Quiz #77 - September 17, 2006
Many thanks to Stan Read who submitted this week's quiz photo.
What happened?  How many people were killed in this accident?
On September 8, 1947 a spark from a welding torch
being used to repair a section of loose railing
ignited 27,000 to 30,000 gallons of fuel oil on the steamship the Island Queen
while it was docked at Pittsburgh, PA.  19 dead.
(Various sources say as many as 23 dead.)
On September 8, 1947, the Delta Queen was
hauled up to the Dravo Shipyard Marine Ways in
Pittsburgh to scrape off the Navy grey paint
from her wartime duties to be converted from a
Navy Ferry to a pleasure boat. Part of the
refurbishing included removal of the California
style metal paddlewheel shield, as ice on the
Ohio and upper Mississippi Rivers would jam
the wheel in the constricted space under the
cover. Ironically, she was hauled up to the
Shipyard almost in sight of the second Island
Queen, which exploded and burned the next day.

The fate of the the Island Queen, which was
docked at Pittsburgh's Wood Street Wharf on
the Monongahela Riverfor repairs, resulted after
a welder's torch had ignited gas from a fuel
tank, which set off the first explosion. It
Hardcover: 115 pages
Publisher: University of Akron
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Language: English
ISBN: 1884836178

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ruptured a fuel tank or line, which in turn set off a second explosion, rocking the boat
and spreading fire everywhere. The explosion rocked the Monongahela waterfront,
breaking windows two blocks away. Testimony indicates that the steamer had about
27,000 gallons of fuel onboard. The Queen had been on a typical "end of the Coney
Island season" tour to other cities, where she would carry pleasure seekers to and from
river towns on afternoon and evening cruises.

The steamer was destroyed as a result of the explosion. Fortunately all the passengers,
most of the crew and the musicians were in town shopping.  Of the 66 crewmembers,
however, several remained aboard.  Seventeen crewmembers were injured and 19 killed
and 40 were injured.  Initial reports said 23 were killed, but this was revised to 21 and
then 19. She was valued at nearly $1 million.
Initial List of Casualties
Virginia Yeager, Cook                                        Mary Jones, Maid
David O. Heath, Watchman                                Henry Williams, Porter
Robert Jordon, Porter                                        Melvin Voiles, Cabin Boy
Hoyt Moore, Steward                                        Percy DeBruce, Porter
Fred Dickow, Chief Engineer                             Arthur Weber, Engineer
Ace Patrick, Watchman                                     Robert Tucker, Porter
Howard McKee, Striker Engineer                        Walter Peterson, Watchman
Ed Kummer, Purser                                           Fred Tolle, Watchman
William Stableton, Cabin Boy                              Robert Childress, Cabin Boy
Lawrence Smith, Porter                                     Paul Koenig, Cabin Boy
Ernest E. Wagner, Mate

Note from
http://www.steamboats.com/museum/u5.html: One crew member, Ernest
Wagner, jumped from the roof to save himself. The Delta Queen had just moved to the
Mississippi River. In 1960 Ernest Wagner became master of the Delta Queen and
served for about 20 years. He is credited with saving many crew members in the
explosion. I don't know who else from this list was saved.  The final death toll was 19.
The Island Queen
Type: Sidewheel, steel hull excursion boat
Size: 286.1' X 45.6' X 7.3', 4,100 Passenger;
Power: noncondensing engines, 22's, 40's-9 ft.
Wheels: 30', 16' buckets
Launched: 1925, Apr. 18, Midland, Pa. by Midland
Barge Co.
Destroyed: 1947, Sept. 9, Welding accident at
Pittsburgh dock caused fuel tank explosion that
demolished her. 19 crewmembers died.
Area: Summer: Cincinnati to Ohio's Coney Island.
Winter: Pittsburgh to New Orleans
Owner: Coney Island Company
Captain(s): long time master, Charles N. Hall.
Capt. Harry Doss, pilot, 1947
Mate was Capt. Ernest Wagner

The Island Queen was a 5 deck sidewheeler with a 20,000 sq ft dance floor which
operated out of Cincinnati where she made daily summertime trips to Coney Island.  
After Coney Island closed for the season, the Island Queen made excursions elsewhere
including Pittsburgh.

An account of the explosion of the Island Queen appeared in Life Magazine Sept. 22,
1947. To read the Time Magazine account from Sept 22, 1947, click

Additional History

By 1905, the steamboat company [that
owned the original Island Queen] had
become The Coney Island Company.
That year, they purchased the
12-year-old steamboat "Saint Joseph"
from owners in Mississippi, had her
re-fitted, and re-named her the
"Island Queen." For seventeen years
she ran the several daily round trips
between the Cincinnati levee and
Coney Island. There was entertainment on board the steamboat as well, for this is the
"Island Queen" on which "Chimes - A Novelty Rag" by Homer Denney and "The Queen
Rag - March and Two Step" by Floyd Willis were played on a daily basis.

