Return to Ships of John Gregory
Chicago Tribune, June 30, 1873
The new tug, Charles L. Parker, was launched on Saturday evening. This boat is similar to the E.P. Ferry, which came out a few weeks ago.
Chicago Tribune, September 23, 1879
A shocking boiler explosion, involving the loss of four lives, happened yesterday morning at 9:35 o’clock on the harbor-tug Charles W. Parker, of the Vessel-Owners’ Towing Company’s line, on the lake, about a mile and a half opposite Lincoln Park pier, and nearly the same distance in a northwesterly direction from the Water-Works Crib. The explosion is described as of the most sudden and terrific character, the boiler and the boat being literally blown to atoms, and of the five men who manned the tug but one escaped a swift death, and was thrown into the air fifty feet amidst a mass of fragments and a dense cloud of smoke and steam, and, falling into the water, was picked up by the men of another tug, E.P. Ferry, of the same line, and which fortunately happened to be near the scene of the calamity at the time.
The victims of the disaster were Robert O’Leary, Captain; John Callahan, engineer; Peter Rogers, crewman; and William Burton, steward, all of whom are supposed to have been blown to pieces, and the survivor, Henry Maguire, the linesman, or deckhand. A vigorous search was made for the bodies by the crews of two tugs during the day, but no traces of them were found, and at nightfall the search, which was made with grappling-irons, was temporarily abandoned and a buoy left to mark the spot where the dreadful occurrence took place.
The explosion made a noise like that of the discharge of a heavy piece of ordnance, but it did not the attention of many persons on shore, and it was after 10 o’clock when the first reports of the sad disaster were brought in by the Ferry, and the rescued man, bleeding from a severe wound on the left side of his face, shocked as if by lightning, and presenting the most pitiable sight imaginable, was left temporarily in the office of the Vessel-Owners’ Towing Company, and cared for until he was sent to the down-town office of the Marine Hospital, on Clark street, near Lake, where Dr. Miller dressed the wound in the left side of his face and examined him carefully, but found no evidence of internal injuries nor any serious injury to his limbs. He was subsequently interviewed, but could not give any particular description of the explosion. It had been said that he was on the rudder-combing, a few feet forward of the fantail, and when the explosion happened he was suddenly lifted off his feet, and, before he could recover from the shock, found himself in the water, and managed to keep afloat by clinging to a piece of the wreck, upon which he was found ny the men on the tug Ferry. A moment before the explosion he saw his steward, Burton, standing in the doorway of the engine-room talking with the engineer; the others he did not notice, but believed they were at their posts. When the boiler exploded, Maguire said he did not know whether he went up or not. He heard a whizzing noise and a sound as if a cannon had been discharged close to his ears.
The boiler blew out on the starboard side, and the wreck went down bow first. He also stated that the Parker was carrying eighty pounds of steam at the time, and he had seen her run on less water. Maguire is a young unmarried man of 26 years, whose parents live at Waukegan, whence he intended to go yesterday afternoon. He lodged and boarded on the Parker, and had no residence in the city.
The following full particulars of the disaster were obtained by Tribune reporters:
Capt. Sutherland, the night Manager of the V.O.T. Line, as it is familiarly termed, stated that he sent the Parker out between 4 and 5 o’clock yesterday morning to assist in towing into port three barges of the Menominee Barge Line Company, brought up from the Menominee River by the large tug Favorite, which was expected at daylight. Capt. Sutherland stated that he chatted pleasantly with O’Leary before the Parker left the moorings at the Air-Line Elevator dock, foot of North Franklin street, and on the opposite side of the river from the V.O.T. Company’s office. The engineer, Callahan, had not arisen from his bunk, but was awake, and Sutherland also spoke pleasantly with him, and soon afterward left the boat to attend to other matters.
The tugs Ferry, Van Schaick, and Black Ball, of the same line, also had orders to tow the barges in, and steamed out to Grosse Point about daylight, along with the Parker, to pick them up. When the Favorite hove in sight and came up to the tugs, she let go her line as usual and passed on, while the harbor tugs above named ran alongside the barges preparatory to taking their lines and towing them in.
