survivors that she saved any.
By 1 A. M. all was still except the dead crackling of the fire. Not a solitary individual could be seen or heard on the wild waste of waters. A line was then mad fast to the remains of the Erie's rudder, and an effort made to tow the hapless hulk ashore. About this time the CHAUTAUQUE came up to and lent her assistance - the hull of the ERIE was towed within about four miles of the shore, when it sunk in eleven fathoms water. By this time it was daylight. The lines were cast off. The CLINTON headed for this port which she reached about 6 o'clock. Of those who were saved, several are badly burned, but some are dangerously injured so far as we have learned.
      ORIGIN OF THE FIRE. -- Among the passengers on board were six painters in the employ of Mr.. W.G. Miller of this city, who were going to Erie to paint the steamer MADISON. They had with them demijohns filled with spirits of turpentine and varnish, which, unknown to Capt. Titus, were placed on the boiler deck directly over the boilers. One of the firemen, who was saved, says he had occasion to go on the deck, and seeing the demijohns, removed them. They were replaced, but by whom is not known. Immediately previous to the bursting forth of the flames, as several on board have assured us, a slight explosion was heard. The demijohns had probably burst with the heat, and their inflammable contents, taking fire instantly, communicated to every part of the boat, which having been freshly varnished caught as if it had been gunpowder.
      Not a paper nor an article of any kind was saved. Of course it is impossible to give a complete list of those on board. Of cabin passengers Capt. Titus thinks there were between 30 and 40, of whom 10 or 12 were ladies. In the steerage were about 140 passengers; nearly all of whom were Swiss and German immigrants. These were mostly in families with the usual proportion of men, women and children. The heart bleeds at the thought.
      It is a singular coincidence that the ERIE was burned at almost identically the same spot where the WASHINGTON was burned in June, 1838, Capt. Brown, who commanded the WASHINGTON at that time, happened to be on board the CLINTON, and was very active in saving the survivors of the ERIE.
      We annex a list of the lost and saved so far as we have been able to ascertain.
      LOST.
      William E. Camp, Harrisburgh, Pa.
      Willett Weeks, Brooklyn.
      John C. Pool, New York city.
      E.S. Cobb, Ann Arbor, Mich.
      Otto Torp, New York, wife and three children.
      Leander Jolls, Erie, Steward of the boat.
      Lloyd Gibson, Erie, Clerk.
      Mrs. Giles Williams, Chicago.
      Chas. J. Lynde, Milwaukee
      Watts S. Lynde, Horner, N.Y.
      Mrs. Wm. H. Smith, and child, Schenectady.
      A. Sears; Philip Barber; Henry Weaver; W. Thomas; -- Evarts; Peter Finney, painters, Buffalo, in the employ of
      Wm. G. Miller.
      Miss A. Miller, Buffalo, sister of W.G. Miller.
      J.D. Woodward, New York
      Wm. Griffin, Mississippi
      D.S. Sloan, Geneva.
      F. Stow, Canada.
      Wm. Sacket, Michigan.
      Mrs. Spencer and two children.
      Mrs. Dow
      Mrs. Robinson, Dallston Spa, N.Y.
      Miss Robinson, Dallston Spa. N.Y.
      Miss King, Dallston Spa. N.Y.
      Mr. Moore, lady and two children, from Yates Co. moving to Michigan.
      Orin Green, Rushville, Yates Co.
      Roonre Button, from near Fort Plain
      Charles S. Mather, Mt. Clemens, Mich., has got a family at that place.
      LIST OF SWISS PASSENGERS, Shipped by Messrs. P.L. Parsons & Co.
      Names Numbers Destination
      Ges. Zuggler & family 6 Akron, O.
      John Flung & family 2½ Akron, O.
      Martin Zulgen & family 2 Akron, O.
      Geo. Rettenger & family 3 Akron, O.
      Geo. Christian & family 6 Akron, O.
      Geo. Neigold & family 7½ Akron, O.
      M. Reibold & family 3 Akron, O.
      Geo. Steinman & family 2 Akron, O.
      Peter King & family 2 Akron, O.
      L. Gilling & family 3 Akron, O.
      Peter Schmidt 1 Akron, O.
      John Metzeil 1 Akron. O.
      Peter Schneider & family 5 Cleveland,
      J. Meizminger & family 4 Cleveland
      S. Schapler & family 5½ Cleveland
      R. Filling & Family 2 Cleveland
      Mr. Ohens 1 Cleveland
      J. Korten 1 Dover, O.
      Mr. Lithhold & family 5½ Dover, O.
      C. Deitherick & family 2 Dover, O.
      C. Wilbur & family 6 Dover, O.
      C. Palmer & family 5 Massillon, O.
      J. Garghum & family 5½ Massillon, O.
      J. Mulliman & family 3 Massillon, O.
      C. Kellerman 1 Chicago
      C. Mintch & friend 2 Chicago
      Mintch was recently from Europe, and left his family in this city. He was on his way west to secure land for ultimate settlement.
