The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
A. B. Ward (Propeller), boiler explosion, 20 Aug 1881

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      The Boiler Of A Chicago Tug Explodes.
Chicago, Aug. 20. -- At 6 o'clock this morning the tug A. B. WARD, while astern of the barge ADAMS on its way out, and on the river between Clark and Lasalle streets, exploded its boiler.
      Five men were aboard the ill-fated craft at the time of the catastrophe. These were Captain F. S. Butler, Engineer Ole Wilson (better known as Ole Oleson), William McDonald, deck hand, McDonald, fireman, and Fred Whittaker, cook. Two tugs were in charge of the ADAMS. The forward one had just passed through the Clark street bridge on the north side of the bridge pier and the barge was just entering the channel, when the explosion occurred. At this moment the A. B. WARD was a length ahead of the barge and a length a length of its tow-line west of Clark street.
      The concussion was so great that the immense boiler of the tug was fired like a bullet into a boat house under the north end of the bridge, where it lies now, high and dry. The captain of the tug, Mr. Frank Butler, was blown through the air in the same direction, and fell mangled on the deck of the barge ADAMS. Nearly the whole of the tug's deck was blown off. The tug S. V. TAYLOR was about 200 feet astern of the wrecked vessel and within a minute was at its side. Mike McDonald, the fireman, and Fred Whittaker, the cook, were found clinging to the wreck and taken off. A yawl boat astern of the barge ADAMS that contained a sailor had been split in twain and the occupant, a Greek, was also taken from the water by the TAYLOR.
      Within three minutes of the rescue of these survivors, the wreck of the WARD sank where it exploded. The ADAMS was towed to State Street bridge and docked and captain Butler was taken ashore. A cursory examination of his injuries showed them to be fatal. The back of his skull is fractured, and from the moment he struck upon the deck of the ADAMS he did not utter a word. His senseless body was tenderly carried ashore, placed in a wagon and hastily driven to his home. The injuries to the other survivors, were not apparently serious, although for a time, so covered were they, with scalds and coal dust that it was not possible to make an examination. Mike McDonald had his wrist torn, and was somewhat bruised and scalded, but was able after having been washed and his wound dressed, to walk away without assistance. Fred Whittaker, cook, was scalded slightly on different parts of his person, he was also able to take care of himself. The bodies of Oleson and William McDonald have not yet been recovered and are supposed to be entangled in the vessel's wreck. All the killed had children.
      The WARD was the property of John Crawford and F. S. Butler, the injured captain. She was valued by the owners at $6.000, and was not insured.
Captain Butler was still alive at midnight, and his physicians believe there was a chance of his recovery.
      Cleveland Herald
      August 22, 1881

      The Boiler Of The Steam Tug "WARD," of Chicago, Exploded.
Chicago, Aug. 20. -- The tug A.B. WARD was blown up this morning in Chicago River, and three men on board were instantly killed. Five men were on the tug at the time, Captain Frank Butler, engineer Ole Wilson, fireman Mike McDonald, deck hand Wm. McDonald, and Fred Wanager, cook. The WARD was stern-towing the barge GEORGE W. ADAMS when the explosion occurred, and was in the river midway between the Clark Street and Wells Street bridges. The noise was terrific, and nothing could be seen for a moment but smoke and flying debris.
Captain Butler was thrown fifty feet and landed on one of the barges ahead of his tug. His skull was fractured, and he is otherwise seriously injured. Engineer Wilson was thrown into the air like a ball, and disappeared in the water. His body has not been found. No traces of the deck-hand McDonald have been found since the explosion. Wilson had a wife and two children living here. McDonald leaves a wife and one child in some eastern city. Fireman McDonald and Fred Wanager, the cook, were found in the water clinging to pieces of timber, and were rescued. he former is badly cut and bruised on all parts of his body, and may not recover, and the latter is not expected to live, his injuries being internal and very severe. The boiler of the exploded tug was thrown 100 feet back towards Clark Street.
Immediately, going down stern first. The river is being dragged for the bodies of Wilson and McDonald.
      The J.W. Ha;; Great Lakes Marine Scrapbook, June/Sept/. 1881
      Chicago Times. -- The remains of the tug A. B. WARD, that was blown up at Clark Street bridge Saturday morning, were got into Miller Brothers' dry dock yesterday morning, and an examination made. None of the deck forward of the tow-bits remains, and, with the exception of her engines, she is pretty well cleaned out. The body of the engineer, William Wilson, was not found in the wreck, nor was it found in the river. Further search will be made for it today.
      Captain Butler was resting much better yesterday, and there is good reason to hope that he will fully recover from the terrible shock received.
      Cleveland Herald
      August 24, 1881

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Reason: boiler explosion
Lives: 3
Remarks: Repaired
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Geographic Coverage:
  • Illinois, United States
    Latitude: 41.85003 Longitude: -87.65005
William R. McNeil
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A. B. Ward (Propeller), boiler explosion, 20 Aug 1881