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From “Picturesque World’s Fair, An Elaborate Collection of Colored Views by Landscape Artist John R. Key
THE WHALEBACK, “CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS.”
The steamboat company accorded the privilege of controlling the passenger traffic by water between the central part of Chicago and the Fair Grounds had a number of boats in its service but none to compare either in size or speed with the “Christopher Columbus,’ popularly known as the “Whale-back.” The “Christopher Columbus” was one of the best of the type of freight carriers, a comparatively recent invention, built with the idea of rather sliding over the waves than cutting them, the device of an old lake captain who found his support in Duluth. The ordinary “Whaleback” from its appearance in the water fully deserves its name, but the “Christopher Columbus” had the addition of a large part of the ordinary passenger steamer, built on top of its queer body. It proved not only the fastest but the most comfortable of all the steamers engaged in the World’s Fair traffic. The decks built above the odd looking hull accommodated a vast number of people, the boat being one of four thousand tons and carrying 5,000 passengers, and the comfort of the trip was increased by the fact that the furnishing of the big boat was made even luxurious. Before the end of the Fair it became almost a fact that the visitor had not “done” the opportunities of the great occasion thoroughly unless at least one journey had been made on the snow-white monster which made such flying trips over the blue water between the Van Buren Street wharf opposite Chicago’s business center and the Fair Grounds to the south.
The Whaleback, “Christopher Columbus.”
Chicago Tribune, December 4, 1892
WEST SUPERIOR, Wis., Dec. 3,—(Special.)—The great steel whaleback passenger ship Christopher Columbus, built by Capt. Alexander McDougall, its inventor, in the yards iof the American Steel Barge company in this city, was launched at 3:10 today in the presence of 15,000 people. Visitors were present from as far east on the Canadian Pacific as the Soo and from Milwaukee, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York. The Chicago party, brought here on a special train by the World’s Fair Steamship company, or Henry syndicate, arrived just three minutes after the launch. Their train backed into the shipyard while the crowd had witnessed the great boat slide into the water was still cheering, and the indignation of the Chicago people, who had traveled 500 miles only to go back again, was beyond expression. This is about the first launch that has ever taken place here on time. Had it been delayed five minutes the visitors would have been able to have seen it. In the disappointed party were:
J. Harley Bradley, Melville E. Stone, J. S. Dunham, Hugh MacMillan, T. T. Morford, J. G. Keith, Robert L. Henry, Judge L. D. Thomson, Frank Bartlett, F. R. Bartlett, C. A. MacDonald, C. Holtz, F. D. Herriman, and G. B. Holmes of Chicago, and R. L. Belknap, ex-Trasurer of the Northern Pacific railroad.
Description of the Vessel.
The vessel has the conical bow, rounded back, and general appearance of the whaleback. Its lines are not essentially different from those of whalebacks that have been afloat on the lakes for two years. It was built for the World’s Fair Transportation company for the purpose of carrying passengers between Chicago and the Exposition buildings at Jackson Park. It will have accommodations for 5,000 passengers and is the largest excursion steamer afloat.
As it lies in the water the Columbus differs but little from the freight carriers of its type. Completed, however, it will be strikingly different from anything afloat. Its decks will be supported by turrets extending the whole length of the vessel. Whaleback steamships heretofore built have but two turrets, one forward and one aft. This is of steel and is 362 feet overall, 42 feet beam, and 24 feet deep. A triple expansion engine from the works of Samuel F. Hodge & Co. of Detroit will supply the motive power.The three cylinders are 26, 42, and 70 inches in diameter. It will develop 2,600 horse power. Six Scotch type boilers, 11 feet diameter and 12 feet long, will supply steam at maximum pressure of 160 pounds. It will have one screw 14 feet in diameter, with a pitch of 19 feet, and is expected to attain a speed of twenty miles an hour.
There are seven turrets, elliptical in shape, rising seven and a half feet above the main deck. The forward one, 19×13, contains the windlass; turrets 2 and 3 are 26×18 and contains stairways to the saloon, deck above and between the deck below. No. 4 contains stacks, air-fans and ash-hoists. It contains also the entrance to the fire-room, and is 27×18. In the next turret aft, of the same size, is inclosed the engine room and machinery. The two aft turrets contain stairways similar to those forward. There are four gangways on each side by which passengers can enter and leave the ship. Upon this deck amidships are located the dialing and refreshment rooms.
S. S. Christopher Columbus
Two Stringers in the Hold.
