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Lodner D. Phillips’ Submarines
Lodner Darvontis Phillips was born in 1825 in Perington, New York, the son of Cyril and Virena Phillips. The family moved to Michigan City, Indiana in 1842 where his father started a shoe factory. In 1845 Lodner constructed his first submarine, ‘Whitefish.” The boat sank in Trail Creek near the Michigan City Lighthouse in about 12 feet of water. His family moved to Chicago between 1853 and 1856 when Lodner’s second submarine sank during a trial in the Chicago River.
In November, 1915, Eastland diver William M. Deneau discovered the vessel inn the Chicago River and it was erroneously associated with Peter Nissen’s “Foolkiller.”
PLATE VII: Phillip’s Submarine Boat for Ordinary Purposes (1851).
PLATE VIII: Phillip’s Submarine Boat for War Purposes (1851).
U.S. Patent 8,389
L. D. Phillips, November 9, 1852
Illustrated London News, March 12, 1859
In the Number of this Journal for January 15 we briefly noticed this American invention, brought to this country by Mr. William Delany, of Chicago, with a view to its being disposed of to the British or to any other European Government. The boat is built, as will be seen by our Engraving, in the shape of a fish. It is the invention, we understand, of Mr. Lodner D. Phillips, of Chicago, formerly of Michigan city, in the United States, and was patented there on the 9th of November, 1852.
The following description of the vessel is by Mr. Delany, part proprietor of the invention:—It has two double hatches, one on the top and one at the bottom, and may have side hatches. The upper hatch is sealed when the vessel is submerged; when the upper hatch is open the bottom one is shut, and vice versa. It has two sight-domes, which are used when the vessel is on the surface of the water; and has four interrupted keels to prevent it from turning over when submerged. When in deep water, lights with reflectors are placed opposite some of the bull’s-eyes seen on the side; and, owing to the shape of the vessel, the bull’s eyes nearest the fore-part of the boat enable those within to see where they are going. Should the vessel run into anything it can be extricated without injury, having on its point or bow a thimble, or outer case, which is so constructed that by reversing the screw of the boat would be backed, leaving the thimble. Having a glass tube properly marked, the exact depth from the surface is always shown. Fresh air is supplied as necessary from tanks containing many atmospheres compressed. The boat is sunk by admitting water into tanks or pipes, and raised by expelling the same. It can be kept stationary at any required depth of water, from an inch to two hundred feet. In this lies the secret which makes the boat effective. It has, likewise, a secret mode of loading guns under water; but no doubt its greatest value will be in examining ships’ bottoms, repairing and building docks, wharfs, &c., having patent tools for working through its side, likewise for pearl fisheries. Being able to go out to sea in any weather, there will be no difficulty in commencing diving operations immediately one is built, as a number of men with proper apparatus could descend in it, examine and work on a wreck, and if necessary rise to where the pressure would not be inconvenient (say sixty feet from the surface), open the bottom hatch, cast anchor, and send down divers, supplying them with air from the boat as as though it were in the surface of the water. It may be propelled by hand-power or electro-magnetism, with a screw of Mr. Phillip’s invention, fitted on a universal joint, by which a rudder is dispensed with. It is to carry twenty or thirty men. It is sixty feet long, by seven feet six inches in diameter. The first boat constructed on this novel principle was built at Michigan city, and publicly tried there with complete success. On both sides of the Atlantic the invention has attracted much attention, and been favorably mentioned by the press. A full description of it as appeared in the eighth volume of “The Scientific American for 1853.” mentioning that many successful trials had been made with it. It has been submitted to her Majesty’s Government by William Delany, of Chicago, who intends to build a boat to prove it to be what the inventor represents. Mr. Delany is now negotiating with several gentlemen on the subject.
