The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
St. Joseph Evening Herald (St. Joseph, MI), Wed., 22 May 1907

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The Evening Herald gave brief mention Tuesday of the loss of the steamer Naomi, of the Crosby line by fire in mid-lake, between Grand Haven and Milwaukee, later advices show that the disaster as to the life was greater than at first reported. A Grand Haven dispatch of the 21st says:

One man was so badly burned that he died soon after reaching the Grand Rapids hospital. Seventy-five persons were saved only by dint of heroic work on the part of the steamer's crew and the vessel practically was burned to the water's edge.

Four of the victims were coal passers, who were penned down in the forecastle, where many persons on rescuing vessels saw them in the agonizing efforts to crawl out through the port holes - all other means of escape being shut off by the fire. They were unable to do so and fell back to be roasted alive. Their charred bodies were buried here this afternoon after the still smoking hulk of the Naomi was towed into port by the steamer Kansas. The names of three were Gordon, Miner and Stanton. The fourth was not known to the members of the crew.

The fifth victim was J. M. Rhoades of Detroit, a lumber expert for the Detroit branch of the Diamond Match co.

The fire broke out about 1:30 o'clock in the morning beween [sic] decks in the forward end of the steamer. It spread with tremendous rapidity and it was apparent almost from the first that it was vain for the crew to fight the flames. They immediately turned their attention to arousing the passengers and getting them on deck. Headed by Steward Phillip Rossbach and Purser William Hanrahan the members of the crew worked like heroes to save the sleeping men, women and children.

Capt. Traill sent up signals for help as soon as he discovered that his ship was afire, and in a few moments three steamers whose lights could be seen a few miles away came to the rescue. They were the steel freighter, Kerr, the Kansas, a sister ship to the Naomi, and the Saxonia.

Several of the life rafts and boats on the Naomi were destroyed before the crew could get them lowered. By the time the three steamers had reached the scene the Naomi's boats were in the water filled with people and a number of passengers were still huddled on the stern of the burning ship.

The Captain of the Kerr ran his big steel ship up under the Naomi's stern so close that the imperiled people leaped to her deck.

The Kansas took on board the half clad and terribly shocked and frightened passengers and brought them to this port.

J. Darling Milwaukee, State Agent for the Hartford Boiler Insurance Co. of Milwaukee, describing incidents of the fire, said:

"I saw Mrs. Klein of Hart in hysterics and seized her as she was about to throw herself overboard. Just about that time they brought Rhoades on deck. Mrs. Klein is a trained nurse and in an instant the little woman dropped on her knees by the side of the suffering man and from that moment until he was placed in the ambulance she never left him."

Arthur Jones, an attorney from Detroit, lost everything he had except his clothes. "What we suffered," he said, "as he [sic] stood there on the stern of the boat watching the fire creeping towards us, in spite of the most heroic efforts of the crew to beat it back, nobody can tell. Through it all no braver men ever walked than Steward Rossbach and Purser Hanrahan. Brave almost to a fault and as cool as if in port, they worked like heroes. It was these men who went down to the lower deck, with smoke and flames all around them, and handed up the body of Rhoades."

Sol Waterman of New York joined in the tribute to the steward and purser. "Braver men never lived, and if a Carnegie medal was given in the right place it should be given to them," he said.

The Naomi was 203 feet long, and was owned by the Crosby Navigation Co., having been built in 1881. The loss on the vessel and cargo is estimated at $225,000, insured. The steamer, it is said, will be rebuilt at once.

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Wed., 22 May 1907
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Robert C. Myers
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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St. Joseph Evening Herald (St. Joseph, MI), Wed., 22 May 1907