      This list comprises the names of 87 persons; as it is customary to pass children at half price, the whole number in this list must have reached one hundred souls. Only four persons of the whole, including Durler and three others whose number we could not learn, were saved
      SAVED
      We are indebted to Mr. Gibson, Clerk of the DE WITT CLINTON, for the following list of persons saved by that boat.
      Jerome McBride, wheelsman, badly injured
      James laverty, wheelsman
      Hiram De Graff, passenger
      Dennis McBride, 1st. mate
      Theodore Sears, painter
      J.H. St. John, passenger to Chicago
      C. Hogg, passenger to Chicago, badly burned
      Wm. Wadsworth, one of the hands, Erie
      Alfred D. Wilkeson, East Euclid, Ohio
      Wm. Hughes, 2nd. mate
      Luther B. Searls, fireman
      Thos. J. Tann, Pittsford, N.Y.
      John W Winchell, Buffalo
      Edgar Clemens, 1st, engineer
      son of Geo. Beebee, Cleveland
      Harrison Foster, Harbor Creek, Pa.
      Thos. Quinlan, Middlefield, Mass.
      three German passengers, burned badly
      Robert Robinson, colored man, barber
      --- Johnson, colored man 3d. cook
      Giles Williams, Chicago
      Capt. Titus, Captain of the boat
      Mrs. Lynde, Milwaukee
      Christian Durler, Holmes Co. Ohio
      --- Rice, Hydraulics, Buffalo, badly burned
      In addition to the above, several citizens of this place, not enumerated, were lost. Eight member of the Erie Presque Isle band aboard by express invitation when the boat left this port, with the design of accompanying her until her return from Chicago. Six of these were lost. The following is believed to be a correct list of all on board the ill-fated vessel from this county, saved and lost, of the band and crew.
      Saved from the band
      Alexander Lamberton and William Wadsworth
      Saved of the crew.
      T.J. Titus, Capt., Buffalo.
      D. McBride, 1 st. Mate, Erie
      William Hughes, 2nd. Mate, Erie
      E. Clemens, 1st Engineer, Erie, slightly burned.
      Jerome McBride, Wheelsman, Erie, badly burned
      James Lafferty, Wheelsman, Erie
      L.P. Searls, Fireman, Erie
      H. Foster, Carpenter, Harbor Creek, Pa.
      Lost of the Band
      James Heck; Robert Hughes; Philip Dunn; Philip Fiegart; John C. Colp; and Joseph B, son of James M. Sterrett.
      Lost of the Crew
      L.L. Gibson, Clerk
      L. Jolis, Stewart, Erie
      John Allen, 2nd. engineer, Cattarngus Co. N.Y.
      Wm. Ray, wheelsman, Erie
      Augustus Fuller, Wheelsman, Harbor Creek, Pa.
      Alfred O'Conner, Fireman, Millcreek.
      Silas Green, Fireman, Erie
      Daniel O'Conner, Fireman, Erie
      Henry Granger, Fireman, Quincy, N.Y.
      Patrick Fultey, deck hand, Erie
      Jerry Shane, Deck hand, Erie
      M. O'Conner, deck hand, Erie
      R. Fitzgerald, deck hand, Erie
      Samuel Brunkard, deck hand, Erie
      Thos. Conroy, deck hand, Buffalo
      W. Daily, deck hand, Buffalo
      Israel Vosburg, colored waiter, Erie
      --- Cheats, colored waiter, Erie
      --- Winters, colored waiter, Erie
      Henry Vosburg, colored cook, Erie
      R. Smith, colored cook, Erie
      David Mills, colored cook, Erie
      Eliza Parkenham, Chambermaid, Erie
      one fireman, one waiter and a colored boy, names not ascertained.
It is said that a number of German citizens who had gone to Buffalo to meet and conduct to this place relatives whom they expected from Germany, are lost, but of this we have no correct account.
Most of the survivors were brought to this port by the steamboat PERRY, on the day following the melancholy catastrophe.
The tales of suffering as related by those of our citizens who escaped are truly heart rending. But enought has already been said. The soul sickens at the thought.
      The conduct of young Fuller, of Harbor Creek, is worthy of commendation. He was at the wheel when the alarm of fire was given, immediately headed the boat for shore, and continued at it until the wheel-house, wheel, and his own person were completely enveloped in flames.
      Alexander Lamberton, one of the individuals saved, was six hours in the water, with nothing to support him but a fender of the boat -- he was taken up by a sail boat from Dunkirk.
Jerome McBride, who was badly burned, died at 5 o'clock last evening. His funeral will take place at 2 o'clock this afternoon, from the residence of his father on Parade Street, immediately after which a funeral sermon will be delivered in the Court House, by the Rev. Mr. Penderghast, of the Catholic Church.
      Erie Gazette
      Thursday, August 12, 1841

