Friday, September 2, 2016

September 2, 1914 -- Burning Lake Steamer Grounded on Chicago Breakwater

September 2, 1914 – Federal officials begin an investigation to determine the cause of a fire that rips through the passenger ship City of Chicago, which lies beached at the life saving station at the entrance to the Chicago River.  The one big question about the wreck is how a fire could have gained such force if all members of the crew were on duty.  The boat sits with its hull resting on the bottom of the lake in about twelve feet of water with a load of Michigan grapes, cantaloupes and peaches still aboard.  The official report of the Coast Guard describes the event, “When within 5 miles of the end of her run in the early morning of September 1, 1914, the 1,439-ton passenger steamer City of Chicago, bound from St. Joseph, Mich., to Chicago, with 94 passengers, a crew of 56, and a full cargo of fruit, was discovered by her master to be on fire amidships.  To avoid panic no alarm was sounded, and the presence of the fire was kept secret on board until the master was able to lay his vessel, head-on, upon the breakwater protecting Chicago Harbor.  As the steamer rested upon the barrier referred to she lay within a few feet of the old Chicago Coast Guard Station.  The station lookout had observed smoke rising from her before she struck, and keeper and crew lost no time in beginning the work of extinguishing the fire.  The women and children on board were carried down ladders set against the steamer’s side.  With everybody safely landed, the Coast Guard crew devoted their entire attention to subduing the fire, and succeeded, with the help of a fire tug, in putting it out after three hours’ effort.”  The captain of the City of Chicago, Oscar Bjork, says, “There isn’t much to say about it.  You can see where the boat is, and you can bet I didn’t put her there for nothing.  I don’t think it would have been possible to save her anyhow – but I wasn’t figuring on saving her.  It was the passengers I was worried about.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, September 2, 1914]

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