The Parker took the barge S.A. Wood in tow and started ahead, the Ferry followed with the barge Sonora, and the Van Schaick with the Planet. The Black Ball was to go astern of the Planet, but did not do so, having received other orders. The tugs were under way about five minutes when the Parker’s boiler exploded with a large noise, and a mass of fragments of the boiler, engine, and boat were hurled high into the air amidst a cloud of steam, smoke, and cinders which spread over the Wood and enveloped her so that those on board could not tell for a moment what had happened. The barge, which was about seventy-five astern of the Parker when the explosion took place, passed directly over the spot where the Parker was blown up, and all that was seen by the men on board of the barge was the man Maguire floating in the water upon a piece of the wreck, and a few fragments of the Parker’s deck. The large iron arm or lever used to lower and raise the smokestack, was thrown with such force against the Wood’s mainmast as to tear away quite a large piece of it. The barge’s cabin was damaged, and a boy on board had a narrow escape from a fragment of the smokestack. According to the statement of Capt. Samuel Parker, who commanded the barge, he and eight men and the boy referred to were all aft at the moment the explosion occurred, and they did not see the men on the Parker after she passed ahead of the barge.
Capt. John Ferguson, of the tug Ferry, stated to a Tribune reporter that he first saw a portion of the boiler going out of the Parker and of those on board Maguire was the only one he observed. The Parker seemed to go up like a sudden puff of smoke, and the explosion was followed with a loud report. Capt. Ferguson dropped his tow immediately, and rounded to and went to the rescue of Maguire, who was the only one of the Parker’s men on the surface of the lake at the time. The rescued man was cared for as well as possible, and brought into port and landed at the V.O.T. Company’s dock at the foot of Franklin street.
The engineer of the Ferry stated that she was “hooked up and half-throttled,” which indicated that she was not running fast, and she was going along at about the same rate of speed as the Parker.
Patrick Dyer, the firman on the Ferry, and an uncle of the engineer of the Parker, stated that the first-named boat went out Sunday midnight, and laid at the North Pier until 3 a.m., when she went outside to wait for the Favorite’s tow. On meeting the latter, the Parker, Ferry, Van Schaick took hold of the barges about 9:30 o’clock, and in about five minutes afterward the explosion occurred. He saw the men on the Parker in their usual positions. The deckhand, Henry Maguire, was sitting on the fantail of the boat, and he was blown overboard and picked up by the Ferry. He did not see anything of the others on the Parker. The explosion was described by Dyer as terrific. The boat was blown into the air, and the fragments were seen flying amidst a cloud of smoke and steam.
E. Morris, first mate of the propeller Favorite, was seen by a reporter on the river near the Custom-House, and he made the following statement:
- About 11 o’clock this morning four tugs met us, two of them the Ferry and Charles W. Parker, out six or seven miles, and when within three or four miles of here, two more tugs, the Van Schaick and, I think, the Ewing. The Parker hitched to the barge Wood, and blew up right after she took hold. All the barges wee hauling in their lines at that time. I heard the explosion, and saw the funnel stack going right straight up.
All the tugs stopped and let go of their lines, and went to the assistance of the wreck, and tried to save the men. The tug Ferry went back to pick up a man; she had hold of the barge Sonora, and she is the tug that picked up the man that was overboard. He was a deckhand, I heard. He was not killed, but was badly hurt. That was all I knew about it.
Capt. O’Leary, of the Parker, bore the reputation of being a good man. His age was 31 years, and he leaves a young wife at No. 51 Huron street. He was in the employ of the Vessel-Owners’ Towing Company about three seasons.
John Callahan, the engineer, was a native of Cleveland, O., and a single man, 22 years of age. He was considered by his employers as competent and trustworthy, and had been two or three seasons on the Parker. He boarded at 116 West Lake street when ashore. The only relative he has is Dyer, of the Ferry, who mourns his loss very deeply.
Peter Rogers, the fireman, was but 20 years old, and had been but three or four days on the Parker. He was well known among the tugmen, and lived on North Market street when not employed on the boat.
William Burton, the Steward, had been married about a year, and was employed on the Parker five or six seasons. His wife lives on North Market street.
Shortly after the explosion the tugs Satisfaction, Protection, Ewing, and Black Ball cruised over the scene of the wreck, and endeavored to find the bodies of the dead men, but at dark last evening none of them had been found. The Satisfaction brought in two pieces of the wreck which was found afloat, and left them at Mowatt’s shipyard near the North Pier, where a Tribune reporter examined them. They composed part of the deck frame and shelf-pieces, and bear astonishing evidences of the great force of the explosion, the three-inch deck planks being broken in two and both cleats being similarly shattered. A four-inch oak plank looked as if some mighty power had broken it up as if it were a pipe-stem.