      . . . . .

      N O T E -- pages 1 & 2 of the issue for Tuesday August 10, 1841, are missing from the microfilmed copy of the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, therefore the initial report of the following calamity, from that source, is also missing, see the Erie Gazette of Aug. 12, [above] for most of the missing details.


      We hoped that we should learn something today to relieve the details published yesterday, but every thing we hear seems to deepen the horror. All that the imagination can conceive of the terrible and heartrending was realized in the awful destruction of the ERIE. Scores sank despairingly beneath the will waters, but there is reason to fear that many, very many, strong men, helpless women and tender children perished in the flames.
      The CLINTON, as soon as she could discharge her cargo, yesterday morning, returned to the scene of the disaster, to pick up whatever could be found. She found no bodies, nor any thing scarcely to repay the search. The water was covered for miles, with cinders and fragments of the wreck, more or less charred, and that was all. At one time, those on board the CLINTON had their feelings excited in the liveliest manner. At a distance was seen a fragment floating, apparently supporting half a dozen men. On approaching it was found
to be nothing but a portion of the guard, the timbers which connected it with the hull, black with fire, and standing out of the water in a manner that created the strong illusion. Dr. Harris, the Coroner, who accompanied the CLINTON, has furnished us the following:
      "Alexander Lamberton, musician, from Erie, and Fredrick Parmalee, bar keeper, were picked up by a small boat after the CLINTON had left. Parmalee was on the water seven hours, and showed great presence of mind in exerting himself to save Mr. Gelston, the brother-in-law of Col. Reed. He gave Mr. Gelston a plank, which he had secured for his own preservation - and when the boat had ceased to move, after waiting to find some one else to whom he could render assistance, he took one of the fenders of the boat, and by managing to keep upon it, he succeeded in preserving his own life. Small pieces of charred wood and portions of the boat; were found floating, as well as part of the goods that remained without being entirely consumed. The boat also picked up the wheat measure, which was the means of saving Mr. Williams. This is about all that has not already come to our knowledge."
      Notwithstanding the heroic and self sacrificing act of Parmalee, we feel there is no reason to hope that Gelston was saved. In addition to what is stated respecting Parmalee's gallant conduct, we learn from the Republican of this morning, that Mr. Esger Clemens, too, the engineer, abandoned a plank on which he was floating to three children, and after some search found a box or bale, which he also resigned to an old man, and after being some time in the water, at length reached the boat to which Capt. Titus was clinging.
      We learn that Mrs. Lynde, too, the only lady saved, evinced as much coolness and intrepidity as any one on board. Her presence of mind never forsook her for a moment.
      The Republican further says:
"Capt. Squires was not on board the boat, but Mr. P. Smith, the mate, and Mr. F. Wheeler, who accompanied him, are deserving of the highest praise; they did everything that men can do, and proved themselves gallant seamen and humane men, they deserve the thanks of the city.
      Mr. Parmalee gives a most terrible description, among other things he says, that while watching the boat from the water, he observed that the mast head was one sheet of flames, that the flagstaff was wreathed with fire, that the flames were bursting from the center of the vessel, he saw a man standing on the cross head, (the highest part of the engine, the engine had stopped) and watched him until his clothes were burnt from him, and he fell amid the flames.
      A boy who is now at the American, behaved with the most perfect coolness, holding on to the rudder chains with hand, leg, and arm, relieving each, as the other was too much burnt, and desir ---?----?---?-----?----, and deserves the highest commendations.
      Capt. Titus did all that man could do under such circumstances, and surely the people of Buffalo will remember the proclamation of their Mayor, and do something to show their sympathy for the sufferers, alleviate their distress, and commend the heroic conduct of those who have so well deserved the praise of a people."
      We give below a corrected list of the lost and saved. It is far from being perfect - the full extent of the calamity will likely never be known, but after a diligent investigation it is as full as we could make it.
      Among those on board were ten young men composing the Erie Band, who had consented to accompany Capt. Titus to Chicago and back, whose names we were unable to ascertain until today. Of those ten only two were saved, viz. W. Wadsworth, named yesterday, and Alexander Lamberton, the person picked up with Mr. Parmalee, and alluded to above. The names of those lost were Rob. Hughes; James Heck; Jos. Sterritt; John C. Cluff; Philip, a German and Dimm, another young man. Those persons were not professional musicians, but yound mechanics, who had associated together for mutual improvement and recreation. Their loss will be sensibly felt and deeply lamented at Erie.
      We have also gathered the following facts and additional names from Messrs. Parsons & Co. On examination of the 87 names of Swiss Immigrants given yesterday, they actually count 108 persons, to which must be added some ten or twelve infants, not before enumerated, of whom no charge was made. To this list must also be appended the following from the same house, omitted yesterday:
A. Sturger, Cleveland 2 persons; Mrs. N. Stember, Zanesville, 3 persons; Mrs. Bergest, Portsmouth, 3 persons; J.F. Byer, Chicago, 2 persons. This swells the number of persons shipped by Messrs. Parsons & Co, to one hundred and thirty. A mere fraction of whom were saved.
      The following persons composing the crew, &c., may be also added to those lost:
      Mr. Von Ockerman, a German tinner, late of the employ of Mr. Hubbard, who was visiting his mother, near Erie.
Mr. Sherman, and daughter, Hamburgh, Erie Co.
Mr. Nelthorpe, a Danish gentleman.
Henry Freeman, going to Milwaukee, drug store clerk, formerly of Jamestown.
Ansel Ricker, a young man, Farmer, formerly of Hamburgh, Erie Co.
John Harrington, late of White's Corners, Erie Co. entered as fireman.
Luther Fuller, wheelsman.
William Chests, waiter, colored.
Wm. Winters, waiter, colored.
James Read, waiter, colored.
Robert Smith, head cook, colored.
Henry Vosburgh, 2nd. cook, colored.
Daivd Mills, 3rd. cook, colored.
Israel Vosburgh, porter, colored.
Wm. Sparks, 2nd. porter, colored.
Doctor Hackett, Thompsonian Physician, of Lockport, (colored).
      The loss of property by the ERIE was heavy. She had on board the first
large invoice of merchandise shipped for the upper lakes this season. Some 30
tons, worth at least $20,000. The immigrants had also a large amount of specie, not far from $180,000, and the boat herself must have cost all of $75,000, making in all a little short of $300,000 loss. The following, as far as we can ascertain, were shipped by her:
Shipper No. of Articles Owners
Davis & Co. 211 pack. Jas. McAdoo, Chicago
      " 36 " B.W. Raymond, Chicago
      " 17 " O. & D. Bailey, Bloomfield
      " 1 " H. Harris, Chicago
      " 1 " W.H. Wells, Denville
      " 12 stoves B.B. Waldo, Southport
      " 1 " L.S. Julian, Grand Du Lon
      " 6 castings W. Brown & Co., Chicago
Cobb & Co. 17 packs Barnett & Moore, & N.C., Chicago
Kingman & Co. 2 boxes C.J. Lynd, Milwaukee
      " 1 " B. Barman, Southport
Gelston & Evans 4 " S. Samper, Como., Ill.
      " 1 keg S. Samper, Como., Ill.
      " 4 boxes A. Green, Chicago
      " 1 bbl. A. Green, Chicago
      " 2 boxes L.M. Bolce, Chicago
Parsons & Co. 4 kegs E. Wildman, Battle Creek
      " 1 box E. Wildman, Chicago
      " 4 & a half chests T.G. Williams, Chicago
      " -- E. Lasieur, Ann Arbor.
      We annex the names of those given yesterday who were lost and saved; Mr. Willet Weeks, of Brooklyn, who was reported as among those who perished, it is said was not on board, having taken a boat for the Falls:
      LOST
W.M. Camp, Hamburgh, Pa.
John C. Pool, New York City
E.S. Cobb, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Otto Torp, N.Y., wife & three children
Lloyd Gelston, Erie, clerk
Mr. Joles, Steward of the boat
Mrs. Giles Williams, Chicago
Chs. J. Lynde, Milwaukee
Mrs. Wm. H. Smith and child, Schenectada
A. Sears; Philip Barbier; Henry Weaver; Wm. Thomas; ? Evarts; Peter Finney;
painters of Buffalo, in the employ of Wm. G. Miller.
Miss A. Miller, Buffalo, sister of Wm. G. Miller
J.D. Woodward, New York
Wm. Griffin, Mississippi
D.S. Sloab, Geneva
F. Stow, Canada
W. Saket, Mich.
Mrs. Spencer and two children
Mrs. Dow
Mrs. Robinson, Ballston Spa, N.Y.
Miss Robinson, Ballston Spa, N.Y.
Miss King, Ballston Spa, N.Y.
Mr. Moore, lady and 2 children, from Yates Co., moving to Michigan
Orin Gren, Rushville, Yates Co.
Roome Button, from near Fort Plain
Charles S. Mather, Mt. Clemens, Mich. has got a family at that place