The description of the powers of this submarine boat given by the patentee borders on the marvellous. In a kind of specification the patentee says:—
He has invented and constructed a submarine boat weigh at about 8 tons…. He has, while in his boat and underwater by machinery working through its side, sawed timber fourteen inches square…He can attach powder torpedoes to the outside of his boat on its deck or sides and proceed underwater out to see in any weather to an enemy ship in sight fix or anchor to the ship’s bottom, set in motion clockwork to fire the torpedoes simultaneously or at intervals and retire. Still underwater out of danger from the explosion and out of reach of an enemy’s guns. He can also convey powder torpedoes inside his boat of 100lb weight and when under an enemies ship pass them out the side of his boat through his patent hatch. He can enter an enemies harbor and underwater make surveys only showing above the surface a sight tube no more than a half-inch in diameter and retire still underwater and proceed outside to sea and make his report to the command of the fleet or ship. He can go out to sea meet a hostile fleet, go under their bottoms fix torpedoes to go off by clockwork or bore holes in their bottoms and come away unseen. With a large boat he can carry a 12 or 24 pound gun (or even larger) in the forward end of his boat near the to so rigged that he can load in 100 feet of water rise near to the surface, sight on the horizon an enemies ship and if one is in sight, take the course for her and process towards her enemy and within a stones throw rise wickedly near the surface as to only show the muzzle of the fun through the outside porthole valve aim at the ships near her water line and then sink to reload and rise at another point to fire again and repeat. If required, with a large boat he can remain underwater with several men with him do service at sea off or in harbors for several days without landing or showing one inch of his boat above water. If the boat is required for pearl-fishing he can work all day in a pearl-bed, raking up and taking in pearls, and suffering no inconvenience from impure air; and, as the boat is provided with a light for deep-water work, he can move about on the bottom like a fish, and see pearls where a diver would not.
If the boat is required to visit wrecks and remove treasure or goods, it is so constructed that he he can saw, bore, or make fast chains or ropes to any part of a wreck; and, if required, one or more persons can, whiule under water, go out of the boat through the side hatches, enter a wreck, or do other service, and return inside of the boat again without inconvenience.
Phillip’s Attack Submarine
Chicago Tribune, August 20, 1859
New York, Aug. 13, 1859.—To the Editors of the N.Y. Evening Post:
Lodner D. Phillips, now of Chicago, Illinois, has been for a number of years experimenting on a submarine boat, and five or six years years since made a trip of five or six hours’ duration under water from Michigan City, Indiana. He has also a submarine armor which he can put on in his boat, and get out and walk about the bottom of the sea or lake, with a pressure of five hundred feet of water over him; can manage a saw, auger, lantern, hook and fasten chains, and return into his boat after being entirely detached from it; and he can supply ten men with air in his boat five hundred feet under water four hours without connection with the surface. Mr. Phillips I know to be a most extraordinary inventor, although quite a young man, and the steady determination with which he has continued to perfect his inventions with but small means, is worthy of commendation and encouragement. Three or four years since I made a suit of armor for Mr. Phillips, since which I have not been in communication with him, but have seen notice in the papers that he was still engaged upon the scheme, and am led to these remarks from seeing an article in the Evening Post of this evening, on “Submarine Navigation.”
Yours truly, N.W.
U.S. Patent 15,898
L. D. Phillips, October 15, 1856
Chicago Tribune, November 24, 1915
The lost Chicago submarine “Foolkiller” was found yesterday. William M. Deneau, known as “Frenchy,” a diver, found the subsea boat near the Rush street bridge. It was buried under three feet of river bottom muck. The boat is said to have belonged to Peter Nissen, spectacular mariner, who was lost in his revolving vessel while attempting to drift across Lake Michigan.
Deneau was laying cable on the river bottom. A chance sweep of a shovel from the dredge above exposed the side of the submarine.
The “Foolkiller” was a so called because it first made its appearance shortly after the Chicago fire in the days when submarines were unheard of, and drowned its original owner, a New York man, when it made a trial trip. Nissen then bought it.1
The raising of the Submarine in 1915.
Chicago Tribune, January 16, 1916
An unwritten tragedy of the Chicago river was brought to light after twenty-five years yesterday when the bones of a man and the skull of a dog were taken from the mud-coated “Foolkiller,” the ancient submarine that occupied a berth in the river bed since 1870.
“The Foolkiller” was taken from the bottom of the river a few weeks ago by William Deneau, a diver for the Great Lakes Dredge and Dock company. He obtained permission of the federal government to remove the old hulk for exhibition purposes.
Relic of Early ’70s.
The craft was built in the early ’70s by an eastern man and floated. Its first submersion was its last but one. It remained down for twenty years and then was purchased and raised by William Nissen. He made some experiments with it, but one day about twenty-five years ago it disappeared and was not seen again.