President Higgie, of the V.O.T. Company, informed a reporter that steps would be taken today to raise the boiler, or such portions of it as could be found, and an investigation made. The work on grappling for the bodies would also be resumed this morning, and if necessary a diver would be employed to search for them. The remains of the Parker lie in about twenty-five feet of water.
Lincoln Park Steamboat Pier
Robinson Fire Map
The crew of the Life-Saving Station, notwithstanding the fact that one of its members had been accidentally drowned but a few hours before, went out to the scene of the explosion a short time after it occurred, and was on hand to render any needed assistance, but their services were not required, and they returned to attend the burial of their comrade, Edward Carron.
The ill-fated tug was named after Charles W. Parker, proprietor of the Columba Iron-Works, and son of Capt. Thomas L. Parker, now odf Oconomowoc, Wis. She was built at Doolittle & Olcott’s shipyards, on the South Branch near Van Buren street, in 1873 by John Gregory, of this city, and was valued this season at about $5,000. Her boiler was thoroughly tested when new, and had been kept in good repair, as is customary for the Company to do each winter. It was built by Devine, who has constructed many for the harbor tugs, and whose work bears the reputation of being first-class. The boilers of his manufacture have certainly been exempt from explosions, so far as could be learned from a few inquiries yesterday. The Local Inspectors examined the boat and tested the boiler in March last, and gave the necessary document certifying to the soundness of the latter. In the certificate they state that the Parker was of thirty-six tons, and had a non-condensing engine of eighteen inches diameter of cylinder and twenty-inch stroke of piston, and one boiler twelve feet in length and six feet in diameter, supplied with all the means required by law, and allowed a steam pressure of ninety pounds to the square inch, and no more. The certificate is signed by John B. Warren, as Inspector of Hulls, and by John P. Farrar, as Inspector of Boilers.
An investigation will be held by the Inspectors as soon as the boiler can be raised and examined.
All the tugs—nine in number—of the V.O.T. Company, were draped in mourning, and also the other tugs of the harbor fleet.
The Coroner will hold an investigation when the bodies are found. It is thought by some persons that the unfortunate men were torn in fragments by the explosion, and these have drifted away, and it will be a long time before they are found.
Theb occurrence has cast a gloom over marine circles, and is the worst clmity of the kind that has happened since 1865. There are fifty-three tugs on duty here, and careful attention to their boilers has been the rule, and an immunity from boiler explosions has been experienced that has excited favorable comment.
The widows of O’Leary and Burton and relatives of the other two men were greatly shocked by the news of the disaster, and Mrs. Burton was reported very ill last evening in consequence of it.
Inter Ocean, May 31, 1880
THE CHARLES W. PARKER
The tug C.W. Parker was running yesterday and presented a fine appearance. It is claimed that she is a better boat now than the day she was first launched. The horrible explosion and sacrifice of life on the Parker last season need only be alluded to attract attention to the boat. Mr. Jacob Johnson is now the owner, and that he made a great bargain by buying the wreck and machinery is evident to everyone. He paid $400 and now has a boat worth at least $7,500. The work of rebuilding the hull was done by Burns and ut is needless to say that is was well done.
Chicago Tribune, November 23, 1883
Shortly before 6 o’clock yesterday morning, the schooner Granger (US No. 85376), lumber laden, in charge of the tug Charles W. Parker, collided with the Rush-street bridge while the latter was swung open and so damaged in the centre that the two ends sank upon the projections of the centre pier, entirely wrecking the structure and the gear in the centre. According to maritime rules, the tug should have taken the north draw and by tradition left the bridge to port (or to the left), when facing a ship’s bow. As the Granger entered the draw from the east, a steam barge, the Business, was entering from the west. As soon as the Captain of the Parker discovered the close quarters, he attempted to get alongside the Grainger, though he succeeded in slowing it, the bow was turned toward the bridge and struck port side by the Business. The Grainger‘s jib boom was driven into the bridge about midway of it, tearing away the board-walk, one of the iron uprights, and the iron stringer under the bridge. This so weakened the structure that it collapsed and let both ends down. Fortunately the bridge was almost entirely open, and the ends were thereby prevented from falling into the river. The bridge was over twelve years old, and was not regarded as very substantial. It was 200½ feet long, and when open the weight of each end unsupported caused a great strain upon the central portion which was weakened by the blow. There were two men on the bridge at the time of the accident, neither of whom was injured. This morning a force of men will be put to work, and the structure will be repaired as soon as possible.
