Collision of the Atlantic and Ogdensburg.
At an early hour before daylight, on the 20th day of August, 1852, the steamboat Atlantic ran afoul of the propeller Ogdensburg, about six miles above Long Point, on Lake Erie. The morning was very foggy and the darkness was extreme, and for some time the extent of the damage was not apparent, even to those who were on board of the vessel which sustained the injury. The propeller struck the Atlantic forward of the wheel, on the larboard side ; the shock was so little felt on board the steamer, that she continued her course without any apprehension of danger; and, as the propeller had reversed her engine before the collision took place, the crew of it did not suppose that any serious mischief had been done to the other. However, before the Atlantic had proceeded two miles, it was discovered that she was sinking rapidly. The passengers were all in bed at the time, and when they were aroused from their slumbers to be informed of their perilous condition, the scene of confusion and dismay which followed is beyond all the powers of language to describe. The number of persons on board, including passengers and crew, is rated at four hundred and fifty. Of these, more than two hundred were Norwegian emigrants. As soon as the startling intelligence was communicated to the passengers, all were assembled on deck, to meet or avoid the fate which threatened them. The poor Norwegians, who were generally ignorant of the English language, could scarcely be made to comprehend the cause of the alarm, but observing the consternation which prevailed among the other passengers, they became wildly excited, and threw themselves into the water in spite of every effort to restrain them. The other passengers listened to the exhortations of the captain, and became perfectly calm, assisting to throw overboard settees, chairs, mattresses, and other buoyant articles, which might be the means of supporting them in the water when the boat went down. In the meanwhile, the state of affairs in the doomed vessel was such as to produce a feeling of intense anxiety even among the bravest. The dense obscurity of the night, the damp and chilling atmosphere, the terrific hissing of the water as it rushed through the gaping leak upon the furnaces, in which every spark of fire was soon extinguished, the shrieks and cries of the affrighted women and children who remained on board, and the still more distressing exclamations of those who were struggling in the water, all these circumstances combined to make a scene of horror which appalled even those who could have met their own fate with fortitude and intrepidity. [p.149] About half past two the steamer sunk, notwithstanding all the well-directed efforts which had been made by the crew to keep her afloat.
The propeller had stopped to make repairs after the accident, and now when her crew were apprised of the dreadful condition of those who had been in the Atlantic, by the cries, shrieks, and lamentations of the drowning people, the Ogdensburg promptly steered for the spot, and was the means, under divine Providence, of saving about two hundred and fifty of the unfortunates who still survived. Hundreds were battling with the waters, and while the sympathising crew of the propeller were dragging some aboard of that vessel with all possible
despatch, many others sunk into the abyss of waters, and were seen no more. From the most authentic statements it appears that more than three hundred lives were lost. A majority of the sufferers were Norwegian emigrants, of whom previous mention has been made. The books of the boat were lost, and no record of the names of those who perished has been preserved. The following is a list of the names of those passengers who obtained tickets at Erie, but it is uncertain who of them were saved and who were lost:
Mr. Osborne, wife and child, Mr. Reed, Mr. Field, wife and two children, of New York ; Mr. Frost, of Boston ; Mr. Calkins, Mr. Luke, Mr. Fairbrother, Mr. Bushnell and brother, of Albany, N. Y. Mr. Lawrence, wife and two children, of Utica ; Mr. Clark and child ; Mr. Russell ; Mrs. Cornwall, sister of Elihu Burrett ; Mr. Fisher, of Canada ; Mr. Shanker, Mr. Britton, Mr. Stanley, of New York ; Mr. Myers ; Mr. Carley and wife ; Mr. Bissal, Mr. Brown, Mr. Le Fevre, Mr. Kirby, of Troy ; Mr. Johnson and wife ; Mr. White and wife Mr. Crippen ; Mr. Green, Mr. Burd, of Schenectady ; Mr. Montgomery and wife, Cayuga Co., N. Y.
Second class passengers ticketed at the same office : Messrs. Stevens, Hartley and wife, Albany ; Toogood and wife, Troy ; Marshall, Boston ; Hall, Graver, Calvin, Turner, "Waits, wife and two children, Hammerman, Stuart, Bird and wife, Lucas, and Hayer.
The persons named below were also on board:
A. E. Doggett, of Chicago ; Mr. Walbridge, of Erie; Mr. John W. Murphy, express agent. The names of the emigrants are not given.
Nearly all of the cabin passengers were saved ; also, the officers and crew, with the exception of three waiters. Captain Petty, of the Atlantic, was seriously injured. The Norwegian emigrants, of whom the greater number perished, were on their way to Quebec. About seventy-five of these people fortunately could not obtain passage in the Atlantic, and were left on the wharf.
[p. 150] Mr. A. Sutton, of New York, who was provided with two life-preservers, states that while he was fastening one on his wife, a ruffian snatched the other from him. Mr. S. managed, however, to save himself and his two children.
A young woman who fell overboard was saved by the exertions of a young man who jumped in after her, and supported her on the surface until she was drawn up into the boat, and at that moment her brave deliverer disappeared under the water. He had proved himself an excellent swimmer, but most likely some drowning wretch had caught hold of him and dragged him down, clutching him with the grasp of death, from which there was no means of extrication.
The dead body of a little girl was found floating on a plank. Dr. Crippen, of Michigan, saved two ladies by breaking through the deck into the state-room, and drawing them out of the water. Three men saved themselves by clinging to the binnacle-box, which had been thrown overboard.
The first mate of the Ogdensburg, who was on watch at the time of the collision, afterwards admitted that if he had given the necessary orders a few moments sooner than he did, the accident might have been prevented. The second mate of the Atlantic, who was also on watch, made similar admissions of delinquency. The officers of both boats were much censured by the citizens of Buffalo, Erie, &c., as it was generally believed that the disaster was attributable to their culpable negligence. The surviving passengers of the Atlantic held a meeting, and passed resolutions strongly condemning the Captain and owners of that steamer for neglecting to provide a sufficient number of life preservers, and small boats. The wreck of the Atlantic was found five miles below Long Point House. She sunk four miles from the nearest shore, in one hundred and sixty feet water. Adams & Co.'s Express Messenger lost $60,000, which went down with the ill-fated boat. Several attempts have been made by submarine divers to recover this lost treasure, but without success. By this accident about three hundred persons were rowned. The names of many will never be known.