      List of Swiss Passengers Shipped by Messrs. P.L. Parsons & Co.
      Names Numbers Destination
Geo. Zuggler & family 6 Akron, O.
John Flang " 2 & a half "
Martin Zulgen " 2 "
Geo. Rettenger " 3 "
Geo. Christian " 5 "
Geo. Neigold " 7 & a half "
M. Reibold " 3 "
Geo. Steinman " 2 "
Peter King " 2 "
L. Gilling " 3 "
Peter Schmidt 1 "
John Netzell 1 "
Peter Schneider & family 5 Cleveland
J. Newminger " 4 "
S. Schapler " 5 & a half "
R. Filling " 2 "
Mr. Obens 1 "
J. Korten 1 Dover, O.
C. Durler 1 "
Mr. Lithhold & family 5 & a half "
C. Deitcherick " 2 "
C. Wilbur " 6 "
C. Palmer " 5 Masillon, O.
J. Garghum " 5 & a half "
J. Mulliman " 3 "
C. Kellerman 1 Chicago
C. Mintch & friend 2 "
      Mintch was recently from Europe, and left his family in this city, he was on his way west to secure land for ultimate settlement.
      This list comprises the names of 87 persons; as it is customary to pass children at half price, the whole number in this list must have reached one hundred souls. Only four persons of the whole, including Durler and three others whose names we could not learn, were saved.
      SAVED
Jerome McBride, wheelsman, badly burned
James Loverty, "
Hiram De Graff, passenger
Dennis McBride, 1st. Mate
--?-- --?-- --?--
William Wadsworth, one of the band, Erie
Alfred O. Wilkenson, East Euclid, Ohio
William Hughes, 2nd. Mate
Luther B. Searls, fireman
Thomas J. Tann, Pittsford, N.Y.
John Winchell, Buffalo
Edger Clemens, 1st. Engineer
Son of George Beebee, Cleveland
Harrison Forrster, Harbor Creek, Pa.
Thos. Quinlin, Middlefield, Mass.
Three German passengers, badly burnt
Robert Robinson, colored man, barber
--?-- Johnson, colored man, 3rd. cook
Giles Williams, Chicago
Capt. Titus, Captain of the boat
Mrs. Lynde, Milwaukee
Christian Durler, Homes Co., Ohio
--?-- Rice, Hydraulics, Buffalo, badly burnt
      Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
      Wednesday, August 11, 1841 2 - 1 & 2

      . . . . .
     
