History of Chicago, A. T. Andreas, Volume 2, 1885
The high winds and fogs of spring and fall, for many years prior to 1856, had been productive of much damage to shipping, and wrecks, accompanied by loss of life, were of frequent occurrence. In the spring of 1856, the Government sent a life-boat to Chicago, and it was placed in charge of the harbor engineer. The first boat was kept under Rush-street bridge, and, in case of service becoming necessary, volunteers were depended upon to man it. This boat was made to answer a variety of purposes, and was yet in fair condition, several years later, when the life-saving station was established, with Captain John Taylor in charge.
Chicago Tribune, September 10, 1876
The new life-boat, with which the station at this point has been lately supplied, was tested yesterday, and proved to be all that was claimed It was rowed out in the lake about a mile and back, there being six men in it, and it behaved splendidly. It is a self-righter, and cannot sink, being filled with compressed air. It stands very high out of the water, and there are some vessel-men who claim that it does not draw enough water to live in a severe gale, and that while it cannot sink, it may capsize and spill the inmates into the lake. Yet these boats have been tried in England during the last few years with great success, and there is no reason why they should prove less of a success in this country.
Inter Ocean, September 16, 1876
Our Life Station.
Our new life station is now completed. The boat is an excellent one, and the station keeper and captain, John Taylor, an old sailor, is about as good a man as could be selected. The crew consist of twelve men, und all reside within a few blocks of the station, so that they are in easy call. The crew and their fine craft will go out for testing and practice this afternoon,
Chicago Tribune, July 23, 1878
John Taylor, who has been keeper of the Life-Saving Station, has resigned his position, and Telesford St. Peters has been appointed to fill the vacancy. Mr. Taylor left because the new regulations demand that the station-keeper shall live at the station, which, in this case, is down on the pier. The salary is only $20 per month, and Mr. Taylor preferred to drop that rather than leave his family and dwell in the little house on the wharf.
Chicago Daily Telegraph, August 1, 1878
At Chicago arrangements were made to render the station at that point more efficient by the employment of a regular crew who will be on hand at all times during the season of navigation. In addition to the life boat already provided, a second boat and other approved apparatus are to be placed there, and the station enlarged so as to accommodate the crews, etc.
Chicago Life Saving Station
Greeley Carlson Atlas of Chicago
Chicago Tribune, April 24, 1899
The man standing and facing the bow of the tug is giving a signal to the engineer to blow his whistle to notify the operators at the life-saving station to send a message.
Inter Ocean, July 7, 1901
Captain Sinnigen and his crew of life-savers at the government life-saving station on the end of the south pier are rejoicing over the fact that active operations are soon to be begun on a new home for them. It has long been recognized that the present quarters were not only Inadequate, but unworthy the greatest city on the lakes.
And yet when the new station has been built and the crew is in possession there must be some sentimental regrets at leaving the old structure, that has for so many years been the home of the life-saving crew of Chicago. Every nook and corner of the old structure has its associations to these men. From here they have gone out time and again on expeditions to save life expeditions from which no man could tell whether he and his mates would return alive. In these old quarters the men have lived for months every year, forced to depend on themselves alone for society and amusement, and forming those close intimacies with one another that such a life alone can create.
The old home has its memories, but the march of improvement recks little of such things. It has had its day, and must pass on.
The work of the life-saving crew in the port of Chicago is one of the most vital importance, and is at all times replete with danger to its members, yet as a general thing there is no branch of the United States government of which the general public has go little definite knowledge. An occasional paragraph in the papers, in times of stormy weather, or even in times of calm, for that matter, tells that the life crew went out and rescued the crew of some vessel in distress, or went out to some craft capsized in one of the sudden gusts of wind for which Lake Michigan is noted, and brought in the party of men and women that had been spilled out into the water to struggle for life. In such cases it is assumed that the life crew as a matter of course is on hand, and to the credit of the crew it may be said that it always is.
They Scoff at Peril.
The life-savers look on such occurrences and the calls they make upon their services as one of the ordinary ineidents of the service, and the perils they encounter in saving life have no particular significance to them. In fact, they are inclined to scoff at the idea of. peril attaching to such duties. It is in the times when long-prolonged gales from the north or east are raging, and the life crew 1s notified to go out, the wind blowing forty or fifty miles an hour, and the waves coming in ltke race horses and as high as mountains, that the men of the crew prepare for a struggle for life against the powers of nature.
§o far the men have come off victors in eve ery such struggle, but the peril is always there.