Deneau, while making some investigations in the muddy bed of the river at Wells street, came upon the steel vessel deep in the mud. It was brought to the surface by chains, but no sooner had its pointed nose poked into the air than it sank again. More subsea maneuvering was necessary before it was finally brought up and towed to the Fullerton avenue bridge, where Deneau and his helpers set about cleaning it.
Yesterday in the mud that crusted the inside of the queer craft were found the skull of a dog and some human bones. The matter was reported to Capt. Thomas F. Meagher of the Shakespeare avenue police station, and he suggested the bones be sent to the county morgue, where Coroner Hoffman will order an examination.
The police have begun a search of records of the missing about the time of the disappearance of the “Foolkiller,” and hope to connect such an affair with the discovery of the bones.
Chicago Tribune, February 23, 1916
FOOLKILLER NO. 1
Chicago Tribune, July 4, 1900
Peter Nissen, 578 Francisco street, Chicago, is the “F.M. Bowser” who will try to shoot the Whirlpool Rapids at Niagara Falls today in a boat of his own invention and construction. The police on the American side and the constables on the Canadian side may prevent him, for all except three attempts to shoot the rapids have resulted in additions to the public expense through the failure of the fame-seekers to deposit a burial fund with the municipal authorities, and in recent years the local governments have been working for low obituary lists on the theory that “necessity is the mother of prevention.”
Nissen is the bookkeeper for Jessen & Rosberg, 126 North Union street. He is a Dane, 37 years old, and has lived in Chicago for seventeen years. Fifteen months ago he began work on his boat, finishing it two months ago. He made a trial trip recently in Lake Michigan and was satisfied with his work. Last Friday he shipped the boat to Niagara Falls and went there himself on Saturday. The craft is twenty feet in length, four feet in beam, and four feet in depth. It is constructed of pine, with ribs and framework of elm. It has a keel weighing 1,250 pounds, the boat’s total weight being more than two tons. The boat has a propelling wheel, which is operated by means of pedals. There are six airtight compartments in the boat, two in the bow, two in the stern, and one on each side of the cockpit.
Nissen believes that if he lives after shooting the rapids his future as a dime museum attraction will be assured. He has endeavored to interest the railroads running to Niagara Falls in his project. He paid his fare there.
He has a brother, Andrew Nissen, who is a clerk for Pullman’s Palace Car company, and a sister, Mrs. Peter H. Gantzel, at 1344 North Artesian avenue. He is not married.
The Fourth of July is the anniversary of the death of William Flack of Syracuse, N.Y., who tried to shoot the rapids in a boat. Almost every other day in the year is the anniversary of somebody else’s death in attempting to shoot them without boats. Three men and a woman have gone through safely in barrels.
Inter Ocean, July 15, 1900
Special Correspondence of The Inter Ocean.
BUFFALO, N.Y., July 13.—”I just went into the rapids, and the rapids did the rest,” says Peter Nissen of No. 578 Francisco street, Chicago, who went through Niagara’s whirlpool on Monday last.
“I’m tickled to death to think that I came out of this deal alive,” continued Nissen, alias Bowser. “I wouldn’t make another trip like that for any amount of money. I got through by rare good luck, and if I could forget the whole terrible experience I would. During the brief time that I was going through the rapids it seemed as if a hundred men were pounding my head and the boat with great hammers. The boat never turned over, but it was on its sides and ends several times. Each time I thought I was a goner, sure. Only the straps, which at the last minute I decided to fasten to the boat and over my shoulder, saved me from death. I did say any prayer; I did not have time to think of one.
“I didn’t do this to get dime-museum fame. I honestly believed that a boat line through the rapids would be practicable, and that it might net me a lot of money during the Pan-American exposition here. But now I say nit—not for me.”
“And now what are you going to do, Mr. Nissen?” asked The Sunday Inter Ocean reporter.
“Do” chuckled Nissen, alias Bowser. “I’m going back to Chicago Saturday, and go to work bookkeeping—just as I did before all this fame burst upon me. Bowser is a has-been. He went down in the rapids and never came up. I’m just Peter Nissen of Chicago, bookkeeper, spending two weeks’ vacation at Niagara Falls.
Niagara Hateful to Him Now.
