Chicago Tribune, August 30, 1898
What becomes of the old wooden sailing-vessels—the white-winged fleet of barks, brigs, and schooners—when they have grown old?
The day is near at hand when any one who wishes can see the question answered, for the Chicago River is soon to receive its infrequent “house cleaning.” Last week Captain John Roberts, harbormaster, made a trip up the river to see for himself the craft which have no more a part in the busy life of the lakes and to select those fit to be taken out into deep water and sunk.
The brave little boats which thirty years ago breasted the waves of the lakes are now in the sear of their life, Leaky holds, sprung masts, aging shrouds, and the weather-beaten, bedraggled look which comes to the stoutest sailors that wage strife with old Father Michigan are not conducive to confidence in the owner who has a rich cargo to transport. Even the sailors eye askance the boat rendered unprepossessing by years. They have come to their end; no longer fit for use, abandoned by owner, Captain, and crew, they are relegated to the ranks of the forsaken.
Deserves an Honorable End.
The questions now agitated by Harbormaster Captain John Roberts in connection with a number of deserted, wormeaten, and waterlogged hulks obstructing navigation in the Chicago River were propounded at a gathering of a big schooner tied up near Thirty-fifth street. Only the queries took more nearly this shape: “What shall we do with the old boats, no longer seaworthy or useful?” And the question was answered in this wide by a fair haired maid who was the darling of a first mate’s home port?
“A brave and honorable end,” said the maid. “Let them go down to their fate with sails set, pennants flying, masts straining, with tiller set.”
Which description portrayed the fate of a miniature black-hulled full rigged brig of about seventeen inches in length which took place on the Fourth of July because the owner, brother to the eloquent pleader, was merging into manhood and shared in his sister’s views. A giant dynamite cracker with a fuse lengthened by a slow-burning one begged from the mate was placed in the hold of the tiny vessel, which with sails set was set free upon the water lapping the shores of Jackson Park. The little boat held bravely on its way as though it were bearing the most precious of cargoes to a safe haven until it became a mere speck, when with a flash, a tiny cloud of smoke, and the faintest of “cracks” the end came,. and the tiny boat was only a memory.
Follow a Similar Idea.
The main features of this sentimental idea are followed out i ridding the Chicago River of its useless hulks, for the easiest way, says Harbormaster Roberts, is to tow them fa out into the lake, scuttle them, and let them sink. The masts on the old hulks are generally sold long before they reach this stage in their career, and as the depths of the lake are never stirred by the storms that rage above, the dismantled vessels are without danger to navigation. A tiny flag nailed to a mast stump by a reverent deckhand and a hearty cheer as the last ripple of water rushes over the disappearing deck constitute the last ceremonies at at this truly marine burial, and as the dark outlines of the slowly sinking boat become merged in the deep blue of the great depths in the hooting pugnacious tug, with a last shrieking requiem on its whistle, puts about and heads for the distant shores.
The Annie Thorine (US No. 569), one of those which Captain Roberts selected on his trip up the river, came to an untimely and inglorious end at the Halsted street bridge during a heavy snow-storm of last winter. Its last trip in with a load of lumber had strained it slightly and it was tied up up to await the summer’s return for repairs. But a passing propellor swung into it one day and stole a hole in its sides just above the water line. A heavy drift of snow collected upon its deck over the yawning hole and the Annie Thorine careened over. As they were and obstruction to navigation Captain Roberts ordered them cut away, which was done, leaving the old boat a dismantled, abandoned wreck lyin in the mud of the river. A month ago it was brought to its present moorings at the Indiana street bridge, which it will not leave again until it takes its last trip out into the lake to find a burial place.
A. J. Mowry a Veteran.
A block north of the Annie Thorine lies the old A. J. Mowry (US No. 1028), known to all the veteran sailors and masters of the lakes. The Mowry was built in 1863 at Milan, O., and at one time was fitted out as a steam barge. Its bottom at the present time, however, would not stand the weight of a steam engine, as its posts and ribs are so soft with rot that the fingers can dig holes clear through the biggest of them. A moderate sized sea on the lake would shake it up so, says an old friend of the boat, that it would begin to disintegrate, and would go to pieces much as did the deacon’s one hoss shay. Even lying quietly at the dock, with the hawser running across the deck and around the mast stump, for a plank cannot be found in the old Mowry which would hold a staple tightly, it find it difficult to keep afloat. It was used last winter to store Christmas trees in, and its hold at the present time contains many of the trees and bales of green wreaths that were not sold. It is probable that the old Mowry will suffer the fate in store for all old-timers, and that it will be towed out into the lake to be sunk, although it is being used to experiment upon a man with a newly patented leak stopping device.
Children living in the vicinity of Diversey boulevard and the river imagine a halo of romance to hang over the wreck of the Charlotte Raab (US No. 5988). It is mastless—its two spars can be found in the thick grass of the river bank grown over two inches deep with moss. Its bulwarks have rotted away, its bowsprit has long since fallen into the river, and its iron chains are flaky with rust. Its decks are worm-eaten, and crumble to splinters beneath the foot. Upon its sides are white scars left by the chafing of the ratlines, which have long since disappeared, and ity is altogether as satisfactorily ruined a bulk as could be found. It thus becomes an object of great interest to the children of the neighborhood, and often a crowd of them can be found roaming over its decks, weaving fantastic stories of its career, and peering into its darksome, water-filled hold—where countless numbers of awesome ghosts and spooks reside. The Charlotte Raab sailed many a voyage and weathered many storms without coming to any mishap or encountering any exciting or disastrous experiences; and it came to its end in a natural and most proper manner, from old age.
