Burning Of The Glen Island
By James Donahue
An electrical short was blamed for the fire that swept the 24-year-old excursion steamship Glen Island
during pre-Christmas trip from Glen Island to New Haven, off the Connecticut coast on December 17, 1904. Seven crew members
and two passengers perished.
The first sign of trouble occurred sometime just after midnight, when Quartermaster John O’Brien
and Pilot Thomas McMillan were in the pilothouse. The said the ship’s lights unexpectedly went out. A few minutes later
the wheel froze and the wheel could no longer control the rudder. As the men were working frantically to get the vessel back
under control, the fire alarm bell started ringing. That was when they saw smoke rolling through the upper saloon about amidships.
Captain Charles E. MacAllister rushed to the pilothouse, wearing only trousers and an overcoat, and
called the crew to quarters in an early attempt to locate and fight the fire. Unfortunately, the fire was quick to reach the
cargo which was filled with flammable Christmas decorations, and it quickly raged out of control.
Even as the alarm gongs were ringing throughout the ship in an effort to wake the passengers, the
fire was sweeping the old wooden superstructure. The lifeboats were lowered and passengers were scrambling to escape the burning
Unfortunately nine people did not make it. Among them was Rosa Silken, a 66-year-old New Haven woman
who was about to board a lifeboat, but then ran back to her cabin to recover her money. She was not seen again.
The ship’s assistant engineer W. E. Hendrickson died at his post in the engine room, as did
firemen Frank Bush, John Burke, Otto Olafson and Newman Miller. Deckhands Otto Berg and Peter Burns also were counted among
The weather was bitterly cold and there was ice floating in the water that night. Nearly all of the
survivors in the boats had been rousted from their sleep and consequently were dressed in their night clothes and coats if
they had the foresight to grab them as they left their cabins.
Fortunately the tug Billy, steaming east with a barge in tow, came on the scene. The tug took all
of the survivors aboard and sent them into the engine room to get warm. The tug remained on the scene searching for possible
survivors still in the water until the steamship Erastus Corning stopped and took the survivors on to New Haven.
The Glen Island drifted aground on Captain’s Island where it burned to a total loss. The remains
of the wreck still lie in about 20 feet of water about 100 yards from shore. Divers that visit the wreck said the remains
of one paddle wheel and some of the ribs are about all that can be found.
The 238-foot-long vessel was launched at Philadelphia in 1880 as the William C. Eggerton. In later
years it was given the name City of Richmond before it became the Glen Island.