Nissen is very much in earnest about the hardships of his terrible voyage. As he talks his face is set, his hands clenched. The falls are hateful to him now, and he turns away from them with the horror that a man might feel toward a plague ship, in which he had been shut up on a trip across the seas. Hurtling through the most dangerous rapids on the globe, beaten about for fifty-five minutes in a whirlpool that not one man in a million could enter and live, Nissen carries the memory of an experience for which few would pay the price.
The record of the dealings of Niagara rapids with the human family, so far as known, is this:
It is a short record and reasonably to the point. Journeys in barrels have all been successful, but a barrel line could never be become as a scenic route. And it was a scenic route through the rapids on which Nissen had set his heart. Nissen made the trip in a rowboat, the Foolkiller, constructed by himself, especially for the trip, It was 20 feet long, 4 feet width of beam, and 4 feet deep. The material used in its body was pine, with ribs and framework of elm. There was a propelling wheel worked by pedals in the bottom of the boat. In several attempts to get the Foolkiller into the water the propeller and rudder were broken, so that when Nissen finally shot into the rapids neither part of the steering apparatus was in working order, and the little boat was wholly unmanageable, supposing that guidance in the seething mass of water had been possible. The peculiar feature of the boat was its heavy iron keel, weighing 1,250 pounds, out of the 4,500 pounds, total weight. of the skiff.
Start of the Foolkiller.
It was just 3:57 o’clock in the afternoon when the American consul on the Canadian side announced the start of the Foolkiller. Thousands of people were lined up on the sides of the river, and on the bridges commanding a view of the rapids. The Maid of the Mist puffed slowly out in midstream, and hundreds of glasses were trained on the big blonde Swede who was going down to his death, as everybody believed. Still, the crowd laughed and joked, and in all the throng there was not a man, woman, or child who claimed kin with the man in the boat, or who would feel anything but horror as he went to his fate.
“What’s this?” bristled a spectator. “I thought that he was goinf over the falls?”
This was the impression among scores of people looking on. What Nissen did, of course, and what every navigator of “the falls” has done, was to get through the rapids below the great horseshoe cataract.
“Going over the cataract in a boat, well, that means you came out to see a man churned into powder,” commented a second onlooker.
Then everybody turned their attention to the boat again. Nissen was smiling paddling his skiff toward the roaring whirl ahead of him. He wore a white cork jacket, a cap pulled down over his ears, and trousers rolled above his knees. He was not nervous.
The Foolkiller moved with exasperating slowness. It turned round and round in the eddies, moving over toward the Canadian side of the river. It was a good mile from the rapids, and didn’t seem to be in any hurry to get there. Mr. Nissen, with a long paddle in his hands, walked up and down from bow to stern, thrashing vigorously in the water in vain attempts to keep the Foolkiller bow on and prevent the varying, fickle eddies from carrying him ashore. It was apparent from the beginning that he had absolutely no control over his craft, and the crowds, discovering it, felt sorry for him.
Every now and then Mr. Nissen ceased his work to wave at the people far below as if to assure them of his good intentions. Three times the little craft drifted to the shore.
Thought His Nerve Failed.
“His nerve has failed him,” commented the crowd, who were divided between disappointment and a certain squeamishness about seeing Nissen hurried to his death.
“Now he’s bragged, it’s up to him to make good,” growled a fat man.
Then somebody rowed out in a boat, handed a rope to Nissen, and towed him into mid-stream again.
The Foolkiller came down with a rush after that, swinging round and round in the current. In a few minutes, had reached the cantilever bidge. Everyone was waving hats and handkerchiefs then. Nissen dropped his paddle long enough to wave back. The current swept him on toward the lower bridge with the speed of an express train. He looked up at the throng of people hovering over the rail and smiled.
“Good-by, Bowser!” someone shouted. The crowd took up the cry.
The next instant and Nissen passed under the bridge. He looked back, and, throwing his oar far from him, waved his cap. The crowd saw his frail craft rise like a rocket on the crest of a long, smooth wave and then dive like a fishhawk straight at a bursting mass of water out of which the spray was leaping many feet. Then the bow of the Foolkiller shot straight up in the air, remained poised a second, turned a complete somersault, and disappeared.
Men shouted and women screamed. The torrent went leaping on down the gorge. Two great foamy waves parted and there were Nissen and his boat, right side up. Nissen waved his cap, and the people cheered. Another great wave burst under him and he went out of sight again. The Foolkiller bobbed up like a cork. It turned over on its side and spun around like a top. It seemed to roll over and then stand on its stern. It mounted to the crest of a ridge of foam and dived clear through the next wave.
