Marine City, Michigan Newspaper September 1900
Title: Back Safe
Subtitle: Wheelman BRAUND tells of the Lyon Disaster
Had an Awful Experience
Capt. Senghas, of the Ill-Fated Steamer, Performed a Heroic Act Before She Went Down
W. H. Braund of 16 Montcalm street, wheelsman of the steamer John B. Lyon, and one of the six members of the crew who reached shore after the steamer foundered in Lake Erie during the great storm of last Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, has reached home, bearing many marks of his frightful experience battling for life amid the debris of the ill-fated ship in Lake Erie. Mr. Braund relates a graphic story of the incidents preceding the sinking of the steamer.
“I had been relieved at the wheel about 12:15 o’clock Wednesday morning,” said Mr. Braund yesterday, “and was hustling around with the captain and mate, attempting to save the ship. Capt. Senghas took two pair of pants filled them with black oil and trailed them overboard, the captain on one side and myself on the other in the hope of calming the sea. The experiment had no perceptible effect, as the wind was blowing at the rate of about 76 miles an hour, and the sea was very heavy.”
“We had previously gone to Ashtabula and left our tow, the barge Georger. The steamer was consigned to Cleveland to take on her cargo. Leaving Ashtabula, we started for Cleveland and arrived at a point about two and one half miles west of Cleveland when we had to turn back and start for Erie for coal and shelter. This was about 11 o’clock Tuesday night. We started from Ashtabula with only about 12 hours’ supply of coal on board, and the captain finding we had not sufficient coal to make headway in the heavy sea, decided to turn back. The sea kept getting heavier all the time, so heavy even that some of the seams parted.”
STARTED TO GO BACK
“The captain ordered the wheel put hard about to turn for Erie. The vessel got into the trough of the sea and labored there for five minutes. I believe it caused the vessel to leak and sprung the decks open. From every part of the ship we could hear water rushing into the hold below. The captain ordered the second mate and myself to go down and see the cause of it. When we got below we found the decks had been badly sprung and that the water was rushing through, filling up the vessel inside on top of the cargo.”
“The captain ordered men below to cut through the ceiling of the ship so as to let the water run off into the bilges, where it could be pumped out with the bilge pumps. As they were in the act of doing so a great sea swept aboard and caved in one of the hatches and a large section of the deck on top of the six men in the hold. As luck would have it no one was injured by the yalling debris. We were thrown into total darkness, but managed to pick our way on the deck again. There we met an awful sight. Every sea that boarded the ship went down through the opening in her deck, fill her with water.”
“We made a faint effort to launch the long boat, but no one had the heart to do it, knowing that boat could not live a moment, and also because the boat was too long to swing in her davits. She remained hanging on her davits inside the rail and filled with water. At that moment another sea boarded the ship, carrying down the whole deck. Her sides sprung in; a large wave raised her stern and she broke in two and plunged bow first into the depths.”
EVERBODY WAS COOL
“There was not the slightest disorder aboard ship at any time. No man seemed to show the white feather. When the ship sunk everyone seemed to go down to the bottom with her with the undertow. The spars and smokestack were swept away as the ship went down.”
“I found myself thrown around under the stairway leading up to the pilothouse deck, by the surging of the water. I was clambering for the stairway when the ship started for the bottom. When she reached bottom I made a desperate effort to get to the surface, and reached it entirely out of breath. When I had sufficiently recovered to make use of my voice I hollered and shouted to see if there were any other living beings adrift with me. I could not hear a sound. I floated about in a mass of wreckage for two or three hours, it seemed, and was cut and lacerated all over the body. I fought like a demon and I am pretty strong, but it was the lonesomest experience I ever had in my life, being battered about in the open sea all alone.”
“It was entirely impossible to stick on one piece of wreckage, as the waves were so strong that they broke your hold and sent you adrift in the lake only to catch on something else. I finally succeeded in getting a piece of wreckage about 6x8 feet with a shattered piece of deck beam projecting out by which I could hang on with legs as well as arms till that little float managed to drift ashore.”
“On getting within about 60 feet of shore I was in such a delirious state I fell off into the surf and would have drowned had it not been for two powerful fishermen who rushed out and pulled me to shore. They carried me to a fisherman’s shanty up on the hillside, where I remained unconscious till late the next day.”
CAPTAIN A BRAVE MAN
“I want to say that Capt. Al Senghas, whose home as at Marine City, displayed the greatest bravery all through the affair. We were all grouped around the lifeboat with life preservers on when a deck hand came to Capt. Senghas and said: ‘What shall I do for a life preserver, I can’t find one?’ “Here, take mine,” said the captain, coolly handing him the one he had. The deckhand was among those who were drowned.”
Mr. Braund had made only two trips on the steamer John B. Lyon. Prior to taking a berth on the steamer he was a foreman at the Wheeler Saddle Co.’s plant. Being in rather poor health he was advised by his physician to try a change of work, and if possible get work on the water. He was planning to leave the steamer when she reached Cleveland on the last trip and return to Detroit. It was not, however, Mr. Braund’s first experience on the lakes, as he spent some time on shipboard when younger. He is now 32 years of age. His arms, legs and body are covered with slowly healing wounds, received in struggle amongst the debris of the sunken ship. His watch stopped at 2:31:30 o’clock, which was probably almost immediately after the Lyon went down.
David Brown, who was second engineer on the Lyon, is also in the city visiting his wife, who is with relatives here. He says the boat went down like a ball of shot, and that he scarcely had time to get out of the engine room and grab a life preserver before she sunk. Engineer Brown declares the boat was in the best condition before she encountered the storm, and that her steering gear was all right to the last. He was in the water 15 hours.
Donated and copyright © 2002 by Nancy Z.
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