Every time the life crew goes out in its boat it is recorded in the journal which Uncle Sam obliges the captain of the crew to keep for his information. The captain is expect. ed to keep a plain, unvarnished narrative of what the crew did and accomplished, and how they did it. Uncle Sam is such a busy person that he has but little time to study these reports, and hence it follows that this journal, which should be from the nature of its subject matter as thrilli g as any romance ever penned, is in reality as dry as the average scientific dissertation. Captains with literary tendencies and good descriptive powers find the regulations of the department in regard to the keeping of this journal a serious detriment to these qualities, but in time they get in the rut, and accept the style that Uncle Sam says is the perfect one for his reading.
Day of Notable Disasters.
Hence it follows that on May 18, 1894, one will find on the journal an entry, or series of entries, reading as follows:
- Sent crew out to breakwater near Van Buren street. Lookout man reported signals of distress there. Found twelve men and boys, and brought them in. Sent crew out again to outer breakwater, in response to signals seen by the lookout. Found two bum-boats broken loose, and in a sinking condition. Rescued seven men and one woman, and brought them In. Sent Ileboat out to the ald of the schooner Myrtle, flying signals of distress two miles out. Lifeboat lost Its rudder, and was capsized. Boat was unable to reach the Myrtle, but the crew of the latter was rescued by a tug. which afterward gave the lifeboat a tow back to its house.
Here is certainly action and peril enough for one day to more than satisfy the most adventurous spirit that fact or fiction gives record of, yet in the official narrative what a dry record it makes! Twenty lives saved, a cap-etzed lIfeboat, a broken rudder, and a consequently disabled boat, as is seen from the fact that the erew had to be towed home! Yet of the incidents of this day’s work, of which Uncle Sam might have been expected to have a legitimate curiosity, not a word!
A Sunday Inter Ocean man asked William St. Peter, son of the former captain of the station, and who is now in his eighth year of service there, to furbish up his memory of that day, and tell some of the details of his and his comrades!, experience. St. Peter thought over the matter: and finally replied:
- It was the very worst day, in the first place, that I have ever seen in all my service on the lake, It had begin to blow the day before and a furious gale had raged all night long. During the night the rain came down almost incessantly, and the wind kept blowing harder and harder, and I recollect one of the boys saying when we got up in the morning: ‘This is the day when we will earn our salaries, all right!’. And we did.
Rescue of Twelve Men.
The first call we got was about 8 o’clock. The weather had been so thick up to that time that the lookout man could not discern any-thing. But then it began to lighten a little, and he thought he could see some kind of a signal from the breakwater opposite Van Buren street. He wasn’t quite sure of it, and some of the boys went up in the lookout and took a peep themselves.
They saw something that looked Itke a white shirt or bandkerchlef, fluttering in the wind. It was a signal all right, but what it was doing out there at that time in the morning after such a night as we had had was a puzzle to every man of the crew. However, the captain ordered out the lifeboat and away we went. Between the wind and the waves we had all that we could do to force her through the seas; but we finally got to where the signal was flying.
And what do you suppose we found there? I’m blessed if there wasn’t an even dozen of men and boys there, drenched to the skin with the waves that had been pouring over them all night long, chilled to the bone and shivering from their exposure, and so stiff from cold and fatigue that they could hardly maintain their hold of the pier. If we hadn’t got there at just about the time we did they would soon have been swept off by the waves, which were pounding over them. We got them off all right, however, and took them back to the station, where we poured some hot coffee into them, and in short time they were in a condition to go home.
They had gone out there to fish the morning before, when it was not storming, and the fish were biting so well that they never paid any attention to the rising storm until it broke upon them. Then they pulled in their lines in a jiffy and made a break for their boats. But their boats were not where they had fastened them. The storm had been busy with the boats, and instead of riding alongside the pier they were bobbling up and down a half mlle out in the lake. They didn’t think then to make a signal, but it wouldn’t have made any difference if they had, for we couldn’t have seen it, so they just hung on there by their teeth all night long. You’ll never catch those lads in such a trap again, I’ll warrant
Peril of Bumboat Crews.
We hadn’t more than got through with this bunch and hadn’t had time to put of dry clothes when the lookout gave notice that signals of distress were flying on a couple, of craft out in the lake, south of the Van Buren street pier, and away we bundled into the lifeboat and pulled for the scene. When we got outside the breakwater it seemed as if the waves and wind had taken a new spurt to themselves, for we had all we could do to force the boat along. We could then see, however, what it was that we were after. There used to be a colony of those bumboats down around the breakwater in those days, and in the furious gale two of them had broken loose from their moorings, and were drifting out into Lake Michigan at a pretty lively gait. They had no boats aboard so that the occupants could put off, no sails so that they could direct the course of the lumbering old craft, and, worst of all, the bumboats were not seaworthy, and had begun to leak like sieves.