Mad Race Through Rapids.
On and on went the Foolkiller, sometimes on her stern, sometimes on her bow, but always holding together, and Nissen safe in the cockpit. For ten seconds at a time the crowd would lose sight of the navigator. Then up again he bobbed, clinging madly to the boat.
Altogether the trip lasted fifty-five minutes, forty minutes of the time being spent in circling around among a lot of timbers in the stream beyond the worst part of the rapids. Shortly before 6 o’clock the Foolkiller was carried out to the edge of the Whirlpool and three men swam out far enough to get a line which Nissen threw to them. In less than five minutes Nissen was standing on the shore surrounded by an admiring and congratulating crowd.
“How is that for Bowser?” said the hero, as he stepped ashore?
FOOLKILLER NO. 2
Chicago Tribune, August 29, 1901
A second trip through the Niagara Falls rapids on the Foolkiller will be made by Peter Nissen of Chicago within a few days. A year ago, under the name of Captain Bowser, he attempted the rapids in an open boat, and was finally dragged, half strangled, from the wreck of his craft. Nissen says his new boat, which has cost him more than $1,000, is “rapids worthy,” and that he not only will make the trip unharmed but will take soundings in the whirlpool.
Crowded against his little engine, in a space of three feet, Nissen will work his plumb bobs through the bottom of his boat. He says the hatches and smokestacks are so constructed that no water can enter, and feels certain his eight horse-power engine can steam the vessel out of any part of the rapids. In the bulkheads at either end of the boat are air-tight tin cans and cork, to give the craft buoyancy. The Foolkiller has a width of beam of four feet, is twenty-one feet long, and six and one-half feet high. Power is conveyed by a single screw.
“The trip likely will be taken on Sept. 7,” said Nissen. “I shall enter close to the falls and expect to be where my hatch overhead will be closed but five minutes. I shall not need a change of air in that time. My boat cannot sink and I do not thing the whirlpool can break it.”
Chicago Tribune, August 31, 1901
Test of “Foolkiller” This Afternoon.
Peter Nissen announced yesterday that because of the interference of marine inspectors he will be unable to leave Chicago today. He will give his boat, the Foolkiller, a trial trip in Slip C. at the foot of the Randolph street viaduct, at 2 p.m. Nissen says he will leave for Niagara Falls next Tuesday.
Buffalo Courier, October 13, 1901
(By Special Wire to The Courier.)
Niagara Falls, Oct. 12.—In the presence of the largest crowd of people that ever gathered to witness a Whirlpool rapids performance, Peter Nissen of Chicago voyaged through the Niagara Gorge this afternoon in his little steamboat, misnamed the Fool Killer.
The event was announced to take place at 2 o’clock, but those who gathered on the banks at that hour, had a wait of nearly two hours. On both sides of of the river the cliffs were black with spectators, while the bridges had a line of humanity from end to end. Down in the gorge at the water’s edge on both sides of the river, more people were gathered and it was clear that much interest was taken in the outcome of the voyage. Perhaps the fate of poor Maud Willard had something to do with the curiosity of the people, but they were there in any event. At the whirlpool were other crowds, and it is safe to say no rapids navigator had a larger gathering of spectators.
Nissen’s boat was seen to shoot out on the river from the Maid of the Mist landing in the Canadian side, close to the Falls, under its own steam, at 2:15 o’clock. A run was made across the river to the American side, where the boat laid until 3:30 o’clock, when it again appeared on the river in tow of a small row boat. The fact that Nissan was being towed, told that he had drawn his fire, and, in this respect, the trip of today differed from the memorable trip of the little steamboat on June 6, 1861.
MADE GOOD START.
The start was a good one and none of the eddies interfered with the progress of the two boats. Straight down the river they came until opposite of the old Maid of the Mist landing and there Nissen set adrift. He was in full view of the excited crowds at this time, sitting on the open hatchway, but at 3:40 o’clock, as he waved his hat in farewell and disappeared inside the strange craft.
The crowds answered his good-bye with cheers and all knew he was in the boat when it made the trip. It headed straight into the rapids, but swung sideways in the huge waves. The bright red bottom was almost continually in sight, and some claim that it once turned over, but it is believed they wee deceived by a frightful plunge.