      (From the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser)
      APPALING CALAMITY --- ERIE BURNT.
      Loss of one hundred and seventy lives.
The Steamboat ERIE is destroyed. The ERIE left Buffalo at 4 P. M. on Monday the 9th inst. For Chicago. She had 200 persons, passengers and crew, on board. Nothing occurred to mar the pleasure of the voyage till 8 o'clock, when the boat was off Silver Creek, eight miles from shore, and thirty-three from Buffalo, when a slight explosion was heard, and immediately the whole vessel was in flames. Captain Titus, who was on deck at the time, rushed to the Lady's cabin to obtain the Life Preservers, of which there were some ninety or one hundred on board, but so rapid had been the progress of the flames that it was impossible to enter the cabin. He then returned and gave orders to stop the engine, as the progress of the boat increased the flames, but the fire prevented it. The steersman was then told to put the helm hard starboard. The boat then swung heavily around towards shore, and the three small boats were ordered out. Two were lowered but in consequence of the heavy sea, and the headway of the boat, both swamped.
      We will not attempt to describe the awfully appalling condition of the passengers. Some were frantic with fear, others plunged headlong into the water, others again seized upon any thing buoyant upon which they could lay hands. The small boat forward had been lowered. It was along side the wheel with three or four persons in it, when the captain jumped in, and the boat immediately dropped astern and filled with water. A lady floated by with a life preserver; she called for help. There was no safety in the boat. The captain threw her the only oar in thew boat; she caught the oar and was saved. It was Mrs. Lynde, of Milwaukee, and she was the only lady saved.
      In this condition, the boat a mass of fierce fire, and the passengers and crew endeavoring to save themselves by whatever means they could reach-they were found by the CLINTON about 10 P. M. The CLINTON left here in the morning, but in consequence of the wind had put into Dunkirk. She laid there until nearly sunset, at which time she ran out and proceeded as far as Barcelona, when, just at twilight, the fire of the ERIE was discovered, some twenty miles astern. The CLINTON immediately put about, and reached the burning wreck about 10. It was a fearful sight. All the upper works of the ERIE had been burned away. The engine was standing, but the hull was a mass of dull red flames. The passengers and crew were floating around, screaming in their agony and shrieking for help. The boats of the CLINTON were immediately lowered and manned, , and every person that could be seen or heard was picked up, and every possible relief afforded. The LADY, a little boat lying at Dunkirk, went out of the harbor as soon as possible after the CLINTON. It was not thought by the survivors that she saved any. By 1 A. M. all was still but the dead crackling of the fire. Not a solitary individual could be seen on the wild waste of waters. A line was then made fast to the remains of the Erie's rudder, and an effort made to tow the hapless hull ashore. About this time the CHAUTAUQUE came up and lent her assistance. The hull of the ERIE was towed within about four miles of the shore, when it sunk in 11 fathoms water. By this time it was daylight. The lines were cast off. The CLINTON headed for this port, which she reached about six o'clock. Of those who are saved, several are badly burned, but none are dangerously injured, so far as we have heard.
      Origin of the fire. - Among the passengers on board were six painters, in the employ of Mr. G. W. Miller, of this city, who were going to Erie to paint the Steamboat MADISON. They had with them demijohns filled with spirits of turpentine and varnish, and which, unknown to Captain Titus, were placed on the boiler-deck directly over the boilers. One of the firemen who was saved says he had occasion to go on deck, and seeing the demijohns removed them. They were replaced, but by whom it is not known. Immediately previous to the bursting forth of the flames, as several on board have assured us, a slight explosion was heard. The demijohns had probably burst with the heat, and their inflammable contents taking fire instantly, communicated to every part of the boat, which having been freshly varnished, caught as if it had been gunpowder.
      Not a paper nor an article of any kind was saved. Of course it is impossible to give a complete list of those on board. Of cabin passengers, Capt. Titus thinks there were between 30 and 40, of whom 10 or 12 were ladies. In the steerage were about 140 passengers, nearly all of whom were Swiss and German emigrants. They were mostly in families with the usual proportion of men, woman and children. The heart bleeds at the thought.
      It is a singular coincidence, that the ERIE was burned at almost, identically, the same spot where the WASHINGTON was burned in June 1838, Capt. Brown, who commanded the WASHINGTON at that time, happened to be on board the CLINTON, and was very active in saving the survivors of the ERIE.
      Western Herald (Sandwich, U. C.)
      Wednesday, August 18, 1841

      . . . . .
     
      THE ERIE. -- Only about 15 bodies, of the sufferers by the ERIE, have been found in addition to those mentioned in our last, and none of them recognized as belonging to this county. They are buried principally at Silver Creek, with a head-board to each grave, numbered, and a record of their remains carefully kept. Mr. James C. Harrison, superintends this duty.
      An investigation into the origin of the fire, before the Coroner's jury at Buffalo, has been concluded. There is nothing important in the balance of the testimony.
The Jury in making up their verdict "certify that the said fire, in our opinion, on said boat, was caused by the bursting of one or more demijohns of Spirit of Turpentine standing on the boiler deck and communicated with the fire in the furnace of the boilers. We further certify, that it appears from the testimony that said demijohns burst by reason of the heat of the boilers over which they were placed, and that the said boat had been lately painted and varnished, and this together with a high wind, drove the flames so rapidly through the entire boat that it was impossible for the persons on board to stop the fire or prevent the destruction of said boat.
And we further certify, that the destruction of said boat was accidental."
The following resolutions were passed by the Jury:
RESOLVED, That the steamboat ERIE was a first rate boat; that she was in all respects well found and completely furnished with means for extinguishing fire, and more than ordinary means for the safety of the boat and passengers had been provided.
RESOLVED, That in view of the great destruction of human life by the burning of the steamboats, we recommend boat owners to furnish their boats with a sufficient number of LIFE BOATS to sustain all passengers they may carry; also as an auxiliary, to carry a suitable number of pine or whitewood plank, [say 10 feet long from 12 to 16 inches wide,] with rope loops, and a rope sufficiently long to reach the water from the deck; [the object of which is to aid those who cannot swim, in reaching the plank they may throw over,] and that they be so placed as to be easily thrown overboard; also, Life Preservers sufficient for one hundred passengers, and that they be inflated and placed in the berths immediately after leaving port.
      Erie Gazette
      August 26, 1841
     