There was about the worst scared crowd of people on them two boats: that you ever saw. There were seven men and one woman on board, and the man were more scared than the woman. They had hung out every kind of signal that you could think of, and when we finally got alongside them they bundled into us without standing on ceremony. We got them ashore all right, and then we had a brief breathing spell.
The next call we got was to a schooner off the mouth of the harbor that was flying signals of distress, and we went after her. Before we got to her, however, a tug reached her and took off her people, so we started back. In coming in the mouth of the river we passed over the anchor line of a vessel lying there. A heavy sea gave the vessel a heave, the line tautened up under us, and the stern of the lifeboat was lifted so high out of water that I thought for sure that a whale bad struck us. Then we came, down with a whack that shook the boat in every timber, and at the same time the line over which we had passed took a turn around our rudder and yanked It out of the boat. We got back to the station without a rudder.
Capsized in the Lake.
That was a pretty fix for us to be in, the day not yet half gone, and we likely to be called out at any moment. We had no extra rudder, and it would be a matter of a few days before we could get one. We could only hope that no more vessels in distress might loom up before our lookout that day. But you know troubles never come singly, and we found it out before we turned in that night. Along about 3 o’clock in the afternoon the lookout reported a schooner flying signals of distress, and drifting helplessly and rapidly to the southward. ‘Man the life-boat!’ sings out the captain, and in we get and pull out to the tug Protection, which was near by, and tell the tug to tow us out to the schooner.
When we had got outside the breakwater a monster sea came rolling along, picked up the lifeboat as if it was a feather, and turned it over in the sea, dumping us out into the water and it was pretty cold water, too, let ine tell you. The captain of the tug wanted to wait for us, but our captain told him to go ahead, to the schooner, and we would take care of ourselves until he could get back. We foundered around there in the water for an hour before we got back into the boat, and every man suffered intensely, but I never heard one of them grumble. Everything we had in it, oars as well, were lost, and when we had gotten back in her all we could do was to lie there bobbing up and down in the sea until the tug came back. It did so finally, after having taken seven men and one woman off the Myrtle, and then it gave us a line and towed us back to our house.
It was 8 o’clock when we got there. That was the worst day I ever put in in the service.
Lifeman St. Peters, who was the lookout man for the day, took a careful survey of the lake in all directions, and, finding nothing there to demand his attention, returned to the subject of his experiences:
- Another. tough day that I recall was Nov. 10, 1898. We’d been having nasty weather for a week or more, and the lake was as rough as it ever gets, in consequence, when the lookout reported a barge in distress. It was so far out in the lake that we couldn’t make out its name, and as it would have taken too much time to row out, and sails were out of the question, the captain got the tug Perfection to tow us out. The barge was drifting rapidly to the southward, and by the time we got up with her she was about fourteen miles out.
She was a lumber-laden barge, the Aloha (US No. 106542), and she certainly was in a bad plight. The waves had carried away her rudder, her sails were gone, her rails had been smashed and carried away on both sides amidships, and her deck load of lumber, what was left of it, was crashing around the deck to beat the band. Of course the crew had to take to the masts. You see, the lumber pounding about had smashed the deckhouse so badly that it was filled with water, and there was no place else on the barge where they were safe. There were seven men on her, including the captain, and they had been up in the rigging for nigh twenty-four hours.
It was a mighty ticklish job for us to handle. We didn’t dare to get too close to her, for at any moment one of those big sticks of lumber might come washing out and smash the lifeboat to pieces. We couldn’t throw a line to her, for the men were so benumbed by their long exposure that they were unable to handle it. But we had to get those men off, and the question was how to do so. The captain finally decided that the only thing to do was to send a couple of men aboard her and let them assist the crew to get off. Two of our boys went overboard with a line apiece around their waists and finally managed to get aboard the barge. When they were on her their troubles had only begun, for they had to watch out for those crashing pieces of lumber. Anyhow, they did fnally reach the mast in safety, and then they fastened the lines and helped those poor fellows to get off. We dragged them aboard one by one, and then the tug towed as back.
Saving of Eight Lives.