The passage through the rapids was very tumultuous, and the boat had not gone far in the waves before the bright red smokestack was licked off by huge breaker that swept the deck. This correspond to the treatment the Maid of the Mist received in 1861. Nissen had prepared for this loos by boarding up the stack opening. Owing to the lack of buoyancy of the air charged waters of the rapids the boat lay low in the water, but tossed up as each wave struck it.
The Exploits of Peter Nissen, The Foolkiller in the Whirlpool—L.A. Robinson, Photo.
SHOT INTO WHIRLPOOL.
It was 3:44 o’clock when the boat shot into the Whirlpool and it plunged straight across toward the Canadian shore. When it reached comparatively quiet water bthe hatch raised, and Nissen put his head out and then waved his hat. This showed the spectators that he was all right.
More interest was taken in the trip then, the crowd knowing they were not looking at a floating coffin. Nissen dodged back under cover, only to reappear a moment later. Once more he shut the hatch, but two minutes later he opened it and climbed out on the boat. In this way he circled around the pool close to the Canadian shore, and as his boat approached the entrance, and the dashing waters there, he shut down the hatch slowly.
Nissen stood the voyage well. In an interview as he reached ashore, he said:
I am all right. I attempted several soundings but obtained only one. What depth that shows I do not know yet, but I have it marked on the line. Once I fell ight over, and my feet went up in the air.
During the trip the water came through the hatch, and I shipped quite a little, but it did no harm. I shall not attempt to sound the whirlpool today nor on Sunday, I will leave that for next week. Tell my friends that I will have steam up tomorrow and if they want to wide around the whirlpool to come down.
Nissen’s boat is 21 feet long, 4½ feet beam and 6½ feet high front keel to top of deck. It was weighted with about 2,500 pounds of iron in addition to the boiler and engine. The boat is a whaleback pattern and has been at the Falls since September 16th. Nissen will keep it in the pool a few days and will then send it to Lewiston.
The delay in starting today was occasioned by waiting for a moving picture.
Captain Nissen Going through Whirlpool Rapids
“Here we show Captain P.N. Nissen, formerly known as Captain Bowser, making a trip through the Whirlpool Rapids in his famous twenty-four foot craft known as the “Fool Killer.” Captain Bowser is shown embarking in his boat at Niagara Falls, Ontario. After he carefully embarks, the “Fool Killer” is taken in tow by a rowboat and towed out into the stream. Here the captain is seen to go below the whaleback deck and close the hatch. Then the trip through the Rapids begins. One of our cameras, which was operated by a second photographer, was in waiting on a trolley car, and the progress of the “Fool Killer” is followed on its entire trip through the mad waters, and a most realistic picture was secured which absolutely defies description. The boat is seen to pitch, rock and plunge as it is carried at the will of the current in this most erratic of streams, and we secured an absolute picture of a feat that has been heretofore declared impossible to accomplish.”
Distributed by Edison Manufacturing Company.
October 12, 1901
FOOLKILLER NO. 3
April 12, 1904
Peder Nissen’s pneumatic ball, “foolkiller No. 3,” is a canvas bag, thirty feet long and twenty-two feet in diameter, tapering to a blunt point at the ends, where there are glass portholes. The exterior of the contrivance is covered with several cots of oil and varnish to render it waterproof.
Inside the whole length of the bag extends a center shaft, around which revolves a hub at each end and from each hub radiates 120 cotton cord spokes fixed in the canvas which serve to hold the bag in shape and carry it around the center shaft. Between the spokes, suspended from the shaft, is a basket or seat in which the “rolling traveler” sits, steering by sliding the basket from one end of the shaft to the other. His only view of the exterior is through the small portholes at each end.
After another trial at Elston and Kedzie avenues Nisson expects to “roll” across the lake in the ball, and if this proves successful he will prepare to start for the north pole. He declare the “foolkiller” will roll equally on land, water, or ice.
Chicago Tribune December 2, 1904
Peter Nissen and his “Foolkiller” are no more. The dead body of the eccentric navigator was found yesterday on the lake shore near Stevensville, Mich., seven miles south of St. Joseph. A few rods away was the battered and wrecked “windbag” in which he had attempted to cross Lake Michigan.