“It will probably be taken out to find its end like the rest,” says Harbormaster Roberts.
At Belmont avenue Harbormaster Roberts at his recent trip came upon another fit candidate for the lake. Here, where the grass grows greener, and the trees even freer and closer together, where the surroundings are more countrylike, and where navigation almost ceases, the little tug came upon the John Raber.
John Raber and His Boat.
Mastless, and disreputable, after thirty years’ service for the man whose name it bears, and whose fortune it made, the John Raber lies water logged and rotting, its keel resting upon the slit of the river bottom. Many, many years John Raber sailed his little schooner, and doubtless he did not believe in its end, and his, even though he may have dreamed of both. The old boat survived its master, for old John Raber went down two years ago when not far from port, the sturdy little craft whose decks he had trod so many years having last succumbed to the elements and betrayed a disposition to capsize, turn turtle, or go down nose foremost. It was during a heavy storm in the fall of 1896, the John Raber, laden with lumber, was off shore near South Chicago, when it sprung a leak, and the crew took to the boats. Captain Raber attempted to swim ashore and was drowned. The old boat, as if hurt at this failure of confidence, strove manfully with the waves and the wind, and finally rode the storm out in safety. But it was sadly disfigured, and floated water logged and weather driven until Captain Hogoboum, a friend of the boat’s lost master, went out and brought it in. The lumber was sold, the surviving members of the crew paid off, and the old boat tied up at a tree at Belmont avenue, from which pastoral moorings it never strayed. Upon the register in the Custom-House the John Raber stands condemned, and the date opposite the verdict is 1896. It was the last voyage permitted the old schooner.Until now, for it will make one more, and this will be its last.
Will Be Sunk in the Lake.
Some day Harbormaster Roberts, aboard a maliciously gloating little tug, will come alongside the old boat, a half dozen strong-armed river men will clamber aboard it and pump it out, a few leaks and holes will be temporarily repaired, and with a strong line at its nose the old boat will be towed down river to the lake. Proud and triumphant, and ignorant of the fate awaiting it, the old schooner will sail past the gayly puffing and brightly painted vessels now in the heydey of their life, and when far out in the lake, where there is no more and more than enough water to shroud it, the line will be cast loose, holes will be opened in the old hulk, and it will sink slowly into the depth of the lake.
And such, too will be the fate of the Charlotte Raab, and it may be that of the Mowry, and all others the vigilant eye of the harbormaster may detect surreptitiously stealing the last few winks of a waning life at some hidden, quiet anchorage, for the river must be cleared.
Two years ago the Clipper City (US No. 4347) went down to the most gallant death of them all. Captain John Pederson of the Sentinel, who was twelve years ago first mate aboard the Clipper City said:
- A brave death in the lake was its fate, and it was one, I am sure, it would have craved, had one been able to know that. It was a flash little vessel, not longer than 115 feet, and it was as famous as the best of them. It was in the early winter of 1886 I shipped aboard it, one fine day, and to my later dismay, for soon after clearing port we encountered a storm of such violence that when Grand Haven was reached we couldn’t make port and had to about ship and return to Chicago. The storm was something fierce and awful, and we were thankful when the basin was safely gained again, and when I looked over its sides after we’d come to rest at safe anchorage I was not pleasantly astounded to find its side all bulging out and the oakum falling out iys widening seams. I sailed no more in the Clipper City.
Story of the Clipper City.
For a couple of years the Clipper City lay in the river near Division street, but on a summer day in 1896 a little tug puffed up, and threw a line about it, and towed it two miles out in the lake, where with a flag flying at its mast stump, and the plugs of two large holes in its bottom pulled out, it filled, tottered i the sea like a drunken boat, swayed forward and sternward, rolled, lurched, and finally—down to its gunwales in water—careened and sank; and the released air from its tight little deck rose from it like a long-drawn sigh.
The Clipper City is said to have been the ship which jumped over the breakwater along in 1882, a feat which has been the inspiration and burden of many an old seaman’s tale of his own heroics, ending up with
- And by old Uncle Neppy, sir, as I stood on the bow of that boat when it took that dive up and over those jagged piles and dropped in smooth water on the other side, it seemed like I could almost touch the water with my hand.
This story of the Clipper City, however, is disputed by many who claim the honor for the Mary E. Cook (US No. . And among the latter boat’s champions is one no less doughty than ex-Harbor Master McCarthy, who is now assistant harbor master. McCarthy said:
- It was the Mary E. Cook that did that, and it was nothing more than could have been expected of it at that, for it was one of the neatest, stanchest, little wave-riders ever put together—and it is as good today as it ever was.
One of the most curious incidents was the sinking of the Live Oak, a schooner, twelve years ago in the State street draw. It had been water-logged and abandoned, lying up the river, and the city engaged a tug to drag it out in the lake and find it a fitting place to rest its ribs. The old boat was perverse, however, for when it reached State street bridge it balked, commenced to sink, and before the astonished tug [eople could do anything had settled down as nice as you please right into the mud of the river bottom, and it took lots of time and lots of men to get it up and persuade it to go ahead with the prearranged program as a well behaved, staid, and law-abiding boat should do.
Mary Ellen Cook
Built at Grand Haven, Michigan