     
      The body of Mr. Lloyd Gibson, clerk on board the ERIE, and brother-in-law of Gen. Reed, who was lost on that ill-fated vessel was found last week near the Canada shore, and there interred. His friends learning of the fact, had him taken up and brought to this place on Sunday evening last. On Monday his remains were conveyed to the tomb accompanied by a large concourse of mourning friends and acquaintances. It is stated that Mr. Gibson was the means of saving the life of Mr. Beebe's son of Cleveland, who had been committed to his charge.
      The Erie Observer
      September 18, 1841
     
     
     
     
      Fredonia, April 12.
The wreck of the ERIE, the steamboat burnt a year and a half ago, has been found. The discovery was made by means of a compass, invented by Captain Chapin, of New York, constructed so that the needle will indicate when a large body of iron or other metallic substance is in the vicinity, and its direction from the compass. Capt. C., with Major McCluer of this place, have been engaged for several weeks, when the weather would permit, in finding the wreck with the aid of their compass. They went out upon the ice, following the indications of the needle, till they found by attractions of the massive machinery that they were in the vicinity of the boat, when they commenced cutting holes through the ice and sounding. After having sounded several times upon a sandy bottom, the lead finally struck upon the machinery, the bolts and bars of which had left impressions on the lead which satisfied them of its being the wreck. They marked the place by anchoring buoys under the ice. The place indicated by the compass corresponds with that observed by those who saw the conflagration.
      We are informed by Mr. McCluer, of whom we learn the above, that while they were on their way out from Silver Creek, Capt. C., observed that the needle was considerably affected, and its direction reversed. Upon inquiry, they learned that a vessel loaded with iron, was sunk in that vicinity some six or seven years ago, and to the attraction of which that unlooked for effect was attributed. As the ERIE was the object of search, they made no effort to discover the precise locality of the wreck of the vessel.
      The construction of the compass so as to render the needle so extremely sensitive to the presence of metallic substances is known only to the inventor. It is of very different construction from the common compass, which is used on steamboats.
      They will make an effort to raise the boat when the ice is clear from the lake. ---- Censor.
      Buffalo Daily Gazette
      April 14, 1843


A diving bell for the purpose of raising the wreck of the ERIE is constructing a the furnace in this place, by Messrs. McClure & Chapin. The weight of the bell is 3 tons, and it is capable of being used at a depth of about 80 ft. It will be ready for use in 2 weeks.
      Fredonia Censor
      May 10, 1843 3-3



      Those engaged in raising the wreck of the ERIE are successfully employed with their diving bell, in getting up the machinery. So accurately were they able t designate the place by means of compass, and by the ranges, that though the buoys were all moved by the ice last spring, they replaced them, and on the first time of letting down the bell it struck upon the boat. The utility of the compass with which the discovery was made, is thus fairly tested. We understand it can be successfully used in discovering beds of ore in mines, and it is so succeptible to metalic influence that Capt. Chapin, its inventor, thinks he will also be able to discover the iron safe which was on the boat.
      Fredonia Censor
      June 28, 1843 3-2
     


WRECK OF THE "ERIE" -- Captain Waver, of the Bark SANDUSKY - whose departure from this port for the purpose of raising the ill-fated steamer ERIE, was mentioned by us last week - called on us to report progress.
By means of a diving bell, cast at Fredonia for the purpose, at an expense of $1,800, and weighing four and a half tons, he has succeeded in visiting the wreck, at a depth of 63 feet and got fairly to work on Saturday morning. They have raised the best bower cable chain, 450 feet in length, and one of the best on the lakes - and now are getting up two other cables. As soon as her shafts now projecting from her sides so far as to be in the way of raising her - are got out, the Brig ROCKEY MOUNTAIN, now in port, will proceed to the spot and aid in getting her up.
The wreck was discovered, as Captain Waver assures us, by means of a compass rendered very susceptible to magnetic attraction - the same by which the wreck of the LEXINGTON was found. The inventor, a Mr. Chapin, who is now at work with the diving bell on the ERIE, has likewise ascertained the location of the schr. YOUNG LION, sunk with railroad iron on board, some two years since. The Company now engaged in this enterprise, also intend raising the schooner - Buffalo Com.
      Erie Observer
      Saturday, July 13, 1844

      . . . . .