Chicago Tribune, October 5, 1891
The boiler of the tug C.W. Parker exploded with terrific force at 4:30 o’clock yesterday afternoon just north of the bridge which crosses the river on Archer avenue between Paulina street and Ashland avenue, killing instantly seven people and injuring ten more, some of them fatally. The dead and injured are:
ARMSTRONG, SAMUEL, steward of the Manistee.
CARTER, JAMES B., Captain of the Parker, lived at No. 53 Pine street.
MOORE, JOHN C., engineer of the Parker, Highland Park.
RICE, BARBARA, 18 months old, No. 3013 Archer avenue.
RICE, MRS. MARY, 25 years old, No. 3013 Archer avenue.
SAWYER, SAMUEL, switchman at the Illinois Steel Works, 24 years old, married, No. 3425 Bloom street.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN, about 30 years old, taken to Klaner’s morgue.
BELLS, HENRY, deckhand, No. 59 Kinzie street seriously hurt.
CULLOM, JOSEPH, fireman of the Parker, No. 390 Maxwell street; badly burned and scalded and probably fatally injured.
CUNNINGHAM, JAMES, cook on the tug Van Schaick, back injured.
CURTIN, CHARLES, 16 years old, No. 3239 Paulina street, crushed by flying timber and fatally injured.
DOMORAZEK, JAMES, 21 years old, No. 809 South Ashland avenue, skull fractured by a piece of the boiler; will probably die.
ENDERMANN, JOSEPH, 14 years old, No. 2960 Archer avenue, struck by a board and slightly injured.
JEWELL, GEORGE, Captain of the tug Van Schaick, struck by flying timber; not fatally injured.
MOSS, LOOMIS, D., deckhand of the Van Schaick, slightly hurt.
SULLIVAN, JOHN, No. 3025 Pitney avenue, struck by timber, not dangerously hurt.
WAGNER, FRANK, 19 years old, No. 13 South Greet street, injured in arms and chest by pieces of iron.
How the Accident Occurred.
Yesterday morning the steambarge H.S. Pickands of Detroit took on a load of 1,260 tons of coal at Hedstrom’s coal yards and started to go up the river. At noon the vessel grounded at the Archer avenue bridge. Capt. Wilson, the commander, telephoned to the tug office and soon four boats—the Parker, Van Schaick, Ferry, and Shields—were at work trying to free the steam barge. The tugs puffed away all the afternoon in a vain endeavor to haul the barge from the mud bank, which had a tenacious grip on the vessel’s prop. The scene attracted hundreds of people, who stood upon each side of the river and watched the proceedings. About 4 o’clock the word was passed around to the different tugboat Captains and they shifted their positions. The Parker and Van Schaick took their places on the starboard beam, the Ferry and Shields being to their left. Full heads of steam were in all the boilers and the engineers were ordered to go ahead at full speed. The huge hawsers tightened and strained and the black smoke that poured from their smoke-stacks was whirled around by the fresh breeze and sent flying in the faces of the spectators who lined the banks.
Suddenly there was a terrific explosion. Huge sticks of timber, pieces of iron, large sheets of the boiler, and portions of the woodwork of the Parker went flying into the air a hundred feet. The smoke and clouds of steam which covered the river were so dense that for a moment no one could realize what had happened.
A Sense of Horror.
