Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Tragedy Aboard the Noronic

                                                         Noronic Brochure

 Cruising America's rivers and coasts has once again become popular. However, it was the Great Lakes destinations that remained the premier attraction for travelers both Canadian and American at the turn of the century. To meet this demand the Canada Steamship Lines set about building stately passenger ships. The “Noronic,” launched in 1914, joined her sister ships the “Huronic” and the “Hamonic.” All told the Canada Steamship Lines grew to include more than 100 of these luxurious vessels. The big steamers became known as the “Great White Fleet.” “Noronic's” beauty caused many to refer to her as the “Queen of the Lakes.” 

                                                 Charles E. Frohman Collection 

Built for both safety (steel-hulled and double-bottomed) and passenger comfort, the “Noronic” featured an orchestra, spacious staterooms and elaborate woodwork. She had five decks and room for as many as 600 passengers and 200 crew.

On the fateful night of September 16, 1949, the “Noronic” docked at Pier 9 in Toronto. In the early morning hours, a passenger smelled smoke coming from a locked linen closet. A bellboy retrieved the keys to the closet. When he opened the door, the fire exploded into the hallway fueled by fresh air and fed by the heavily oiled woodwork. Fire extinguishers proved useless and the ship's fire hoses were out of order. When the vessel's alarm whistle sounded 8 minutes later, more than half the decks were on fire.

Noronic Ablaze
Courtesy Creative Commons

When pumpers arrived, flames were as high as the ship's mast. With stairwells on fire, passengers (some engulfed in flames) jumped into the frigid waters below. Others climbed down ropes as the “Noronic's” gangplank extended only to a single deck. Crew members broke stateroom windows, but many had already suffocated or were burned alive in their cabins. Fire boats, ambulances, and more pumpers arrived. When the first extension ladder reached B deck, it quickly broke under the weight of dozens of panicked passengers. Some fell into the water, others tumbled to their deaths on the pier. As the heat intensified, the decks buckled. So much water had been poured into the “Noronic,” that the vessel began to list. Firefighters were forced to stop until she again righted herself. When recovery operations began, firefighters found passengers trampled in their attempt to reach the decks via the burning stairwells. Many were found burned beyond recognition.  Of the 582 passengers 119 perished, all American save one.

No cause of the fire was ever determined, but the crew was blamed for cowardice and negligence. Too few (only 18) remained on board the “Noronic” that night. No one provided passengers with evacuation procedures or awakened them as the flames spread. Some of the crew even fled the ship. Using dental records for the first time, it took investigators nearly a year to identify the dead. “Noronic's” hull was eventually re-floated and scrapped at Hamilton, Ontario. The tragedy sounded the death knell for Canada Steamship Lines' cruises. Only a few years later, CSL, amid lawsuits and new regulations,  brought a sad end to  its once famous Great Lakes cruise line.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Joseph Crawford "Kit" King of Rollersvile, Ohio

 Among the earliest pioneers of Rollersville were Jeremiah Niles King and his family who had come from Rhode Island via New York in 1834. He built the first house in the village and then constructed a gristmill where Jeremiah also made and machined tools. His son Joseph Crawford “Kit” King joined his father in the milling operation. He continued to oversee it after his father's death in a railroad accident at the Isthmus of Panama.



At the outbreak of the Civil War, despite the responsibilities of the mill, Joseph Crawford King was filled with patriotism. He enlisted with his friends in the 111th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. With him King carried a special weapon which can be seen in the nearby Civil War photo. It was a double-barreled back action rifle with a telescopic sight. John Smith, Hessville gunsmith, had made the weapon for Joseph using tools machined by Joseph's father. The rifle was never far from King's sight as the regiment traveled south into Kentucky.

An intelligent, exceptionally observant diarist, King recorded daily events at the regiment's camp as well as activities around Bowling Green, Kentucky. King soon began suffering from poor health, boredom, and disillusionment with military life. News from home added to his discouragement when he learned the mill and his finances were in disarray. In March of 1863, King received a disability discharge and headed for his home in Madison Twp. Over the next few years, with the help of Brice Bartlett, King put the mill on sound financial footing.

