Port Washington’s Maritime History Includes Tragedies And Many Acts Of Courage And HeroismJuly 28, 1960
Ozaukee Press, Wisconsin
Delos Smith Made Many Rescues and Earl Godersky Saved 15 Men
Caption (above): Grim Commemoration: The Toldeo's (sic - should be Toledo) anchor which was found by Delos Smith in 1900 is placed on a concrete slab in the Union cemetery as a grim commemoration of the hundres of lives lost off Port Washington in 1856. The plaque reads: "Anchor from steamer Toledo, recovered from Lake Michigan 1900, Erected to the memory of the passengers and crews who lost their lives in the wrecks of the steamers Toledo and Niagara wrecked off Port Washington, Wis, 1856." Ozaukee Press photo by Vern Arendt.
Lake Michigan rates as one of the most treacherous bodies of water in the world, Hundreds of lives have been lost in the devastating storms that rage the length of the lake each year. Like all maritime towns Port Washington has had its share of disaster and tragedy.
THE TRAGEDY of the Toledo is grimly commemorated in the Union cemetery by a huge concrete and steel anchor. In October of 1856 the Toledo, then one of the largest propeller driven vessels on the lake, sank off Blake’s pier.
The 178 foot ship had sailed up and around the Great Lakes and had docked at Port Washington. There were 81 passengers and crew members aboard on what had been an uneventful voyage. The Toledo was owned by the American Transportation Co.
THE TOLEDO dropped some passengers and freight at Port Washington, took on a deckload of cord wood used for fuel and was putting out into the lake again, bound for Chicago, when a sudden very violent storm came up.
The ship was well off shore, but so terrific was the storm and wind that she was blown back. Horrified spectators ashore, who quickly realized the danger to the vessel, saw the crew frantically attempting to get down the ship’s anchors. The anchor chains fouled however and could not be released before the steamer struck the bottom.
THE LAKE BOTTOM was sand but the storm was so furious and water so unforgiving that that the Toledo, pride of the lakes, went to pieces.
Those ashore were helpless to offer aid and out of all the ship’s company, only three were saved. One of the three, Samuel Welch, a deck-hand, was saved when he clung to a piece of wreckage and was tossed bodily on top of the pier by one of the huge waves. He was picked up by some of the more daring of the terrified watchers and subsequently recovered. Another deck-hand, Aquilla Gifford, and one passenger survived. This was an unidentified passenger, one of 20 others had fled to the life boat, but he alone of this group survived.
THE TODEDO’S CARGO was valued at $100,000 and various parts of it were picked up for miles along the beach after the storm had ceased. The bodies of the dead, later recovered, were buried with appropriate rites in the Union cemetery. In all, 250 lives were lost in the worst disaster off Port Washington.
The Toledo’s anchor was recovered from the lake bottom in 1900 when Delos Smith, while aboard a fishing tug, came upon it by chance. Later, several pieces of the ship’s hull were found, 100 feet of anchor chain and bits of the cargo including an iron car wheel which had stamped on it the date 1854.