The spectators sent out one sharp cry of horror, then each held his breath. Those nearest to the scene were stunned by the noise and many fell to the ground from the violence of the shock. The wreckage seemed to shoot in all directions and fell almost everywhere within a radius of 500 feet. As soon as the smoke and steam cleared away a woman with a baby in her arms was seen lying in a pool of blood on the sidewalk at the east end of the bridge. A few feet away was a man with his head crushed into a shapeless mass. Fully a dozen persons were flat upon the ground uttering moans of pain. The man, the woman and her baby were past all pain. Their death had been instantaneous. Glancing towards the river the spectators saw two men struggling in the water. The thoroughly frightened crew of the Pickands were making a frantic struggle to lower a boat; the Captain of the tub Van Schaick was bawling out orders to his men. On the opposite bank groups were bending over prostrate forms and assisting injured persons to their feet. Soon six patrol wagons were on the spot, and the work of caring for the wounded and removing the dead was begun. By this time nearly 1,000 excited people had gathered at the scene, anxious to do all in their power to aid the injured. By the side of the victims lay the missiles which had sent them to their death, and the deep pools of blood upon the sidewalk and pavement of Archer avenue at the east end of the bridge made the place resemble the shambles.
As soon as the explosion occurred Officer Patrick McGuire, who was stationed at the bridge, after the Pickands went aground, to keep back the crowd, sent an alarm from the patrol-box to the Deering Street Station and then hastened back to render what assistance he could. The first bodies to be picked up were those of Mrs. Mary Rice of No. 3013 Archer avenue and her 18-months-old baby.
South Branch at Archer Avenue and Ashland Avenue
Robinson Fire Map
How Mrs. Rice Was Killed.
Mrs. Rice had been standing on the sidewalk just in front of the bridge-tender’s shanty at the east end of the bridge for half an hour. The baby had been restless and she had clasped it to her breast, soothing and pointing out the tugs at work. When the explosion occurred the big iron door of the furnace, weighing at least 200 pounds, came hurtling through the air as if it had been hurled from the mouth of a monster catapult. The mother, startled by the noise, had clasped the baby closer to her bosom and had turned half way around with the evident intention of seeking refuge in the shanty. The big mass of iron took a graceful curve through the air, seemed to pause a moment above her head, and then with the speed of a cannon ball shot downward. It struck the head of the baby as she lay pressed close to her mother’s breast, all unconscious of impending harm, and mother and daughter were crushed to the earth, a shapeless mass of flesh and bone. Just as the policemen took the two bodies into the house not more than two blocks away Henry Rice, the husband and father, who is employed at the Stock-Yards, returned home. As he alighted from a car at the corner he saw a crowd in front of his house and hastened his steps. He had heard nothing of the explosion, and when he entered the room where the bodies of his wife and daughter lay he became almost insane from grief. Mrs. Rice was a daughter of John Berges, who was the former bridge-tender at the bridge where she met her death.
The Unidentified Man.
The unidentified man, whose body now lies at Klaner’s morgue, No. 143 Monroe street, was standing in the middle of the street about ten feet from the edge of the draw. He, too, started to run when he saw the explosion, but he had not taken more than three steps when a piece of boiler iron felled him to earth. The sharp edge of the iron struck the side of his head and almost severed it into two pieces. His death was instantaneous. He was apparently about 30 years old, of a dark complexion, about the medium height, smooth shaven. He wore a blue sack coat and vest, blue jean trousers, red and white tie, black derby hat, and gaiters. On the little finger of his left hand he wore a plain gold ring, and in his pocket was a silver watch which had stopped at 4:28 o’clock.
Samuel Sawyer, the Illinois Steel company’s switchman, was at least 500 feet away from the tug when the boiler exploded. He had just stepped from the door of the company’s rolling mill when a mass of boiler iron, weighing at least 400 pounds, struck him fairly on the head. Several people was the danger that he was in from the flying missile and uttered a shout of warning. Sawyer evidently did not hear the explosion, as eye-witnesses say that when they shouted out a warning he looked with an expression of astonishment on his face, as if he did not know what the cry was about. The expression of surprise was immediately frozen into a look of horror as he saw the huge mass of iron shooting towards him. From the time he saw it till it struck him he stood rooted in his tracks apparently unable to make the slightest motion. His death, like those of the others, was instantaneous. His body was taken to Meinz Bros’ undertaking establishment, at No. 2973 Archer avenue.
Bodies Not Yet Recovered.
How Capt. Carter, Engineer Moore, and Steward Armstrong of the tug Parker met their deaths no one will ever know. Their bodies have not yet been recovered. Joseph Cullom, the fireman, was blown from the engine-room clear over the rail of the vessel into the river. He was partially unconscious when he struck the water, and though he was an expert swimmer was unable to help himself in the least. He had already sunk twice in the filthy water when the Van Schaick steamed slowly up, picking its way through the floating timbers, and rescued him. He was utterly destitute of clothing when picked up. He was landed on the west bank of the river and taken to the County Hospital by a patrol wagon. The doctors there say that his burns and injuries are so severe that recovery is impossible.
