Peoria County, Illinois Genealogy Trails

Steamer Columbia Sinks

Submitted by Karen Seeman 2011

Fourteen Columbia Victims Buried at Kingston Tuesday 
Steamer Columbia Sinks Friday Night and Drowns Eighty three -- Over Eighty Board Boat at Kingston--Ten Glasford People All Escape 

from the Glasford Gazette, Glasford, Illinois
July 11, 1918


Kingston Mines mourned for her dead Tuesday. 
The little village under the hill by the river, shocked and-stunned by the terrible disaster to the Steamer Columbia, which claimed fourteen of her citizens as victims, courageously went about laying her dead away in the beautiful cemetery overlooking the village and the river, and in the nearby Maple Ridge Cemetery. 

The services for Mrs. Chas. Harbolt and three children, and for Mr. and Mrs. Geo. W. Gillott, were held simultaneously at 9:36 at their respective homes, and the funeral processions then joined and went to the Maple Ridge Cemetery in one body. 

The service for the eight victims who were buried in the Kingston Cemetery were held under the trees in the cemetery at 2:30 o'clock. The eight bodies in five pearl gray caskets, were carried up the winding hill to the cemetery entrance, with twelve pall bearers to each casket. 

Hundreds of sorrowing relatives and friends followed on foot and in cars. Probably a thousand people were gathered in the cemetery to pay their last respects to the dead. All of the business houses in Kingston were closed, and also many in Glasford. Many Glasford people attended the service, and were glad to render what small aid they could in the last sad rites. 

The funeral sermon was delivered by Rev. H. M. Blout, of Trivoli. After the conclusion of the sermon, the remains were taken to their respective graves, where the benediction was pronounced by the minister and they were consigned to their last resting place. 

Just as the relatives were gathered around the graves, a fierce rain storm broke, drenching everyone. The approach of the storm as the services were in progress had a further depressing effect on everyone.

Steamer - Sinks Friday Night 
The disastrous wreck of the Steamer Columbia which claimed nearly 85 lives occurred Friday night.. The boat was returning from Peoria, carrying over 500 Pekin and Kingston Mines people, when, due to a heavy fog, it struck the Peoria County shore just below Wesley City. Within three minutes it was a total wreck, lying at the bottom of the river. 

The investigation in progress by county, state and federal authorities, is expected to show whether the boat hit a log or a sand bar. 
Engineer Davis of the Columbia said when the boat hit the shore it sheared off and headed for the center of the river. He. received a signal to look into the hold of the boat, and by that time the water was over the lower deck. He opened the safety valve on the boilers, probably preventing an explosion which would have killed those who were not drowned. Davis stood at his throttle until the water was up to his waist, when he dived through a window, and escaped. Davis was engineer on the Lancaster, which is owned by Kingston people until a short time ago. 

When the boat reached the center of the stream it broke in the middle crumpled up like an egg shell. 
Most of the people were in the dance hall, and as the boat lurched to one side, they were slid across the polished dance floor and became one terrified mass of fighting, kicking human bodies. On top of them fell the piano, soda fountain and fixtures, heavy plate glass mirrors, and other furniture. The wonder is that any got out alive. 

Eighty-three bodies were recovered from the wreck by volunteer helpers, federal river men and expert divers, working all night Friday and for several days after. Two or three bodies are still reported missing. 

Eighty tickets were sold from Kingston, and there were a number of small children in addition. Fifteen of them were drowned.
They are: 

Mrs. John Wright (Catherine Tharp) 
John Jacob Wright 
Mrs. William Scott (Catherine Wright) 
Mrs. John Brown (Nee Wright) 
Mrs. John Grewey (Jenny Williams) 
Frances Rebecca Grewey 
Albert Henry Grewey 
Mrs. Chas. Harbolt (Iva May Parr) 
Mildred Anna Harbolt 
Grace Iva Harbolt 
Mabel Irene Harbolt 
Geo. W. Gillott 
Mrs. Geo. W. Gillott 
Mrs. Wm. Freeland 
Geo. A. Schuster 

The bodies of all except two were a brought down to Kingston Monday on the Steamer Lancaster. The body of little Grace Harbolt was found Monday evening and was brought down Tuesday morning in the Kuecks hearse. The body of Geo. Schuster, was found near Pekin Tuesday afternoon, and was taken to his home in Peoria. 

Ten Glasford People On 
There were ten Glasford people on the ill-fated boat, all of whom were lucky enough to escape. They were Mrs. Grace Wood, Misses Fannie and Sara Fahnestock, Mabel Shepard and Faye Tindall, Oakley Fahnestock, Chester Payne, Claire Reiger, Maurice Glasford, and Otto McElhaney. Some of them had narrow escapes. 

Those who were in the dance hall managed to fight their way to the top and crawl out through windows. Faye Tindall happened to be in one corner of the dance hall where the ceiling was about a foot above water. As she came up her hand came in contact with an electric light bulb, to which she clung for a long time, until discovered by rescuers. She. was one of the last to be taken off. Mrs. Grace Wood was thrown from, the top of the boat and was caught by Wm. Lanan as she was going down the third time. One or two of the boys were not in shape to take care of themselves, and owe their lives solely to the fact that they happened to be on top when the boat sank. We hope the boys will take a lesson from this and keep themselves ready for an emergency in a case like this, especially when accompanied by girls who have a right to expect their protection. 

