The Times and Tides of Ocean City, Maryland
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Wreck of a Steam-Launch
Chicago Station, Illinois
by Suzanne Hurley
From the 1885 Annual Report of the United States Life-Saving Service

Edited by the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum
*Minor editorial privileges were taken to clarify the text and writing style of the period.


The fourth and last casualty which resulted fatally was the sinking of a small, open steam-launch in the mouth of the Chicago River, Illinois, less than a hundred yards from the Chicago Station, (Eleventh District,). It occurred on the morning of Sunday, May 10, 1885, between 1 and 2 o'clock. One life was lost, a man named Frederick Smithz, resident in Chicago. It appears there was a party of five men on board, who, after coaling up and making other preparations for a Sunday excursion, had taken a run out into the basin, or outer harbor. Upon turning back, shortly after half-past 1, and when nearly abreast of the life-saving station on their way to the Wells Street bridge, where they were to make fast until daylight, they ran plump into the schooner Pilot, outward bound in tow of a tug. It was very dark, but the lights of the tug and the schooner were burning brightly, and the course taken by the launch betrayed gross ignorance or carelessness on the part of whoever was managing her. She came near striking the tug, but the captain of the latter gave his boat a sheer with the helm just in time to clear her. It availed but little, however, for the next instant the launch went crash against the bow of the schooner following in the tug's wake and immediately capsized and sunk. The schooner holding her way for some distance, doubtless passed over the little craft. The collision was witnessed by the look out at the station, who shouted the alarm to his sleeping comrades up stairs, and a moment later they came tumbling down without waiting to dress. Two of the surfmen sprang into the station supply-boat which was fortunately in the water, and pushed off, guided by the cries of the struggling men. Two more shoved out in the small ferry-scow used by the crew in going to their meals, and another took a skiff, so that in two or three minutes there were three boats on the spot. One of the men was picked up by the supply boat, and another, a few feet away, was just going down when he grasped an extended oar and was drawn safely into the scow. It was all done in less time than is taken to describe it. Two other men had succeeded in catching hold of the schooner's bobstay, and were rescued by the tug Tom Brown, the one having the schooner in tow. The fifth man, Smithz, was never again seen alive. He was seated beside the boiler at the time of the collision, and it is supposed was injured by its falling over on him, or scalded by escaping steam, as he sank immediately, although an expert swimmer. The survivors were taken to the station and provided with dry clothing to reach home in. Early search was made for Smithz's body, but the crew did not succeed in recovering it until the following day, (Monday). These facts are substantially as they were elicited by an official investigation, which was ordered as soon after the occurrence as possible. It will be readily seen that the fatality was in no sense due to any remissness on the part of the Chicago life-saving crew. Indeed, but for the alacrity with which they scrambled from their beds at the first note of alarm, it is probable most of the company would have perished.

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