From the Cleveland Press Wednesday, November 2, 1892 (with a sketch of "The Steamer W. H. Gilcher)
Another Terrible Disaster. The Steamer W. H. Gilcher Foundered During the Gale On Lake Michigan.
Went Down To Death In Waves. Another Terrible Blow To Cleveland And Vicinity The Vessel Given Up As Lost By her Owners.
Nothing But Wreckage To Tell The Awful Story.
Latest News Of The Disaster That Befell The Great Steel Ship- The Captain And The Crew.
Another terrible Lake disaster is to be chronicled. The loss of life by the collapse of the steel steamer Western Reserve has not yet ceased to be a subject of sorrowful conversation in Cleveland marine circles, and now comes another and similar catastrophe.
The fears that the big steamer W. H. Gilcher had gone to the bottom have been confirmed. As in the case of the Western Reserve a great loss of life was attendant upon the sinking of the vessel. Eighteen men found watery graves in Lake Michigan.
Especially does this second disaster strike home to Cleveland and the vicinity, for the captain and some of the crew of the Gilcher were recruited along this shore as was the case with the Western Reserve. Another good and well known captain from Vermilion has perished with his vessel and the little town is again in mourning.
The terrible struggles with the wind and waves that swept across Lake Michigan with awful fury will probably never be known,. It is not thought that a single soul survived the wreck. The fight that these men made for their life can be imagined in every city and town along the lakes, for the storms that sent them down to death was felt all along the great inland seas. The strength and stability of the steamer must have made her battle a long and gallant one, but the power of the sea and wind finally overcame her. The broken wreckage washing to shore on the Manitou Islands and the Michigan beach were mute evidences of the struggle that the steamer and her crew made.
The Gilcher was lost near Manitou islands, the bleak and barren spots that lie near the east shore of Lake Michigan a short distance south of Charlevoix. There is a life saving station on one of the islands but it has no telegraphic communication with the mainland. The Gilcher had a crew of 17 men under charge of Captain L. H. Weeks, of Vermilion. She was a sister ship to the ill fated Western Reserve and like her was built by the Cleveland ship building company. She was valued at $200,000. The news of the disaster came as a terrible shock to the vessel men of Cleveland who, if not for the precedent given by the Western Reserve wreck, would have considered it impossible. The Gilcher was considered by many, the finest steel vessel on the lakes. She held with the E. C. Pope the record of having carried the greatest cargo of grain out of Chicago, about 121,000 bushels of wheat.
Captain Gilchrist of Vermilion, her main owner, who is associated in the Perry-Payne building with Captain Moore & Barton, was besieged, Monday morning by vessel owners asking for news. "The Gilcher is reported lost," a PRESS man said to M.
A. Hanna in front of the Perry Payne building early Wednesday morning. "Good God, is that true?" the vessel owner exclaimed. "I had not heard of it." and he entered the building and sought further information. Captain Gilchrist was found in his office. "I have nothing new to give in regard to the disaster. It is no doubt true that the Gilcher is sunk. The news is terrible. She was a magnificent steamer. The place where the white wreckage of cabins was found is undoubtedly the locality where she arrived when the gale was strongest. Her cabins were white and that fact alone is almost sufficient verification of the truth of the story. Then I have tried to obtain information of her whereabouts, but without the least success, she must have sunk. Outside of her crew of 17 men and Captain Lloyd H. Weeks, I know of no one else who on board."
The Gilcher was built two years ago and was constructed on the same lines as the Pontiac. Captain Bartow believed that the Gilcher struck on a reef at the foot of Lake Michigan. He had no doubt but that she was lost. "We would have heard of her," he said, "Long before now had she put into any port. The news is a terrible surprise, for the Gilcher has proved a staunch boat and this, which is her last, was also her first mishap." It is supposed that the vessel went down sometime during Friday night, when the gale was heaviest. The following dispatch was received from Sandusky:
The Gilcher's Owners
Sandusky, O., Nov., 2- The first intimation Messrs. Gilcher and Schuck received of the loss of the steamer Gilcher was conveyed by a PRESS reporter Wednesday morning. Schuck said that the last heard was at 2:20 pm Friday when she passed Mackinac from Buffalo to Milwaukee. She was built by the Cleveland ship building company to the order of J. P. Gilchrist, of Vermilion, and put in commission in the spring of '91. L. H. Weeks of Vermilion, was captain and her crew numbered 17. She was a sister ship to the ill-fated Western Reserve. Her owners were Frank and J. C. Gilchrist, Vermilion; Thomas Maytham, Buffalo; R.E. & J.E. Schuck and W. H. Gilcher, Sandusky; Norman Kelley, Kelleys island; P.G. Walker and C. G. Nielson, Sandusky. Schuck knew nothing of the crew, which is constantly changing. The Mate was Edward Porter of Lorain."