[The Island Queen] was a floating palace. She was painted white and green. She carried
4,000 passengers. She had 7,000 electric lights and a ballroom with a 20,000 square
foot hardwood dance floor... She was an all-steel lady, a glittering sidewheeler that
burned oil but had a steam calliope.
As was the case with so many of the old
wooden steamboats, she met her end by fire.
The "Island Queen," along with the "Morning
Star," the "Chris Greene," and the "Tacoma" all
burned in a spectacular blaze at the Cincinnati
levee in November, 1922.

This grand old boat was succeeded by a second
"Island Queen," built in 1925 on a steel hull
originally intended for the steamer "Louisville,"
which was never built. The second "Island
Queen" continued in daily Coney Island service
until 1947, when her fuel tanks exploded during refitting work in Pittsburgh, with the
loss of nineteen lives. A near-twin to the second "Island Queen" is still afloat. Originally
named the "Cincinnati," this boat was re-fitted and re-named, and made her debut as the
"President" in 1934. Re-fitted once again in 1991 as a floating casino, the "President" is
now moored at Davenport, Iowa.
Lucky Dog
Ironically, Homer Denny, the Island Queen calliopist, had just left the boat to take
pictures of the Queen. He snapped one photo as the first explosion occurred,
immediately taking subsequent shots. As a result, Denny was able to capture on film the
most accurate record of the ship's demise. Only the iron frame of his calliope did not
burn, and he later salvaged four of the brass keys that hadn't melted.
Cincinnati airport:  "Over in the connecting corridor between terminals 1 and 2, look for
the large bell salvaged from the second "Island Queen," a riverboat that sailed the Ohio
River from 1920 until 1947 before being destroyed by fire. Nearby you can see vintage
prints and models of Cincinnati riverboats mounted on the walls. Film buffs take note:
This corridor was used for the scene in the film "Rain Man" where the character played
by Dustin Hoffman balks at getting on a plane with his brother, played by Tom Cruise".
The Steamer President, a Replica of the Second Island Queen
Hi Colleen,

I read last month's answer today and was
surprised by the last couple of sentences
[about the Steamer President].  So I
stopped over at the casino about noon
today and snapped a picture of the current
state of the President.  Every river boat
that is moored as a casino is more-or-less
permanently attached to the shore with
another building so unless you get out on
the water it's not possible to see the paddle
wheel.  Here's the picture, looking West
from the North bank of the Mississippi
Many thanks to Bill Burrows for hustling down
to the River and taking this beautiful picture of
the President for us. Please click on thumbnail.
River (the Davenport side). Just in case you might think I have my direction wrong,
this is the only place "Ole Miss" flows from East to West.

I thought about going to downtown Rock Island and taking a picture from there but
opted for Davenport. Rock Island might be too long a shot anyway.  The river is pretty
wide there.  I'm glad you liked the picture though.

A short addition to the remarks about the President:  It is docked just a short distance
downstream from the location where the first bridge across the Mississippi River was
built, only to be destroyed by fire just weeks after completion when a steamboat ran
into it.  The steamboat company sued the railroad company for putting the bridge in the
path of river traffic.  The rail company was defended by Abraham Lincoln and prevailed
in the suit.  Of course the bridge was built again in a slightly different place but out of
steel that time.  Today the tracks run on the lower level of a bridge which serves
Arsenal Island  and carries cars on the upper level. It is a swing bridge which is opened
when a tug needs to use the lock at Lock and Dam 15.  At one time this was the only
non-toll bridge connecting Illinois and Iowa in this area.

Another remark:  The bridge in the background of the President picture is the
"Centennial" bridge connecting downtown Rock Island, IL to downtown Davenport, IA.
Bill Burrows
Comments from Our Readers
My husband spent a lot of his work life on ships for the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration so he's always interested in photos of ship incidents. He
was able pretty quickly to see bow from stern and identify the type of ship.  That was a
neat puzzle.                                                                                 
Sue Edminster

I decided to have a look in the newspapers. This disaster was widely covered. In the
Nevada State Journal of 11th September, 1947 there is a report from Pittsburgh about
the opening of the U.S. Coast Guard Board of Inquiry. That report, p.1, says the death
toll had then been "fixed at 21". Various newspaper reports from 11th September, 1947
said that the inquiry had failed to disclose the cause, and that 14 bodies had been
recovered and 6 crew members were still missing, for e.g. see the Joplin Globe
[Missouri] 12 September, 1947.                                                   
Diane M. Rogers
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goes to Susan Fortune for discovering an e-Card featuring a picture of The Island
Queen. You can view the card by clicking
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Evan Hindman                Debbie Sterbinsky
William Hughes                Gwen Upton     
Glen Grant                Carol Phillips
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Jim Kiser                Deborah Wesley
David Lepitre                Fred Stuart
Susan Fortune                Misty Bogle
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Stan Read                Sue Edminster
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Carol Haueter                Marty Guidry
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Liz Mackie                Jack Garrison
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