The only other man on the tug was Henry Bells, a deck hand. He, too, was blown into the water by the explosion, but he was farther away from the boiler than Cullom and did not get the full force of the steam. The crew of the barge Pickands saw him struggling in the river and attempted to lower a boat in order to pick him up. Before they had manned the tackle, however, Bells had succeeded in swimming to the west bank of the river, where he was hauled out. He was badly shaken up and scalded in several places, but at the County Hospital it was said that his injuries were not serious.
Louis D. Moss, one of the men injured by flying missiles, says he is quite certain there was another man on board the tug—one who has not yet been accounted for.
What The Witnesses Say.
Stories of the Disaster told by some of the Bystanders.
The force of the explosion was so great and it came so unexpectedly that the witnesses were unable to give a clear idea of the scene. “I was just abaft the mizzenmast,” said Capt. Charles Wilson of the steambarge Pickands, “and was looking directly at the Parker, thinking it had gone too far out in the stream to de effective work. all at once I saw a puff of what seemed to be which smoke shoot up into the air. Then there was a vivid flash, a loud explosion, and the boat seemed to go to pieces like a puff-ball.
“Huge masses of iron floated skyward as if they were feathers propelled by a strong breeze, big beams shot out in every direction, and splinters of wood and bits of iron went flying through the air. It seemed as if a cloud of all imaginable sort of things had suddenly formed over our heads. Then I realized that the tug’s boiler had exploded. I watched the flying missiles for perhaps a second, though it seemed several minutes, and then I dodged behind the mast. We tried to launch our boat when we saw two men struggling in the water, but they were both rescued before we could aid them.”
Engineer J.H. Coryeow of the Pickands was asleep in his berth, about forty feet from the Parker, when the boiler exploded. “I awoke with a start,” said he, “and the next thing I knew a twenty-pound piece of iron came crashing through the roof of my state-room and made a big dent in the floor, whizzing past within six inches of my head. I rushed to the deck and saw the Parker rapidly going out of sight under the water.”
Frank Wagner of No. 13 South Green street was walking along Ashland avenue, nearly a block from the river, and had just raised his hand to his mouth to remove a cigar when a piece of iron struck his extended arm. At the same time he heard a terrific explosion. His first impression was, he says, that he had been struck by lightning, but on looking down and seeing the scrap of iron at his feet and hearing the shouts of the people he knew that some catastrophe had happened—just as he realized this he fainted away. The next he knew he as in a patrol-wagon and was being conveyed to the County Hospital. His injury is not serious.
How Curtin Was Struck Down.
Charles Curtin was standing on the Illinois Steel company’s dock on the west bank of the river talking to a circle of friends. He was in the midst of a group of a dozen or more when he heard the sound of the explosion. “Look out, there,” someone shouted, and Curtin instinctively stooped down to get out of the way of whatever was coming. A piece of timber struck him on the back and laid him unconscious on the board wharf.
No one else in the immediate vicinity was hurt at all, though the missiles flew about there with incredible thickness. Curtin was taken to his home at No. 3239 Paulina street, and is in a very critical condition.
Jeseph Endemann of No. 2960 Archer avenue had a narrow escape from death by the door of the furnace which killed Mrs. Rice and her daughter.
“I was standing within three feet of Mrs. Rice,” said he, “and had been talking to her and playing with the baby. At the time the explosion occurred I was looking down Archer avenue and facing Mrs. Rice, who was gazing towards the river. She must have seen the first indication of the explosion, for when I looked up into her face there was an expression of fear upon it, and she had turned to move away. I turned towards the river. At that moment I heard a terrific noise, and the next I remember I was lying here on the sidewalk with half a dozen people bending over me. My foot was slightly crushed, and I was badly shaken up and confused. I think that the iron door must have rebounded after crushing Mrs. Rice and her daughter and hit me. I’m glad that I was knocked senseless, as I couldn’t have borne it to see Mrs. Rice and the baby killed in the way they were.”