But in 1877, when King learned of the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, he headed west. He prospected near Rapid Creek and settled at Hill City with five other miners. King managed to file more than 50 claims in an around the area, naming his stake the Buckeye Mining Company. Despite efforts at sluicing, digging, and ditching on his claims, King spent nearly as much time hunting game and building a winter shelter as he did mining.

Eventually King's partners became discouraged and left for home. But King persevered. Now alone, his rifle served as protection against raiding Sioux, claim jumpers, and thieves, When King became ill and desperate for food and clothing, he was forced to pawn his telescope, compass, gold scales, and revolver. Yet, he struggled on and eventually had some success. In early March of 1880, King stopped off at Rollersville to visit his family while enroute to New York to negotiate some of his mining claims. A few weeks later, the “Fremont Journal” reported his death from pneumonia at Hill City, South Dakota.

The gunsmithing tools made by Jeremiah King and a rifle similar to that carried by Joseph were discovered in Sheridan, California where John Smith, the gun maker, settled near his daughter. The collection is one of the finest 19th century gunsmithing sets known to exist. They have passed through the hands of several collectors. Today, the tools (some 600 pieces) and King's diaries are part of the permanent collection at the Frazier Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. However, typed transcripts of King's diaries (prepared by a King descendant) from his time with the 111th Ohio and in the Black Hills are part of the Hayes Manuscripts Collection.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Sinking of the Sultana: America's Greatest Maritime Disaster

 On April 27, 1865, America experienced its greatest maritime disaster. More people died in the boiler explosion of the Cincinnati-built steamer “Sultana” than were killed in the sinking of the “Titanic” in 1912.

Most of those who died were paroled Union soldiers who had been imprisoned for months and sometimes years at Andersonville and Cahaba. At war's end these weak, sick, emaciated prisoners – most from Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Indiana and Kentucky, were bound for Cairo, Illinois, and then home to their families. At Vicksburg, they were herded onto the “Sultana,” a vessel built to carry 376 passengers. But Captain J. Cass Mason encouraged the Army to cram on as many soldiers as possible as he stood to gain as much as $10,000 from the government. With the more than 2300 soldiers were some 100 civilian passengers, a crew of 85, and 100 head of cattle!

                                  "Sultana" before Departure from Vicksburg

Courtesy of  Library of Congress

Shortly before departure, the “Sultana's” leaking boilers were quickly repaired. It wasn't until midnight that the massively overloaded ship headed out into the swollen waters of the Mississippi. She fought strong currents all the way to Memphis. About 2 a. m., in the dark of night and a few miles north of Memphis, the boilers exploded. The force hurled many of the sleeping passengers into the cold water. Most were scalded and suffering from burns caused by flames and showering hot coals. Screams echoed into the night air. Many, weakened and desperately injured, quickly slid below the surface. Others could not or did not have the strength to swim. Some clung to trees along the shoreline and the lucky ones floated on the “Sultana's” debris.

Rescue operations continued through the night and all the following day. Because of the Army's poor records at Vicksburg, it is estimated that only seven to eight hundred survived. As many as 300 of those died later from burns and exposure. Only 18 of the crew and passengers survived. As the weeks and months passed, bodies were still found in the Mississippi - some well beyond Vicksburg.

Ironically, most of the families who were anxiously awaiting their loved ones' return, did not learn of their fate until several weeks later. The disaster was overshadowed the events surrounding the end of the war and President Lincoln's assassination. Most of America's prominent newspapers, located in the East, gave scant coverage to the disaster.

Abraham Hoofnagle killed aboard the Sultana

Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums

While this list may not be complete, the following soldiers who either lived in Sandusky County, Ohio  or enlisted from the county were aboard the “Sultana.” The asterisk indicates those who were believed killed in the explosion: Morris Aubrey*, Jacob Brandt*, Ira Crane*, William Duke, Samuel Hague*, William H. Kirk*, Byron E.* and William McIntyre,* Michael Statler*, Alexander Shoemaker, Emanuel Shoe*, Thomas Flinn*, Austin Fisher, Charles Tearne and William Trimmer – all of the 72nd Ohio; Abraham Hoofnagle*(pictured above) , John Donmire*, Adam Dilling*, and John Fleagle* 100th Ohio; Adam Dilling* 101st Ohio; and John Hudson*65th Ohio.

