Al Malpa Ephemera


Steamer's Salvage Photo from 1897 East River Accident

Steamer's Salvage Photo from 1897 East River Accident


This photograph was taken on July 29, 1897 in New York City. The next day the "New York Times" described the scene: "The lower part of the East River directly above the Brooklyn Bridge was more than usually crowded with vessels at 11 o'clock yesterday morning, when the battleship Maine arrived at that point en route from New London to the naval anchorage off Tompkinsville, S.I. A very strong ebb tide was running at the time and the big vessel was slowly feeling her way down the river, keeping well in toward the New York Shore."

Additional vessels on the river here were the steamer Colorado, in tow of the tug J. Jewett; the transport tug No. 5 of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company; the excursion steamboat Chancellor; and then the steamer Isabel.

One thing led to another, and according to the “New York Journal and Advertiser” on July 30, “Rather than run down the excursion steamer Isabel, with 1,500 persons on board, the battle ship Maine was yesterday run into an East River pier by Captain Charles B. Sigsbie, the commander. A railroad float with ten cars aboard, which was tied to the pier, was sent to the bottom. Captain Sigsbie took the risk of wrecking his ship rather than cut through the frail Isabel…” From there, the lengthy article goes on to give minute-by-minute details of the incident. It includes: “Those aboard the Isabel became wild with fright. Her engines were reversed, and she tooted a whistle excitedly, but to all spectators it looked as if there must certainly be a collision which would result in the big man-of-war cutting through the Isabel and tossing her 1,500 passengers into the river.” But Captain Sigsbie saved the day.

(Interestingly, in the “New York Times” article about the event, it refers to “400 excursionists on board…”)

Five days later, the “board of inquiry completely exonerated” Captain Sigsbie from blame for the accident and found the Isabel responsible.

From “Naval Merchant Ship Articles”: In the 1860s, “the Board of Marine Underwriters of New York City started to investigate the cause of mounting losses from shipwrecks along the Atlantic Coast. Marine salvage had long been in the hands of unorganized, self-appointed amateurs who were often unscrupulous. Many worked under the laws of the sea salvage rules. The Board established the Coast Wrecking Company and appointed Israel J. Merritt to head its operation." Within 20 years, he bought the business and renamed it Merritt’s Wrecking Organization. His competition at the time was “a company founded by William E. Chapman, named the Chapman Derrick & Wrecking Company. They specialized in the lighterage and hoisting business and kept busy in New York Harbor. The company had the knowledge, equipment, and experience in marine salvage. In 1897, the two companies resolved their competitive problems and merged to form the Merritt & Chapman Derrick & Wrecking Company.”

Condition: Very good. There are some black dots along the right side of the image, and a couple on the left. The image is a sepia color. The surface of the print is unmarred, and very smooth. The bottom left corner of the card is chipped and the upper right corner is bumped. Size 7 x 5 inches.


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