Joseph Domorazek will doubtless swell the list of the fatalities. He was standing on the west side of the river, and was explaining to some friends the manner in which the tug-men were working to get the barge free. One of the iron missiles—it looked like a piece of the fire-box—which the explosion sent flying through the air singled him out as a victim and he fell to the ground unconscious with a fractured skull. He was taken to his home, No. 809 South Ashland avenue, and Dr. F.J. Mozak said that the chances for his recovery were slight.
Probably Many More Injured.
There were probably a score or more persons who were slightly injured by flying splinters of wood. They were taken home by their friends before their names could be learned. It is not probable, however, that any one was seriously hurt except those whose names have been given.
“A moment after the explosion,” said Officer McGuire, who seems to have been one of the few persons who kept his head, “I think there must have been at least twenty persons lying on the ground. I thought, of course, that they were all either dead or badly hurt, and I at once rushed to the patrol-box to call for help. When I returned I found most of the people on their feet again hobbling away to their homes, assisted by friends. I met two or three limping down Archer avenue, but they said they were all right and I guess they were more frightened than hurt. It’s a mystery to me that a hundred were not killed. There must have been about 500 people on the west side of the bridge when the accident occurred and the missiles fell as thick as hailstones. I can’t see how so many escaped.”
The news of the disaster spread rapidly to the different police stations in the district, and Inspector Morse, Capt. Ward, and Lieut. Arch were soon on the spot to direct the movements of the police and render what aid they could. The signal service of the department did effective work and the injured were taken to their homes or the hospital, where their wounds could be attended to in a very short time.
Although the other tugs were close at hand at the time of the explosion they suffered little damage. The Pickands, however, received a shower of missiles and dirty water which made the decks look as if the boat had been resurrected from a swamp. A portion of the end of the bridge was slightly damaged, but not so seriously as to interfere with traffic. The Parker sank almost immediately after the explosion. About six feet of the bow, surmounted by the broken head of the capstan, is visible above the dirty water.
Chicago Tribune, October 5, 1891
The Parke belonged to the line of the Chicago Towing Company. It was built in 1873 for the Vessel-Owners’ Towing company in this city. About ten yeas ago it blew up off Lincoln Park, killing four out of the five in the crew. The remains were raised and brought to into the harbor, where they were sold to Jacob Johnson for $250. The boat was extensively repaired in 1888, and was considered to be in good condition. From the day it was rebuilt it had been engaged in harbor towing. The insurance valuation was $4,000.
The Admiral, which blew up New Year’s night five years ago in the South Branch, about a mile from the scene of yesterday’s disaster, had been the last Chicago tug destroyed by explosion previous to the Parker. Four men were killed when that boat was destroyed. The Admiral and the Parker belonged to the same line. The few explosions of tugs on the river in recent years are due to the strict government inspection and the use of fusible plugs, now required on all steam vessels. Before the adoption of these stringent regulations tug explosions occurred almost yearly. There are in all now constantly at work in the Chicago River fifty tugs.
The most remarkable feature of the explosion was the escape of the crews of the other tugs, while so many were killed over and beyond them on the docks. The debris went over the other tugs, apparently, and dropped on the shore.
The excitement along the lumber market, where the tug offices are located, was intense with the news of the disaster reached them. The cause of the explosion was said by every tugman gathered along the market to be the bad water in the South Fork of the South Branch. Year by Year the water in the South Fork above the Bridgeport Pumping Works has been growing thicker and thicker, and no one who has never been in the South Fork can realize the awful filth which has been gathering there since the Stock-Yards were established. The water is so thick that it has become difficult to force a tug without a tow through it faster than a snail’s pace. Various city administrations have attempted to purify the South Fork, but the task has been too great for them and they have given up in despair. It is from this quarter that the frightful stench which at times spreads over the South Division arises. This accumulated filth must pass into the boilers of the tugs and steamers navigating the South Fork and be used for the purpose of making steam.
Capt. J.S. Dunham said:
The direct cause of the explosion, in my opinion, is the using of this bad water for the use of making steam. It caused the boiler to foam, and when it foams it becomes necessary for the engineer to carry as low water in his boiler as possible in order to avoid the water going through his engine. Of course, at such times, he is liable to get his water a little too low. By foaming I mean the formation in the boiler of something that looks like soapsuds, which fills the entire top of the boiler, and runs off into the engine. As soon as it gets into the engine, the engine has to stop. After working hard for an hour in that vicinity tugs are compelled to go into the lake and get good water in their boilers before returning. Whenever any of my own tugs are there I am always glad to see them back. I have long felt that they had run a frightful risk. I would much prefer not to have any work there at any price.