While the Army and the nation wanted to put death and the war behind them, survivors never forgot. A strong bond developed among them. They gathered together experiences and created lists of the lost. The first reunion was held in Fostoria, Ohio, on the 20th anniversary of the destruction. From that date forward the Sultana Association held reunions nearly every April at Fremont, Upper Sandusky, Toledo, Sandusky and in Coldwater and Hillsdale, Michigan. Veterans from Kentucky and Tennessee held reunions in the South as well. Their efforts for government pensions, medical care, and a memorial proved futile.

To learn more about the "Sultana" tragedy, please read 

Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors by Rev. Chester D. Berry, 1892

The Sultana Tragedy: America's Greatest Maritime Disaster by Jerry O. Potter, 1992

Disaster on the Mississippi: The Sultana Explosion, April 27, 1865 by Gene Eric Salecker, 1996

A version of the article appeared in Lifestyles 2000.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Emma Foote's Days at the Hayes White House


Emma Foote Glenn
Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums

During the Hayes Administration, it was not customary to hire a staff to assist the First Lady.  Without grown daughters, Lucy Hayes invited nieces, cousins, and daughters of friends to stay at the White House to help with social events and secretarial duties. One of these was Miss Emma Foote of Cincinnati, Ohio.  Lucy had known Emma since her husband's years as Ohio's governor.  

Emma was the daughter of Jane Foote who had come from New York to Champaign County and then to Cincinnati.  A widow, Jane and her daughter Emma lived in the Carlisle House owned by her brother-in-law George Carlisle, a wealthy Cincinnati banker. Hayes had also rented rooms for the family at the Carlisle in 1872.

When Hayes became president, Lucy immediately asked Emma to join them in Washington.  Of course, Emma was thrilled. Her letters to the Carlisles give a glimpse of life at the Hayes White House.  She not only assisted Lucy for more than a year, but also traveled with the Hayes family, attended social events and state dinners, including that given for the Grand Dukes Alexis and Constantine of Russia.  
(Emma's letter to her cousin about this event has been transcribed below.}

She and Winnie Monroe attended the theater accompanied by General William T. Sherman. She enjoyed elegant luncheons given but Kate Chase Sprague. Emma shopped in New York for Lucy, delivered flowers to disabled veterans, wrote letters, and accompanied the First Lady to charity events.  Emma traveled with the Hayes family to New York and throughout New England. She was pleased when Lucy gave her a "special room" at the Soldiers' Home where the Hayes family stayed during the hot summer months.  

Although not wealthy, Emma received an excellent education. She was deeply interested in politics and appreciative of the opportunity to know some of the nation's most prominent men and women.  Her nearly year-long stay led many to believe she was part of the Hayes family.

But, indeed, Emma was not a relative. In the spring of 1878, Webb, President Hayes' second son and secretary to his father, proposed to Emma. However, Emma was not interested.  It was then that she knew it was time to leave. 

She joined her cousin Florence Murdoch in New Jersey.  Later, she met Colonel George Glenn.  In the winter of 1880, Lucy and the President attended her wedding at the Carlisle House. From then on, Emma led a vastly different life. As an officer's wife, it was a harsh existence at forts on the western frontier and in Arizona.  Always cheerful and blessed with a buoyant personality,  Emma viewed her experience as a great adventure. When Colonel Glenn died of malaria contracted in Cuba during the Spanish American War, Emma returned to Cincinnati where she lived out the final days of a full and exciting life.

Emma Foote Glenn
Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums

Executive Mansion,   Washington                                                                  
                        Saturday April 21, 1877

My dear Florence,

I will send this letter to Orange [New Jersey] first so I will not have to write the same thing twice.  Thursday was the grand dinner. It was raining dreadfully, but everyone attended. Promptly at quarter of seven we all went down stairs to see the handsome table, then to the blue room. In a few moments members of the Cabinet and wives arrived.  Lady and Sir Edward Thornton, then the Grand Duke and party. he was dressed in a plain evening dress.  It was a little stiff before we went out to dinner.  Soon dinner was announced.  Right off the grand Marine band commenced to play the Russian March.  Stringed instruments, fifty of them, played all through the dinner.  They were so far off the music was not deafening.  Mrs. Hayes looked like a Queen as she sat between the Grand Duke and Constantine.  I went out with Gen. Schurz, Sec. of the Interior.  Sec. of War on my right.  The grandest sight I ever expect to see as I looked up and down the table.  It was not till after dinner that we were presented to his Royal Highness.  I had quite a long talk with him. I was not at all nervous or excited at dinner.