That was a pretty tough year, was 1898. It was only a short time before our experience with the Aloha that we had had almost a simllar job with the barge Iron Cliff, That was in October. The Iron Cliff came drifting down the lake in a furious gale, with a cargo of salt, her rudder gone and her boats smashed to pieces by the waves. The first we knew of her the lookout reported her along late in the afternoon as drifting off the breakwater about Monroe street, with her men lashed up in the rigging. On account of the heavy sea we didn’t try to lay alongside her, but we kept off a ways and threw the drew a line. There were eight men abcard her, and we got them all off that way. They would fasten the line around themselves and then jump overboard, when we would pull them in. We kept throwing that line until we had the last man aboard her, and then we came in and sent a tug out to catch the barge.
The crew at the life-saving station consists of the captain and eight men. They are: Captain Henry Sinnigen, William St. Peters, Gus Lofberg, William Troy, John Yore, John Nelson, Samuel Mucklan, Ferdinand Lofberg, and John Jeffers. Day and night, from the time the station opens, April 1, until it closes in December, a constant watch is maintained on the lake for disabled vessels. Much of the work of the crew consists in rescuing the victims of accidents in the harbor, and during the summer these are not infrequent. As soon as navigation ends the station, is closed, the men laid off, and the captain and his wife have the place to themselves during the long and dreary winter.
New U. S. Life Savings Station, Government Pier
Inter Ocean, November 10, 1904
NEWS OF THE GREAT LAKES.
Captain Carland’s Men Move Into New Life Saving Station.
After a delay of more than a year in finishing what is now the most completely equipped life saving station on the chain of lakes, Captain Charles Carland and his crew of life savers have moved into their new quarters on the south breakwater at the mouth of the harbor.
The entire outfit from the old station was ferried out to the new one yesterday afternoon, and from now forward watchers from the lofty tower of the new structure will have an entire sweep of the inner harbor, as well as up and down the lake between stations north and south of that point.
Cost Government $30,000.
The new station cost the government $30, 000, and nothing appears lacking in the apparatus used in effecting rescues and giving aid to distressed vessels. Two new boats have been added to the equipment, and many modern conveniences for the comfort of the erew have been Installed. The launching skids, down which the lifeboats are sent, open on the basin side of the structure, and will permit of quick. work in getting the boats Into the water when a heavy sea Is running.
The importance of the Chicago life saving station is shown by its record of the past season, when seventy trips were made out into the lake to relief of boats in distress, resulting in the saving of fifty-eight lives. Eighteen of the persons rescued were taken from the water.
One boat and the line firing apparatus will be left in the old building on shore in case it should be needed some distance from the main harbor.
Chicago Life Saving Station
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
Chicago Tribune, August 29, 1933
The main structure of the old coast guard station at the mouth of the Chicago river as it appeared yesterday after fire on Sunday which caused damage in excess of $75,000. Various officials of the service were here yesterday conducting an investigation.
Coast guard officials started an investigation yesterday of the fire Sunday evening which destroyed the central coast guard station at the mouth of the Chicago river.
Capt. Hiram R. Searles, head of the Chicago division of the coast guard, inspected the scene and said temporary quarters will be constructed on the breakwater where the old station was located pending an appropriation for a permanent station. He praised Capt. John O. Anderson and his crew for saving theie boats, permitting them to carry on their work without interruption.
Commander Thomas Klinger, chief of staff of the Chicago division, and Capt. S. B. Johnson, district commander at Green Bay, Wis., are assisting Capt. Searles in the investigation.
Insufficient steam pressure was assigned by Acting Fire Commissioner Daniel Carmody yesterday as the reason why the fire tug Graeme Stewart was late in reaching the fire. The boat is more than 25 years old and because of its age the government inspectors refuse to allow the fire department to carry more than 116 pounds of steam when the boat is not in actual operation, he said.
Chicago Tribune, February 8, 1936
COAST GUARD STATION WITHOUT WATER AS PUMP BALKS
L. A. Anderson (left) and Earl G.. Shelson of the Old Chicago station at the mouth of the river chopping through 18 inches of ice yesterday to obtain water after the station’s pump broke. A new pump, not officially accepted by government, was finally pressed into service.
Chicago Tribune, April 21, 1936
New Quarters Of Coast Guard To Be Dedicated
Dedicatory services will be held next Thursday for the new building which will house the United States Coast guard officials from Washington, D.C., besides state and city officials, will take part in the ceremonies which will be in charge of Capt. LeRoy Reinburg, division commander. Open house will be held for the public on June 7.
The new building which was erected at an approximate cost of $100,000 from Federal Public Works administration funds is complete except for tyhe furnishings for the crew’s living quarters. The old building was burned in the summer of 1933 and the crew has been quartered in temporary buildings near by.
The station was first opened in 1878 at the foot of South Water street.