J.C. Gilchrist, one of the principal owners of the Gilcher, busied himself, Wednesday forenoon, in sending telegraphs to different points for the purpose of determining, definitely if possible, what had become of the steamer. "I can't get any word" he said, when asked if he had succeeded in getting further information; "but from what we already know, I greatly fear that the Gilcher is lost. The description of the wreckage tallies exactly with her cabin fittings, and if she had put in anywhere, I am positive that Captain Weeks would have telegraphed and let me know what was wrong. Of this I am pretty sure; she couldn't have broken in two; or if she did so, nobody can lay it to the fact that she was either too light or overloaded. She had on a cargo of coal for Cox Bros., of Milwaukee and had sailed from Buffalo. She was about 400 net tons light of her full capacity, and I should think, could not have been better loaded than she was for this kind of weather. My opinion is she must have struck a rock or reef and had a hole punched in her bottom, or else that she was in a collision. I don't believe the weather alone could have overcome her. What did he value the boat at? About $200,000. We had her insured for $180,000.
"Capt. Weeks, who sailed her, was formerly master of the J. C. Gilchrist, and he has been sailing for us since 1880. He was one of the best captains on the lakes and a man who was respected by everybody who knew him. He had a wife and two children, a son and a daughter, who live at Vermilion." When asked what effect the loss of the Gilcher would have on the building of such boats, Gilchrist said: "I don't see why it should effect the building of such boats, because I don't know why her style of build could have had anything to do with the disaster unless it can be shown that she broke in two, as the Western Reserve did. I don't believe that was what happened to her if she went down. Her engine was considerably lighter than that of the Western Reserve, too, which was another thing in her favor. The Gilcher's engine was 1200 horsepower." It was the general supposition of the vessel men who gathered in Gilchrist office Wednesday forenoon, that the Gilcher must have struck the South Fox Reef, which is four miles south of South Fox island. She was, according to all calculation, about at that point when the storm struck her. She was last heard from when she passed Mackinaw, and is now four days overdue. As far as can be learned, her crew consisted of 18 men. Captain Weeks, about a month ago in Buffalo, discharged most of his old sailors, nearly all of whom hailed from Vermilion, and hired others whose names are not known to the owners f the boat. Those who were known to have been on the Gilcher when she sailed from Buffalo the last time were
Capt. L. H. Weeks, of Vermilion, Capt. Ed Porter of Lorain, First Mate; Sydney Jones of Marine City Michigan; chief engineer, a young man named Thompson, a son of Daniel Thompson of Vermilion, who was employed as a sailor, and a wheel man named King, who was formerly of Vermilion but has lately made his home in Chicago. There were no passengers that the owners of the boat are aware of. It was learned Wednesday forenoon, that vessel men have frequently expressed the opinion that the Gilcher was not as strongly built as she ought to have been, that the steel plates put in her were rather light for a boat f her size. J. C. Gilchrist, when asked about this, said he had no reason to believe there was any foundation for such an opinion. H. D. Coffinberry, President of the Cleveland ship building company, was seen at his office on the viaduct Wednesday morning, and asked what he thought had caused the loss of the Gilcher. "I have no reason to suppose," he replied, "that she has been lost. The description of the wreckage, as far as I have learned doesn't tally with any part of the Gilcher's make-up. They say the stuff that has come ashore is white. There wasn't a bit of white on the Gilcher. Her cabins were al grained, and instead of her bell being attached to the bridge, as I learned was the case with the boat from which the wreckage that is being picked up came, the Gilcher's bell was fastened to the mast. There wasn't a glass door in her either. They say that the doors which are being washed ashore have glass in them. I don't say that the Gilcher hasn't gone down, but I'm not going to accept this rumor till I've had more definite information. She may have struck a rock or a reef or been in a collision and gone down in 80 fathoms of water, so thus, we'll never hear from her again. Any boat might meet with such a fate."
When asked what he had to say in regard to the rumors that the Gilcher was not strongly built, Coffinberry said; "It's a d---d lie. No boat could have been better built than she was. She was in every respect a model boat. What do I think the effect of her loss will be upon the building of such boats? Now I'm not going to enter into any speculations at all. I don't think it is the province of the press or of any set of people to immediately begin giving opinions this way and that way when such a thing as this happens. We'd better wait till we get the facts and not rush into print with our opinions. As far as I can learn, the Gilcher was loaded just right for the greatest safety at this season of the year, and I don't believe she could have broken in two. I am very anxious to hear from her definitely and have been busy telegraphing all morning."
Captain Weeks, who sailed the Gilcher, was a man about 45 years of age. The boat was his ideal of a lake vessel and had about all the money saved from a dozen years sailing, invested in her. The mate, Captain Ed Porter, was about 50 years of age. He was formerly in command of one of the Webb line of boats and was known to nearly every vessel man in Cleveland.
donated and copyright © 2002 Maureen Smith