In the hold are two stringers, braced, with face angels, extending fore and aft. Outside are two 12-inch steel fenders. The keel-plate is of 29-pound plate, and the shell for one-half of the length amidships is of 24-pound, tapered to 18-pound, plate at the ends. It has a double bottom extending fore and aft 42 inches deep, giving a water ballast capacity of 730 tons. The compartments are built on the McIntyre principle, with nine girders three feet apart, and are braced with angle iron to the floor dates. There are nine water-tight bulkheads, and in addition =from the peak there extends a fore and aft bulkhead 42 feet long.
The saloon deck, supported by the turrets, is connected with the ventilator tubes by angle iron collars. The tubes are twelve feet apart and nine inches in diameter. The entire deck is given up to the saloon proper, 225 feet long and thirty feet wide. Aft is the ladies’ cabin. The remaining room is entirely open. The saloon will be heated with steam and lighted with electricity, as will the vessel throughout. Outside the saloon will be a promenade deck four feet wide with thirty-two feet of clear space at both bow and stern. This deck will be supported at the sides by handsomely decorated tubes. Over the saloon is the promenade deck proper, 257 feet long, with a skylight 15×138 feet in the center. Over both fore and aft stairways are also glass dome skylights. On the deck are the minister’s cabin, wheel house, and officer’s quarters.
After visiting the steel plant here today with the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic excursionists, from the Upper Peninsula, Peter R. Goldstein, the Houghton capitalist and manufacturer, was stricken with apoplexy while chatting with friends in one of the cars attached to the special train. His death is expected at any moment. Mr. Gottstein is one of the pioneers of the Upper Peninsula, having come to Lake Superior on the old steamer Independence in 1854.
First Owner: Columbian Whaleback Steamship Co. Duluth, MN U.S. 1893 – 1906
Second Owner: Milwaukee & Chicago Transportation Co. Milwaukee, WI U.S. 1906 – 1909
Third Owner: Goodrich Transit Co. (ME) Milwaukee, WI U.S. 1909 – 1921
Fourth Owner: Goodrich Transit Co. (DE) Milwaukee, WI U.S. 1921 – 1933
Fifth Owner: William F. Price Chicago, IL U.S. 1933 – 1934
Sixth Owner: The Chriscarala Corp. Duluth, MN U.S. 1934 – 1936
Final Disposition: Scrapped, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, 1936 by Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co.
Final document surrendered at Milwaukee on November 16, 1937.
Chicago Tribune, July 1, 1917
Thirteen excursionists were killed, eight dangerously wounded, and others less seriously hurt this afternoon when a 25,000 gallon tank toppled from a steel tower 100 feet high and crashed on to crowded decks of the whaleback Christopher Columbus, on which were teachers and pupils of the Northwestern university, University of Chicago and other summer schools.
More than 400 passengers, the majority of whom, it is believed, were members of the school outing party, were aboard.
CHICAGOANS IN MAJORITY.
Most of the passengers were either Chicagoans or temporary residents here while attending school. A majority were gathered forward on the upper three decks, at the point of impact.
All were intent o speculation on where the mass of falling steel would strike, and fascinated by the impending disaster, they stood frozen with terror. In an instant the vessel was a scene of tragedy, the survivors looking dumbly on.
DELUGE HITS THE DECKS.
Thousands of gallons of water, loosed by the bursting tank, flooded every deck. Staterooms were awash, saloons running with water, and debiris and confusion reigned.
Many passengers, seeing the rush of water, with visions of the Eastland disaster, leaped into the river. One young woman’s body was found almost nude, her clothing torn from her in the crash.
Rescuing parties were met by harrowing sights. One woman was taken out of the wreckage almost dead. One of her legs had been torn off. Later the leg was found floating.
Another rescue party picked up a floating arm. Two young girls met death together. Their bodies were so badly mangled as to be beyond recognition. The body of a man was taken out of the water; a leg had been torn off. This grewsome member, too was found.
Close-up of havoc wrought by falling tank, showing how the stanch kindling wood by the whip-like blow of the falling water tank. The mass of the upper structure of the Christopher Columbus literallv was smashed into steel cut through the vessel as though it were paper.
WHERE IT OCCURRED.
The accident occurred in the Milwaukee river, on the east bank, just north of the East River street bascule bridge, and at the point where the river enters a basin formed by the junction of the Milwaukee and Menominee rivers, the Milwaukee river flowing east into the lake.
The cause, as deduced from statements of both passengers and officers of the Columbus, was the failure of the tugboats to keep the steamer clear of the east bank. The bow of the steamer swung into one of the steel supports of the tank tower.
The ship started frantically to back away from the falling mass of metal. It was too late. Portions of the decks were torn away and for a time it was feared many passengers might have been carried to the bottom of the river with the weight of wood and metal.
Immediately after the mishap the river was filled with craft of all sorts engaged in rescue enterprises. Men and women who were swimming for their lives, in an attempt to get away from the ship which they feared might be sinking, were picked up by rescue boats.