From all indications Nissen had remained in his aquatic balloon until the last. Perhaps he perished in a final frantic effort to escape, as his craft was dashed upon the beach by the high surf late Wednesday afternoon. Death, according to physicians, was due to exhaustion and exposure.
A note found in his pocket of his coat threw the only light upon the last moments of the navigator. It indicated that Nissen had experienced difficulties in obtaining an air supply. The note ran:
In the chair. Cannot use hose.
By “hose” Nissen referred to the pipe and valve in the end of the “wind bag” through which he breathed. It was found to be broken useless.
The message which Nissen left behind was signed “N.,” and marked “Note No. 1.” There was no “Note No. 2.”
May Have Perished on Shore.
Those who first examined Nissen’s body and the “Foolkiller” believe the inventor accomplished his prime object—crossing the lake in his device. He died, these persons assert, after touching the Michigan shore. This belief is strengthened by the statement the “Foolkiller” was seen 200 rods from shore off Livingston, Mich., six miles south of Stevensville, at 4 p.m. on Wednesday. A heavy gale was blowing and it is presumed he was unable to to land and was swept northward.
Nissen’s body was found by Mrs. Sophia Kohler, wife of a German farmer living near the lake shore. Looking out of the window at 11 o’clock yesterday forenoon, Mrs. Kohler saw on the beach below the form of a man. Less than 200 feet away was a huge, shapeless object, looking like a giant football.
Neighbors were called, and an investigation begun. It required only a few minutes to identify the body as that of Nissen. Dr. John S. Beers of Stevensville made an examination and declared the man had not been drowned.
Watch Stopped at 6:45.
With the exception of one or two slight bruises on the face no marks of violence were found. The bruises were believed to have been due to the buffeting of the body on the beach after death. On examination of Nissen’s effects it was found that his watch had stopped at 6:45. Besides the farewell note in his pocket the other articles in his clothes consisted of a compass, a bunch of keys, three handkerchiefs, and a bow necktie.
In the bottom of the balloon boat was found a wooden locker, used as provision hamper. It contained a quantity of candied raisins and a package of crackers. His food supply was still dry and in perfect condition.
Further examination of the “windbag” showed the air “hose” had been torn in two about twelve inches from the outer canvas, probably by the constant lurching of the craft. It was this air valve which had given Nissen the greatest concern when he embarked from the foot of Chicago avenue on Tuesday afternoon. Several times before he started Nissen had tested the valve, and had pronounced it in perfect working order.
Condition of the “Foolkiller.”
The steel shaft, three inches in diameter, which extended nearly the length of the bag was intact as were the various ropes buckled to the inner surface of the balloon and fastened to the axle. Nothing but the canvas bag itself was damaged, and it had been badly rent and torn by the waves.
The voyager’s body was removed to the Stevensville city hall, where a coroner’s jury was impaneled and an inquest begun, but continued until 10 o’clock this morning.
The tug Protection (US No. 20471) which carried Mr. Nissen’s nephews to Stevensville.
Six hours after the finding of the body two nephews of Nissen, W. H. and H. M. Gantzel, who, since daybreak had been scanning the lake in the tugboat Protection arrived at Stevensville. The searching party had learned the fate of the navigator earlier in the afternoon at Michigan City, Ind. They immediately took charge of the body and notified the Chicago relatives of the dead inventor. The remains probably will be brought home today.
“I believe Peter accomplished his purpose,” said his brother, Nis Nissen. “From what I learn, he reached the other side of the lake, but was so exhausted he had not the strength enough left to drag himself ashore. I fully believe that he was conscious before he died that he had won out.”
Tells How Plan Originated.
The story of Nissen’s first attempt to introduce his “Foolkiller” to the public was told by and official of the Michigan Central railroad.
Ten years ago I received a letter from Nissen, in which he said he had a scheme whereby my road could make an enormous amount of money. My representatives found Nissen in charge of a little bookkeeping school on the west side, and after some urging he revealed his scheme.
It was to construct a vessel which would carry him in safely over the Niagara Falls. He was asked how the roads could make any money out of it and said he had found a woman who believed him and was willing to make the trip with him. He proposed that they be married just before embarking and that the railroad advertise the event largely and reap a huge profit from excursions. He was to have a percentage. The plan was rejected.
