The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Chicago Times-Herald (Chicago, IL), 28 January 1898

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The City of Duluth, one of the steamers in the service of the Graham & Morton Line, lies wrecked on a sand bar off the mouth of the harbor of St. Joseph. Sixteen passengers and a crew of twenty were rescued yesterday by the life-saving crew, with the aid of the breeches buoy, after an ineffectual attempt to land them by a tug. A cargo of corn, flour and general merchandise valued at $15,000, and the vessel, worth $40,000, may be partially saved, according to the latest reports. The craft, owned by the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior Transportation Company, was insured for $20,000, while the cargo was insured for $10,000.

With the hope that the wind would shift to a favorable direction, the insurance companies interested hired a steam pump and tug of the Dunham Towing Company yesterday afternoon, and sent them across the lake to work upon the wrecked vessel, and try to take her off the bar. The chances of success depend entirely upon the weather. If the wind shifts to off-shore, and the heavy sea quiets down the pump can be used and the tug will make an attempt to pull the wreck to shore. In the meantime the steamer may go to pieces entirely through the pounding of the waves.

Crew and Passengers Saved.

While the stranded boat thumped her keel upon the bar, half hidden most of the time by the tremendous waves that rolled over her, the work of rescue was carried on by the life saving crew under the most trying conditions. The crew of twenty and the following passengers and officers were safely landed after a lifeline had been fired across the vessel from the mortar:
Officers –
Captain Donald MacLean
First Officer Herbert Simons
Purser O. A Shauman Steward John Nolan
Engineer Henry Chalk
Passengers –
August Kernwein, St. Joseph
Leeds Lemon, Baroda, Mich.
William Tryon, Royalton
Mrs. Will Tryon, Baroda, Mich.
Mrs. F. N. Sowers, Chicago
Mrs. M. Clark, Watervliet
R. D. M’Cuskey, Sister Lakes
Harry Sowers, Chicago
H. J. Roy, Watervliet, Mich.
N. O. Slight, Baroda, Mich.
Walter Kregley, Eau Claire, Mich.
R. F. Tripp, South Haven
Thomas Hagaman, Benton Harbor
E. Pett, South Haven
Samuel Williman, Detroit
Peter Fisher, Grand Rapids

Captain Feared Danger

The City of Duluth is the only boat used by the Graham & Morton Company for its winter freight and passenger business, and this is the second season that the boat has been chartered of the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior Transportation Company for winter service. The schedule called for the departure of the City of Duluth from the local dock Saturday with a full cargo and a large list of passengers. Captain MacLean, one of the oldest and most experienced navigators of the lakes, refused to take his boat out, however, because of the predications of the weather bureau. A severe storm had been forecasted that morning, and the veteran captain was firm in his position.

The blizzard which set in Sunday convinced the officers of the company that Captain MacLean’s fears were fully justified. The boat remained at her dock awaiting calmer weather until Wednesday afternoon, when the captain concluded that the lake had quieted down sufficiently to warrant the voyage. None but an experienced officer would have dared the passage, the sea being very heavy when the boat left the mouth of the Chicago River and turned her prow eastward. Captain MacLean had no fears, however, his long experience on the lakes having taken him through many a storm of more severity.

It was at 2:30 o’clock in the afternoon that the City of Duluth steamed out of the harbor. In her hold she carried 28,000 bushels of corn and 2,000 sacks of flour, while her lower deck was loaded with a full cargo of general merchandise. The trip to St. Joseph under ordinary circumstances consumes not more than seven hours, and it was with perfect confidence that the company officials witnessed the departure of the steamer.

Their first tidings of the wreck were received late in the night by telegram, the agent of the company in St. Joseph notifying them that the boat had struck on the sandbar near the mouth of the harbor.

Through the night and until yesterday morning was far advanced the officials of the Graham & Morton Company anxiously waited for further news. Mr. Graham departed for St. Joseph on the first train in the morning, the same train carrying Joseph Austrian, manager of the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior Transportation Company, to the scene of the wreck. Additional news of the disaster came over the long distance telephone in conversations between Mr. Graham and Mr. Austrian with the officers of the their respective companies. The reports indicated that although both arches of the boat were broken and the hull smashed in several places, there was hope that the vessel might be lightened of her cargo and the water that poured into the hold and towed to the shore. It was considered doubtful whether much of the cargo could be saved, the corn in the hold having been thoroughly soaked by water.

It was pitch dark when Captain MacLean attempted to make the harbor at St. Joseph, with the City of Duluth pitching and tossing like a shell on the angry lake. A fierce northwest gale was howling over the lake and huge waves were rolling toward the harbor. In the blackness of the night it was easy to make a mistake in directing the course of the vessel. With the same kind of rough weather few sailors, however daring, would have tried to make the port in the daylight. Not more than four weeks ago the City of Duluth came to grief on the same sand bar where she now lies.

Peril Realized Too Late.