ERIE NOT BROKEN - By a gentleman just from the scene of operations, we learn that the hull of the steamboat ERIE, supposed to have been broken in attempting to raise her, is still perfectly whole. One of the boilers has been taken out, raised and conveyed on shore, and the Company are buisily engaged in getting out the rest of the engine. The expect to be able to raise the hull, since they find it still unbroken.- Buffalo Economist.
      Erie Observer
      Saturday, September 28, 1844

      . . . . .

      We learn from the Fredonia Censor, of the 12 th inst, that vigorous efforts are now in progress for the recovery of the remains of the wreck of the ERIE. Mr, Parker, an enterprising citizen of Hanover, has undertaken the job, and within the past few days of favorable weather, succeeded in bring up a good part of the heavy machinery. We have been unable to learn the particulars, but understand that the shafts and fixtures, and other parts, have been recovered, and were taken into Cattaraugus last week. A portion of the vessels hull has also been raised.
      During the last season, while the undertaking was in other hands, two of the boilers were raised, but through some accident only one of them got to land; a chain cable of some 300 or 400 hundred feet in length, and a small anchor, were also then recovered.
      The articles have been found mostly injured, and in a good state of preservation.
      To prosecute the business now, a brig, (the ILLINOIS,) is made stationary over the wreck, upon which is attached the machinery and rigging requisite for raising the ruins, and regulating the movement of the diving bell which is used in directing the operations. The ERIE's position is about three miles off Cattaraugus, and three and a half miles distant from Silver Creek, in 66 feet of water.
      Daily National Pilot, Buffalo
      Tuesday, August 12, 1845

      . . . . .

      The wreck of the ERIE still remains upon the bottom of the lake, where it sank at the last trial to raise it, and further attempts this season have been abandoned.
      Daily National Pilot, Buffalo
      Friday, September 26, 1845

      . . . . .

THE WRECK OF THE STEAMER ERIE.- The steamer SOUTHERNER, Capt. Hayes, returned this morning from the wreck of the steamer ERIE, off Silver Creek. The celebrated diver, John Green, and his partner Mr. Quigley, came down on the SOUTHERNER. From the former we learn that they anchored over and commenced
operations on the wreck of the ERIE on Monday. Mr. Green decended in his diving apparatus an remained under water four hours. He succeeded in placing a chain around the bow of the vessel and making it fast to a buoy. He also fastened a chain aroun the cylinder, and his partner placed a third chain around the stern of the vessel. She lays on a hard bottom, and no doubts are entertained but that she will be raised. Mr. Green brought up with him several lumps of silver that had been melted, which he found near the engine. As soon as weather permits, Mr. Bishop's derrick will be brought from Grand River, and an attempt made to raise her.
      Buffalo Daily Republic
      Wednesday, September 14, 1853

      . . . . .

      Captain Howard, of the propeller CHARTER, who stopped at the wreck of the ERIE yesterday, on his way to this port, informs us that the persons engaged in raising the wreck have nearly accomplished it, and that there is no doubt of their final success. They have raised the bow considerably, and entertained no fears at all that they should fail, if the weather continues good for a day or two. We may now entertain hopes that the wrecks of the ERIE and ATLANTIC will ere long once more see the light.
      The Democracy, Buffalo
      Monday, July 3, 1854

      . . . . .

      RAISING OF THE ERIE. -- This vessel, the melancholy fate of which will be remembered by all, was raised from her watery bed on Friday afternoon last. Her hull was towed into port this morning, and taken to the dry dock for the purpose of examination. It will be a fearful sight to look into her desolate hold, which probably contains many treasures, and perhaps the remains of some of the unfortunate persons who were on board when the vessel was destroyed by fire.
      Buffalo Daily republic
      Monday, July 3, 1854

      . . . . .

      THE STEAMBOAT ERIE. - John Green, the diver, brought into port, yesterday morning, the steam chest and cylinder of the old steamboat ERIE. We were informed by one of his men, that she had got --?-- rotten that she parted in the middle, while they were trying to raise her. Her bow lies in ten fathoms and Green brought up, from the wreck, several handfuls of gold and silver. It is said another attempt will be made, in a few days, to raise her.
      The democracy, Buffalo
      Tuesday, July 4, 1854

      . . . . .

THE STEAMER ERIE. - On Saturday, the agent in Philadelphia, of Harnden's Express, deposited about five thousand dollars worth of the melted gold taken from the recently raised wreck of the unfortunate steamer ERIE some thirteen years ago.
      The Democracy, Buffalo
      Thursday, August 31, 1854

      . . . . .

      WRECK OF THE ERIE. - We paid a brief visit, yesterday, to the wreck of the ERIE, which is now being hauled out of the Creek on the land just above the ship yard of Bidwell & Banta. The part of the vessel alluded to is the middle portion, and is about one hundred and thirty feet in length. Of this about thirty feet had been hauled out of the water yesterday forenoon--hauling having been commenced on the previous evening. It is expected that by to-morrow or next day the remaining portion will be got upon dry land. It is a curious
coincidence connected with the ERIE, that she was burned on the 9th. of August, 1841, and that her wreck was raised on the same day of the month in 1854. The expense incurred thus far in raising have been about $12,000, and the value of coin, iron, &c., $c., already taken from her is about $15,000 to $18,000---so that the venture has not thus far proved an unsuccessful one. While we were on the wreck one of the men picked up the case of a silver watch, and a day or two since about $1,200 in American gold, bright as if just from the mint, was found nearly amidships. It is supposed that about $80,000 of coin are still in the
part now being hauled out, and that this sum will be "fingered" by the parties engaged in getting her up. The work is conducted under the supervision of Mr. Mann, of the firm of Mann, Vail & Co., at whose warehouse may be seen large quantities of stuff taken from the wreck.
      Buffalo Daily Courier
      Wednesday, August 16, 1854

      . . . . .