Nothing can ever compare with my feelings like the first dinner I took in the White House.  Then I was a bundle of nerves, could not eat much less speak, the other eve.  I send you a paper.  I can't believe I had shaken hands with his Royal Highness.  He is very sensible, not at all airy to use such an expression.  We were all sorry to have them say good night.    /signed/ Emma [Foote]

Colonel George Evan Glenn

Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums

Thursday, January 14, 2021

A Reflection of Family Love: The Diary of Belinda Elliot McLellan

Belinda Elliot McLellan

           Rutherford B. Hayes Library & Museums

Far from home, Mary McLellan Fitch, once again, opened her mother's diary, given to her some years before her mother's death in 1873.  Mary and her husband the Reverend George Fitch had left Fremont, Ohio, to travel to Shanghai, China, as missionaries only a year after their marriage.  Mary's mother, Belinda Elliot McLellan, a first cousin of President Hayes, had nearly destroyed the diary she had kept for 20 years, believing it to be of little value. Instead, she gave the diary to Mary, who found, again and again, comfort in her mother's poems, prose, and prayers.  

Belinda Eliot had married Robert Bolton McLellan in Vermont. She recorded in her diary how the couple had come to Fremont, Ohio. Belinda and her husband, then suffering from depression and physically unwell, had accepted the invitation of her half brother, John R. Pease, to begin a new life in Ohio.  She recorded in 1852 on that "first Thanksgiving in Ohio, we have now been here nearly five months,  all the time living with brother John's family, who has made us very welcome and happy here. Still we have had the feeling of strangers in a strange land! But Fremont now begins to seem like home in many respects."

John R. Pease

Rutherford B. Hayes Library & Museums

Deeply religious and continuously concerned for the Christian upbringing of her daughters, Belinda depended on  Fremont's Presbyterian Church and its minister Reverend Bushnell to deepen her faith.  But is was John Pease, who helped his much-loved younger half-sister adapt to life in Ohio.  

First Presbyterian Church, Fremont, Ohio

Courtesy of First Presbyterian Church

He advised her husband in business prospects, gave Belinda a piano, money, presents, a lot and two others for her daughters. His daily visits to the McLellan home on his way downtown to his hardware store brought much good cheer and laughter to the household. 

John R. Pease, Oakwood Cemetery, Fremont, Ohio
Courtesy Find a Grave

On January 3rd, 1860, Belinda was at John's bedside when he died after severe suffering from tuberculosis.  She described in detail how much she loved him.  His help had even made it possible for her daughters to attend the Lake Erie Female Seminary in Painesville, Ohio.  And, they did not disappoint. Mary and her sister Jennie graduated at the head of their class.  They went on to serve as teachers.  Later Mary and Jennie married the Fitch brothers.  

Mary McLellan Fitch
Died in Shanghai, China 1918
Courtesy of Find a Grave

When Belinda died, President Hayes wrote in his diary that his cousin "was possessed of talents of a high order, excellent education, and a temper and disposition almost perfect.  In the small circle of her intimate friends she was dearly loved.  A poet of some excellence and a superior prose writer - she was religious - her piety a reality"  Mary, in a notation in Belinda's diary, paid to her mother the highest of tributes, "May Christ make me like her insomuch as she was like Him."  Today, Belinda's diary is part of the Hayes Manuscript Collection.

Friday, January 8, 2021

The Fisk Jubilee Singers


Courtesy Harper's Weekly

On May 23rd 1882, President Rutherford B. Hayes wrote in his diary that the Fisk Jubilee Singers had stayed at Spiegel Grove for two days, following their "successful concert." Hayes was not the first president for whom the Jubilee Singers had performed. Touring the world for more than a decade, the group had sung for other presidents as well as for queens, ministers, prisoners, patients, and for thousands of concert goers.  