Captain MacLean was confident that he had his bearings right until it was too late to alter the course of the ill-fated boat. The narrow mouth of the harbor was not more than 500 feet distant when it was discovered that the vessel was at the mercy of the wind and waves and drifting directly upon the bar, 200 feet north of the lighthouse pier. Steam was powerless to avert the coming disaster. With her engines reversed and at full speed the City of Duluth swept swiftly on toward the bar, while the officers and crew hurried to and fro lamenting their helplessness.

Few of the passengers knew of the danger that threatened until the steamer struck the bar with a tremendous shock that threw many of them from their feet. In an instant confusion seized the passengers. Some of them rushed from the cabin with the belief that the boat was going to the bottom of the lake immediately. Their fears were intensified by the fury of the storm, which burst upon the vessel, and it was due as much to the efforts of Captain MacLean as anybody that a panic was prevented.

While the terror-stricken passengers were trying to collect their thoughts, deep down in the hold of the vessel the engineers and stockers were scrambling for their lives fearful lest they should be burned to death. When the shock came it was of such awful force that the ponderous engines were hurled from their bases and the furnaces were half emptied of their glowing fires. The burning coals poured forth upon the floor of the engine room and with the roar of escaping steam beating upon their ears the men rushed for the ladder heading to the lower deck. Right upon their heels came a flood of water through a break in the side of the vessel, which quickly removed all danger of fire, while adding to the fears of the crew that the boat would founder in a few minutes.

Work of Rescue Begins.

Not more than 200 feet away the friendly gleam from the lighthouse shone forth in the darkness. It might have been a hundred miles away for all the good it had rendered the City of Duluth. Captain MacLean sent up several distress rockets before any reply was received from the shore. It was then after 11 o’clock. Once the danger became known, there was a prompt and heroic response to the signals. The tugs Morford and Perfection, which had been lying in the harbor, put out immediately and tried to take off the passengers. The attempt had to be abandoned. It was impossible to get close enough to the steamer to be of any assistance while the sea was running so high, and both tugs were compelled to go back into the harbor.

In the meantime the members of the life-saving crew were gathered one by one from their homes, the service having been practically discontinued for the winter on account of light navigation. The crew never performed more effective and gallant work than was demanded of its members during the remainder of the night. Once an attempt was made to launch a lifeboat, and in their endeavor the men waded in the icy surf until the water was around their necks. Quickly realizing that the heavy sea would render the boat useless, the effort was abandoned, and the crew placed the mortar in position to shoot the life line across the wrecked vessel.

The distance was so short that the first shot was successful, and by midnight the heavy linen had been carried out to the vessel, and the breeches buoy was in working order. The landing of the passengers was a slow and difficult operation. It was impossible to prevent them from being half-drowned by the mountainous waves that rolled between the boat and the pier, leaping high in their embrace. The first to make the passage in the buoy was August Kernwein. The success with which he landed had much to do with allaying the fears of the women, who were nearly overcome with fright and the exposure of the wintry night.

Every Person Taken Off.

Mrs. William Tryon was the only passenger who could not withstand the ordeal of being carried across the raging waves in the buoy. She is 75 years old and has been in feeble health a long time. When lifted from the basket it was found that she had fainted from exhaustion and the nervous shock. All night the crew, assisted by many willing volunteers, worked at rescuing the shipwrecked passengers and crew, the shore being dotted with lights placed to aid in the labor of mercy. It was 5 o’clock when the last passenger had been taken off, and then the officers and crew of the vessel were landed one by one.

No sooner was Captain MacLean safe on shore than he hurried to the telegraph office and addressed a telegram to his wife in this city. It was the first positive news Mrs. MacLean received from St. Joseph that her husband was alive and well. The telegram was as follows:
St. Joseph, Mich. Jan. 27. To Mrs. Donald MacLean, 1164 [?] West Congress street. Duluth abandoned. Crew and I safe at Hotel Lakeview. Donald MacLean.

Daylight showed to the most casual observer that the City of Duluth had suffered terribly by her mishap, and that unless the northwest gale and heavy sea abated her destruction was inevitable in a very few hours. Those who remembered the fact that the Chicora went to the bottom of the lake almost exactly three years ago, during a gale of almost the same character, remarked upon the strange coincidence and discussed the plight of the City of Duluth as a possible explanation of the loss of the former vessel.

No blame is put upon Captain MacLean by his company, whatever may be said by those who believe he made a serious mistake in attempting to enter the harbor under the circumstances. Captain MacLean and Engineer Chalk are both in the employ of the Lake Michigan and Lake Shore [sic] Transportation Company, and this fact relieves the Graham & Morton company of all responsibility for the wreck. The latter company suffers only the loss on the cargo.

Media Type:
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Date of Original:
28 January 1898
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Robert C. Myers
Copyright Statement:
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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Chicago Times-Herald (Chicago, IL), 28 January 1898