No, I do not think that the explosion was due to any weakness of the tug itself. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the fusible plug would have been blown out when the water became too low, but sometimes they fail, and I think that was the case this time. Had the plug been blown out, as it should have been, the water water from the boiler would have run into the fire and put the fire out, thereby putting an immediate end to any danger. I am quite sure that the explosion was not due to any weakness of the boiler, for every year all tugs must pass a most rigid inspection, more rigid, I suppose, than any other point on the lakes, if not in the country. The boilers are tested at one-third more cold-water pressure than the steam that the boats ae allowed to carry. Any weakness discovered must be repaired before the boat can go into lake service.
I knew Capt. Carter of the tug Parker, the last twenty years, and I consider him a thoroughly competent man. He served as an engineer six or eight years and then became a Captain. As an engineer he was thoroughly competent. I do not think he would have a careless engineer with him.
It is pure luck that the boat destroyed happened to be the Parker instead of any of the other of the fifty tugs in the Chicago River. I can see no reason whatsoever why it should have exploded rather than some other boat. The whole blame can be attached to the filth in the South Fork, and if the other tug lines will enter such an agreement I will agree not to send another tug into the South Fork until there is some improvement in the condition of the water there. It is not a fit place to do business, and this loss of life shows that it is asking too much of the employes to run the risk to which they expose themselves every time their boats go above the Bridgeport pumping works.
Inter Ocean, October 10, 1891
WHY THE PARKER EXPLODED.
The wreck of the tug Charles W. Parker, whose boiler exploded near Archer avenue last Sunday, will be towed into the lake and let go on the beach this afternoon. When the wreck was put in the dry dock yesterday there was general surprise among marine men and experts at the great havoc the explosion had made. Directly under the fire-hold there was a clean-cut hole through the bottom twelve feet square. Only the rim of the tug which showed above water and a few timbers in the bow and stern were left intact. The frightful force of the explosion was shown in the bottom of the tug being blown out, supported as it was by the pressure of water. (Full report below)
When it was seen that the tug was not worth saving, everything movable was taken out. The total value of what was saved about equalled the expense of getting the tug into dry dock.
The Marine Review, November 5, 1891
We have received a copy of the Report of the Local Inspectors at Chicago, Cyrus H. Sinclair and Stuart H. Moore, to James A. Dumont, supervising inspector general of steam vessel of the United States, on the explosion of the boiler of the tug Charles W. Parker, in Chicago river on Oct. 4. The inspectors deal fully with the accident and attribute it to the use of Chicago river water for making steam. The Parker with three other tugs was engaged in an effort to release the steamer H. S. Pickands from the bottom of the east draw of Archer avenue bridge when the explosion occurred, resulting in the loss of ten lives and injury to others.
The Report of the Inspectors says:
The boat was working with a full head of steam, when she blew out the crown sheet of her boiler. The boiler was found about 500 feet from the scene of the explosion, and an examination showed that it was in good condition, except that the crown sheet and stays leading to top of dome and shell had disappeared, the fusible plug being but partly melted out. Three days later, we examined the hull of the boat which had been placed in dry dock and found the missing crown sheet with nearly all of the stays attached. An examination of the engine disclosed the fact that at the time of the explosion, or an instant before it, the engine had been reversed from going ahead to backing up motion. We have made a very careful investigation of the cause leading up to this accident, and find that the captain and engineer of the boat were considered very careful, reliable and experienced men, having had years of experience in this line of work, and they both knew full well the dangers of the locality in which they were engaged. The water in this portion of the river is of a very dangerous character, owing to the proximity of the slaughter and gas houses on the river, and from the facts that we have been able to obtain it is our opinion that this accident was caused by the use of this water for making steam. The effect was to cause. the boiler to foam badly, thereby making it almost impossible for the engineer to keep the water in the boiler at the proper height. The sudden stopping and starting of the engine, if the water in the boiler was low, would be sufficient to cause this accident. This boiler was well built and if well taken care of and under ordinary condition, would have lasted a life-time.