Chester Payne and Oakley Fahnestock went back to Pekin the next day and worked all day in helping care for the dead and injured. 
The bodies as they were recovered were taken to Pekin, where a morgue was established in the building formerly occupied by the Kuecks Undertaking Co. Deputy Coroner. H. C. Wilmot, the Glasford undertaker, had charge of the morgue. 

Kingston is Ill-Fated 
We do not wonder that many of the Kingston people ar becoming fatalists. Sixteen years ago, on June 10, 1902, a cyclone nearly swept village away, killing four people, wounding many more, and wrecking a score of homes. 

In writing of the sad event at that time, the former editor of the Gazette said: 
"The miners union all turned out in a body and with the rigs and people on foot formed a procession six blocks long. Standing on the hillside where one could see at a glance all the shattered buildings and looking on the long funeral line as it slowly proceeded west with two hearses and a little white casket being carried,: the scene was enough to make anyone shed tears of sympathy. Let us hope that we may experience such a calamity again." 
Little the present writer thought. at that time that sixteen years later he would stand on the same spot and see five caskets, containing eight bodies, bourn up this same hill. it was a sight to melt the heart of the most hardened, and we fervently hope the little village of Kingston may be spared any more sad blows of this kind.

110 Perish when boat sinks in Illinois River 
Steamer Columbia Hits Log and Goes Down at Night near Wesley, Il 

Victims Were Returning from Excursion to Peoria--Federal Officials Open Inquiry-Captain Denies the Report Vessel Was Condemned - Seventy Eight Bodies Recovered. 
from the Glasford Gazette, Glasford, Illinois 
July 1918

Pekin, Ill., July 8.-Seventy-eight bodies were recovered on Saturday from the wrecked steamer Columbia, which sank in 20 feet of water in the Illinois river opposite Wesley, Ill., at one o'clock Saturday morning after striking a log. Seventy-one have been identified. No bodies were removed from the vessel on Sunday owing to a heavy storm. Twenty-two persons are still reported missing. The majority of the victims were from this city.

U. S. Inquiry Started. 
With the arrival in Peoria of George Green, supervising federal inspector of steamships, government investigation of the Columbia tragedy got underway. A preliminary Inquiry was held at the federal building, to which Capt. Herman Mehl and several members of his crew were summoned by Steamship inspectors George Bowers and Reese Downs of St. Louis. 

Deny Hull Was Rotten. 
Captain Mehl and the crew, pale and shaking, talked in subdued tones while awaiting their interviews with the officials. They are being guarded by secret service men. They denied the hull of the ill-fated ship was rotten or that there was anything wrong with the keel. They explained the collapse of the frail boat by saying the stanchions under the ballroom deck must have given way, 

"The hull was pierced by a stationary log," declared Tom Williams, veteran Mississippi river pilot, who was at the wheel when the Columbia went down. 

Steamer Never Condemned. 
Captain Mehl said: "The Columbia was purchased from Capt. Walter Blair of Davenport. She never was condemned. That report is untrue. She never went under any other name. "The safety of a wooden boat," said Mr. Downs, "depends altogether on the skill with which it is handled. Williams and Sivley were experienced pilots---the best on the river. They knew every eddy and current of the stream. We considered the Columbia the safest boat on the river." 

"The object of our Investigation," said District Attorney Dougherty, "Is to determine whether there were any violations of the federal law. We are here to see that full justice is done andhe federal law. We are here to see that full justice is done and not to whitewash anyone." 

The Columbia was valued at $35,000 and was not Insured. Nearly $20,000 was spent last fall for repairs at the Mound City ways. 

Left Peoria at Midnight. 
The Columbia put out from its wharf in Peoria shortly before midnight Friday. Those aboard for the larger part were members of the South Side Social club of Pekin and some friends from Kingston Mines. They had come to Peoria earlier in the evening, bringing their children with them to attend a war work carnival in progress in Peoria. 

The Columbia was about 125 feet in length and of the usual broad beam of river boats. The hull, like all river boats, was flat of bottom and regarded as incapable of being capsized. Upon the departure of the boat most of the passengers sought the lower deck and the dancing floor. 

Captain Mehl said his first intimation of danger was when the vessel sustained a slight shock. 

The lights had flickered off and on again. Captain Mehl megaphoned his hands and bellowed aloft, "Everybody get upstairs, She's going down." 

There was a second and more violent jolt which caused the unwieldy vessel to shiver and groan aloud. The lights went out. 

There was a rush for the exits. The hull parted amid ships and the whole superstructure crumpled into kindling and the boat sank into the mud bottom 20 feet below. An indescribable chaos of things and persons swept down against the wall of the dancing salon and stuck there. 

Those who had come out alive were given temporary care in the huts of fisherman.




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