Aging monument recalls calamitous era of sea travel


Amid the picturesque graveyard surrounding Presbyterian Church on Edisto Island in the South Carolina Lowcountry is a marble obelisk blackened with age. It’s a memorial not only to a handful of parishioners who died in one of the 19th centuries worst sea disasters but a reminder of just how dangerous travel by ship was at one time.

Eight names appear on the 15-foot marker, including that of Rev. James Joseph Murray, 43; his wife Mary, 38; daughter Elizabeth, 15; and son William, 11, victims of the sinking of the steamship Pulaski on June 14, 1838.

In addition to Murray and his family, Margaret Seabrook Mikell, 31; Joseph Edings Seabrook, 15; Sara Ann Edings, 27; and Sarah Josephine Edings, 5, are also listed. They were among approximately 130 individuals who died when the ship, which started from Savannah, Ga., June 13 en route to Baltimore, Md., was rent by a boiler explosion and foundered 30 miles off the North Carolina coast.

The death toll was said to have been the greatest suffered to that point by a steam-powered vessel.

Murray, Mikell, Edings and Seabrook are common names throughout both the graveyard and the region, and it’s likely the loss of the Pulaski touched most, if not all of the church’s parishioners in one way or another.

To give an idea of how common major maritime disasters were a century or more ago, the loss of the Pulaski doesn’t even rank among the top 80 deadliest ship disasters of the 19th century. In fact, if one looks at Wikipedia’s list of 19th century maritime disasters ranked by lives lost, the Pulaski isn’t mentioned at all, which leaves one wondering just how many other significant tragedies of that era have been forgotten.

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Fate of Titanic’s icy foe examined

We all know what happened to the Titanic 100 years ago this week, but what became of its legendary foe – the mysterious block of ice that proved the “unsinkable” ship all too sinkable?

Actually, there may be a couple of photos in existence that show the deadly iceberg, shortly after the Titanic went down in the North Atlantic with more than 1,500 souls aboard.

According to the website, it’s quite possible sailors aboard two ships in the area of where the Titanic sank snapped pictures of the iceberg collided with the ill-fated ship on April 15, 1912.

“… both photographs feature the telltale sign of a collision with a ship, and likely a recent one at that: a streak of red paint,” writes 

One of the photos was taken by the chief steward of the German ocean liner SS Prinz Adalbert, which was sailing through the North Atlantic on April 15, just miles away from where the Titanic had sunk the night before. 

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Old Man River prepares to strike again

As the roiling waters of the Mississippi River continue to wend their way south, those in the know are calling this flood the second-worst in US history, behind only the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.

In mid-April of that year, the great river broke through a levee a few miles north of Greenville, Miss., sending a wall of water hurtling down Main Street and forever changing the area’s landscape.

Homes were crushed, sharecroppers’ farms were swept away and hundreds died.

The flood eventually affected Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Arkansas was hardest hit, with 14 percent of its territory covered by floodwaters.

By May 1927, the Mississippi River below Memphis, Tenn., reached a width of 60 miles.

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Small California town a tsunami magnet

In the wake of last week’s earthquake in Japan and subsequent tsunami that reached all the way to North America, Slate came up with an interesting article on why the small California community of Crescent City has been visited by so many tsunamis over the years – 31 alone since 1933.

If you haven’t been to California and don’t know where Crescent City is, you’re not alone. Ninety-nine percent of Californians likely haven’t been to Crescent City, and many couldn’t identify its location on a map if they had to.

Crescent City sits just 20 miles from the Oregon border and is located more than 700 miles from Los Angeles.

Of the more than 30 recorded tsunamis that have hit Crescent City in the past eight decades, four caused damage, and one of them, in March 1964, remains the “largest and most destructive recorded tsunami to ever strike the United States Pacific Coast,” according to the University of Southern California’s Tsunami Research Center.

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Recalling Japan’s great quake of 1923

In the wake of last week’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the New York Times looks back on the now largely forgotten 1923 Great Kantō earthquake.

The quake, which was considerably less powerful than the 9.0 temblor that hit Japan last week, killed an estimated 140,000 Japanese. From the Times:

The earthquake hit in the early afternoon off the coast of Honshu, Japan’s most populous island, triggering unprecedented destruction. Ninety percent of the houses in a score of seaside towns collapsed in seconds. Passenger trains fell off railway bridges and plunged into the sea. A few minutes later, a 35-foot-high tsunami rolled in, sweeping away cars, houses and thousands of people, and burying entire towns in mud. Then came fires, fanned by winds and fueled by flimsy wooden houses, reducing much of what remained to ashes.

The quake leveled the port city of Yokohama and burned down more than 60 percent of Tokyo.

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Color photos of 1906 SF earthquake surface

Photographs discovered by the Smithsonian Institution not only show rare photographs of San Francisco amid ruins of the great 1906 earthquake, but appear to be the earliest color photos ever taken of the the city known as Baghdad by the Bay.

The images, taken by photography pioneer Frederick Ives, were part of a set of six taken in the months after the earthquake and show some of the ruins along Market Street and scenes taken from the roof of the Hotel Majestic on Sutter Street, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Everything is in color – buildings and billboards, a green streetcar on Market Street and a rust-colored church on Sutter Street damaged by the earthquake,” the paper reported. “A close examination of the billboards shows one advertising women’s shoes on sale for 25 cents and another for chewing tobacco.

“The pictures also show temporary wood buildings that are unpainted. The effects of the huge fire that followed the quake are also visible, especially on the scarred walls of the Flood Building, which still stands at Powell and Market streets,” the Chronicle added. “The photos give an insight into what the city looked like 105 years ago.”

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Last survivor of ’06 quake dies in California


Herbert Heimie Hamrol, the last known survivor of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, has died, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Hamrol, who was 106, was just 3 when the quake struck on April 18, 1906, but still recalled memories of the event and the ensuring fire, which claimed more than 3,000 lives and laid waste to much of the city.

“I remember my mother carrying me down the stairs,” he said last spring. “He also remembered staying in Golden Gate Park while smoke filled the skies and rubble lay heaped everywhere,” The Chronicle reported.

Hamrol also had some sound everyday advice for getting along in the world, which he passed along to a Chronicle reporter in 2003:

  • “Don’t spend every dime you get.”
  • “Stay away from wild women.”
  • “Wear a tie when you go to work, also a nice shirt.”