      THE REMAINS OF THE E R I E
      From the Buffalo Democrat
      For thirteen years has the engine of this fire consumed steamer laid at the bottom of the lake. Portions of the machinery are almost unaffected by the water. The starting-bar, for instance, is as good as new. The most part of it looks fresh. The walking-beam is but little touched by rust, in places the water has not acted on it at all. Portions of the condenser are also quite fresh. It will sound strange for us to say that after a thirteen year's soak some of the nuts of the machinery turn freely--the Grease having been preserved in the threads of the screws. The water has acted with unequal effect on different kinds of iron. A pair of tongs, for example, and a steelyard, look only as if exposed to mild autumn's usage. A stub-and-twist double barrel, of German make, is honey-combed and full of holes. Another double-barrel gun, seemingly English, is not nearly so much injured. Cast iron has stood the bath better than wrought, of course. Some of the heavy castings could be used today
      Had they lain in salt water thus long instead of fresh, they would have been totally destroyed. Most of all the engine work, and most of the tools and utensils belonging to the crowd of emigrants upon the ill-fated steamer, shows the action of fire upon them. The frame of the walking-beam still has the blue scales and bluish tings given to wrought iron by intense heat--by "burning," so called.
      A curious effect of the heat is exhibited by three watches, recovered from the wreck. They all stopped about the same time --at 10 o'clock, 40 minutes. The crystals melted down, and united with the dials--the case soldered themselves together at the joints. Yet the pressure of the water upon them at the depth of 69 feet was so great that they filled with the fluid, and now hold it tight within them. A deposit has taken place, which seems to have closed the fine passage through which the water entered.
      Axes, hoes, spades, forks, rakes, cow-bells, flat-irons, knifes and forks, scissors, and every conceivable household article in use in a German or Norwegian household, came out of the wreck in profusion. Fire and water have marked them all. The tone of a cow-bell, now in our office, is however, quite good, the clearness of its ring, though, being somewhat abated by its thirteen years drowning. The chief injury after all, done the iron work, and to the iron portion of the cargo of the steamer, was by fire, and not by water. Masses of stove plates are soldered together by intense heat, and bundles of wire and sheet iron, are welded together.
      Much gold and silver coin as we have recently stated, was found upon the floor of the steamer, and between her timbers, on each side of the keelson. She was badly broken forward when raised, and some thirty feet from the bow aft was taken ashore at Point Abino and searched. The first parcel of five franc piece was there found and so close by the fracture as to induce the belief that more or less of the coin must have fallen out into deep water and been lost. This part of the wreck was afterwards towed out into the lake and dropped. The portion in west, near the Marine Railway astonished everybody with the spectacle of a great steamship burned down in the water to within a foot of the keelson in two or three places. She is almost as thoroughly burned down as she would have been if she had been on dry land, instead of in a rolling sea.
      Even at the depth of 69 feet, there has been such action in this tideless body of water, Lake Erie, that the wreck is covered with blue clay, in places over a foot thick. As she lies, the industry of the wreckers' takes the California shape. Hoes worked between the timbers fetch up a mingled mass of cinders, broken crockery, clay, scraps of iron, sand and rubbish of all sorts. Lots lifted into a long many-chambered gold washer, and thoroughly washed with water thrown from a forcing pump. Silver, gold, lead, copper and iron shot fall to the bottom and are carefully gathered.
      The ERIE has been raised by a Company composed of Van. Valk & Co. of this city, and Mr. Gowan of Boston. The diving apparatus was the submarine armor of Wells & Gowan. Two schooners; and a steam tug were employed in lifting the wreck. A heavy frame-work of wooden lumber, a little wider than the ERIE, was rigged up and made fast abaft the main masts of the two vessels, and stretching from one to the other; a similar erection was made right aft there fore masts, very heavy compound iron blocks were attached in the centre to each of these frames, and the lifting power was applied by capstans from the decks of each of the schooners. But the scientific and delicate work was done under water, and by means of the indispensably necessary armor, of which Mr. Gowan makes man a really amphibious animal. One of the Nantucket Coffins, we believe, was the superintendent of the operations at the scene of the memorable disaster.
How horrible was the calamity--how inexplicable ! If our memory serves us correctly, some 310 human beings perished fearfully in the alternative of a grave in the fire or in the deep water. How stirred the sympathies of this City ! How wild was the excitement here--and how for weeks we sickened and shuddered over the ghastly companies of swollen, burned, and disfigured corpses that were laid in ranks upon our wharves, and upon the beach. May a like disaster never again happen upon this beautiful water !
      News of the Week, Toronto
      Saturday, September 9, 1854




Media Type:
Text
Newspaper
Item Type:
Clippings
Notes:
Reason: fire
Lives: 242
Remarks: Total loss
Date of Original:
1841
Subject(s):
Local identifier:
McN.W.11360
Language of Item:
English
Geographic Coverage:
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 42.54423 Longitude: -79.16671
Donor:
William R. McNeil
Copyright Statement:
Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
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Erie (Steamboat), fire, 9 Aug 1841