They were students at Nashville's Fisk University  The American Missionary Association founded the school in 1866 on the grounds of an old hospital used by Union troops during the Civil War.  The goal was to educate former slaves and other young African Americans..  Five years later, Fisk was functioning but teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Its treasurer and music director George White scraped together what funds he could to take some of his best singers on tour for a fundraising effort for Fisk.  

The American Missionary Association was opposed.  Concerned about its reputation, the AMA viewed the singers as Fisk's ambassadors for its educational mission.  Eventually, the organization relented, but demanded that performances, demeanor, and dress must be impeccable.  This was not lost on President Hayes years later who wrote that "Miss [Mattie] Lawrence ladylike and intelligent and even more so Miss [Ella] Sheppard."

On October 6, 1871, White took his singers to Cincinnati, then Columbus, and on to Oberlin, following the old path of the Underground Railroad.  The acapella ensemble, some of them teens and all but two born into slavery, had shared their "slave songs" with White.  Soprano, arranger, and Fisk's first black instructor Ella Sheppard wrote, "At first the slave songs were never sung in public, they were sacred to our parents." White deeply valued their songs and asked his singers to teach him the songs of their parents.  He called the group the Jubilee Singers, referring to the Old Testament's Jewish year of Jubilee.

As they toured New York and New England's churches and concert halls, their largely white audiences grew to appreciate the sacred songs that the group first performed only as encores. After touring for eight months, the Jubilee Singers returned to Fisk, having raised $40,000.

The following year, the Singers continued to hold performances in the U.S. and then spent nearly a year touring England. In 1875, the Jubilee Singers embarked on a three-year European tour.  But non-stop travel, discrimination, poor accommodations, exhaustion, illness, grueling practices, and discord took its toll among the members.

Forced to re-organize in 1879, the Jubilee Singers set out once again under the direction of White and singer Frederick Loudin. During the 1880s, they performed in Australia, Asia, New Zealand, and throughout the American West. The Singers raised $150,000 for Fisk University and its Jubilee Hall. 

The Jubilee Singers have continued to sing to this day, receiving awards and accolades from around the world.  In 2008, President George-W-Bush presented the Singers with the National Medal of the Arts. They are recognized for preserving the musical tradition known today as Negro Spirituals. You can listen to their songs at fiskjubileesingers.org. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Jim Thorpe: America's Greatest Athlete of the First Half of the 20th Century

Jim Thorpe (center)  Clarence Childs (right)
Indiana University 1913/1914 season
James B. Childs Family Collection
Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums

 Jim Thorpe was born May 28, 1888 near Prague in Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma). He was the great great grandson of Chief Black Hawk.  In 1950, sports writers and broadcasters voted him the greatest football player and the greatest American athlete of the first half of the 20th century. 

He attended Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Carlisle, was founded during the Hayes administration as the first off -reservation school for Native Americans. 

In 1911, he was voted first-string All American.  Thorpe played football, baseball, basketball, and trained for the 1912 Olympics in track. Thorpe won the gold medal for both the decathlon and the pentathlon at the Stockholm Olympics. (He was later stripped of these medals when it was revealed he had played  semi-professional baseball in 1909. They were not re-instated until after his death)  

Clarence Childs (left) Jim Thorpe (second left)
Indiana University 1913/1914
James B. Childs Collection
Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums

While training for the Olympics, Thorpe met Clarence Childs of Fremont, Ohio. Childs, a superb athlete in his own right, won the bronze medal in the hammer throw, missing the silver by less than an inch. After touring the U. S. and Europe with the Olympic team, Childs returned to Fremont and married Zella Sherard. He coached at Wooster College and then Indiana University. His assistant at Indiana was his Olympic team mate, the legendary Jim Thorpe. 

According to the Library of Congress, Thorpe played baseball and football professionally from 1913 to 1929. He was the first president of the new American Professional Football Association that later became the NFL.  He played football professionally until the age of forty-one. For two of those years he coached and played for the Oorang Indians, an all Native American franchise of LaRue, Ohio.


Note:  To learn more about the extraordinary life of soldier, athlete,  Clarence Childs, read his diary or follow this link to the collection held by the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums or read about him on Paper Trail