From that idea Nissen started the boat which did carry him through the rapids several years after. He did not realize his ambitions, however, on this trip and ever since has been working on some great scheme which would make him rich.
He talked to me of the balloon, the “Foolkiller,” several times and it was his intention next summer to go across the lake in advance of the excursion boats, on certain well advertised days, thus drawing great crowds to watch him, and reaping a harvest of profits.
Scientific American December 31, 1904
NISSEN AND HIS “FOOL-KILLER NO. 3”
By Orrin E. Dunlap.
It may take time and the efforts of others to demonstrate whether or not Peter Nissen has left anything of scientific value in the ideas he entertained of traveling over land or water in a balloon-shaped apparatus such as that in which he lost his life in an attempt to cross Lake Michigan on Tuesday, November 29 last. Despite his failure to survive the journey, it is evident that an apparatus such as he designed will roll with the wind over land, water, or ice, but it is too early in the history of the device to determine in what field it might prove serviceable or useful. Man has already devised and constructed so many things in which one may travel, that this infant of Nissen’s has not yet found its place.
Rolling the ” Fool-Killer ” Into the Lake,
Considering that this adventure of Nissen’s was the first of the kind man has ventured to make, it is to be regretted that he lost his life in the feat. It is reasonable to believe that he made the trip across Lake Michigan successfully, and that had aid been rendered him promptly on the Michigan shore, he would have lived to relate his experience. Even had the feat been performed at a season of the year when the weather conditions were more favorable for exposure, or more boats traveling up and down the lake, Nissen would in all likelihood be alive to-day. Recalling the stories told of sea serpents, it must be left to the imagination to conceive the story that a lake captain might have told had he been a witness of Nissen’s strange craft rolling across the bow of his boat.
Peter Nissen believed his balloon-like apparatus had a value in connection with North Pole explorations. His first experiment with a rolling balloon pleased him. This first balloon was five feet long and three feet high. It had a shaft through its center, and on this he placed a car spring. He used a car spring because it was handy and convenient, and he felt it would slide from end to end, much the same as a man might move about. His experiments delighted him, and he decided to build the larger balloon, in the operation of which he lost his life.
This balloon was made of heavy canvas, and when inflated was 38 feet long a and 22 feet in diameter. It had a porthole at each end, and through the center was a shaft about 12 feet long and 3 inches in diameter. This shaft was suspended from cords fastened around the inside, on exactly the same principle as the spokes in a wheel. On the shaft he arranged a sliding seat, so that he could move toward the ends, hoping in this way to steer the big ball by throwing one end up in the wind to cause it to swerve as he desired, as the high end would offer more surface to the wind. Suspended from the shaft and below the seat was a cradle or a boat, where he contemplated resting when fatigued from riding on the seat. A two-inch hose was run through one end of the balloon to furni sh an air supply, a pump of his own invention being on the inside. “Fool-Killer No. 3” is the name he selected, he having previously built two boats for navigating the whirlpool rapids of Niagara, the first having been named “Fool-Killer No. 1,” which was rebuilt and renamed “Fool-Killer No. 2.” This latter boat was deserted and lost in the Niagara whirlpool on the evening of Thursday, October 17, 1901, after Nissen and a companion had floated helplessly about those rough waters for seven hours.
The “Fool-Killer” Starting on Its Fateful Journey Across Lake Michigan.
It was 3:10 P. M. November 29 when Nissen called from the inside of his balloon to set her free. Thirty-five minutes later the balloon had passed from sight of those at the foot of Ohio Street, Chicago, from which point the start was made. Late in the morning of the Thursday following Mrs. Sophie Koehler, the wife of a farmer living near Stevensville, Mich., found Nissen’s body on the lake shore, and 200 feet away was “Fool-Killer No. 3,” torn and wrecked. The coroner’s jury decided that Nissen died from exposure, the supposition being that he had made an effort to reach shore, but was too much exhausted. He left no message, all reports to the contrary notwithstanding. As to his experience on the trip and when he died, there is nothing certain; but as the air hose was broken, it aroused suspicion that his supply of fresh air was cut off at some point on the journey across Lake Michigan to eternity.
1Totally fabricated history. Nissen was 37 years old in 1900, which meant he was born in 1863. Lodner D. Phillips was not heard from after 1859, and it is suggested he may have died in one of the four test runs of his submarine. The boat found in the Chicago River was his second submarine.