Dramatic Rescue On The A. A. Parker
By James Donahue
The rescue of the 18 crew members and two dogs from the deck of the sinking steamer A. A. Parker remains
among the annuals of the most dramatic stories in the history of the U.S. Live Saving Service.
The Parker sank on Lake Superior, just off Grand Maras, on Sept. 19, 1903.
The story of what happened, and just how close those sailors came to losing their lives, reads like
the plot of a contemporary adventure film produced on a Hollywood set. You almost feel the danger just reading the dull pages
of government records.
The Parker, a 19-year-old wooden-hulled, 247-foot steamship operated by the Gilchrist Transportation
Company, was steaming from Superior, Wisconsin, with a cargo of iron ore when a gale blew up out of the southwest.
As the storm intensified, the Parker began taking on water. The ship’s master, a Captain White,
knew he was past Keweenaw Point. He intended to reach Whitefish Point and anchor out the storm there. By the time the ship
was off Grand Maras, however, White knew he was in trouble. The water was gaining on the pumps and he knew the Parker was
about to founder. With steam still in the boilers, White ordered the wheelsman to turn south for Grand Maras. As land drew
in sight, he began blowing distress signals.
In the meantime, the lookout at Grant Maras had his glass trained on the Parker. He saw the vessel
turn toward land and while the storm prevented him from hearing the steam whistle, he saw the steam blowing from it and reported
what he saw to Captain Ben Trudell, commander of the Life-Saving Service. Trudell ordered a surfboat launched to meet the
With the wind at their backs, the life-savers rowed four miles to the Parker in less than an hour.
By the time they arrived, Trudell realized that the Parker was in imminent danger of foundering. The life-savers took as many
men as they could in their surfboat. They couldn't take them all so Trudell ordered the Parker’s crew to put the last
nine men into their own yawl then follow the surfboat back to shore.
No sooner had all of the crew members abandoned ship then there could be heard some loud booms and
cracks. Suddenly portions of the ship’s superstructure began separating from the main deck as pressure from the flooding
hull began breaking the foundering vessel apart. The men in the boats watched in awe as the great ship gave a lurch, then
dove bow first to the bottom.
The Parker sank in 120 feet of water.
The trip back to shore seemed to be an impossible task. The men were already weary from their struggle
against the elements, and now they were forced to row against the wind and waves. After three hours of hard rowing they were
still far out in the lake and it looked as if they were not going to make it.
Then, out of the gloom appeared the tugboat E.M.B.A, that had been watching the ordeal. It steamed
out of Grand Maras to assist. Behind this tug came a second tugboat, the J. W. Wescott. The tugs threw lines to the two boats
and towed them safely back into port.
The Parker was built in Cleveland in 1892 and originally named Kasota.
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