The Boneyard

The Great Disasters of the Tri-State

by Harold Morgan

The Evansville Boneyard - Winter 2013

" 14 Persons die when the Belmont ferry boat was hit by a tornado between Evansville and Henderson on August 29, 1884. This was known as the Belmont Disaster. The Belmont was a railroad engine and passenger car ferry that transported engines, train cars and passengers between Evansville and Henderson. The Belmont left Evansville at 8:10 am under stormy clouds. She was hit by a first storm and then a second, a tornado, at 9:00 am and sank 4 miles above Henderson. The barge was cut loose from the steamboat which saved some passengers and rail cars as the barge did not sink.

" 16 Persons die, including 2 in New Harmony from a tornado and 8" hailstones on April 13, 1852. The remarkable story of this storm is that it was the first tornado to be given a scientific study. The Smithsonian Institution of Washington, D.C. commissioned John Chappelsmith to give an account of the storm track and damages. Mr. Chappelsmith plotted the tree size and the direction of its fall for over 7,000 trees. His finding was that tornados did, in fact, rotate; a discovery of great importance.

" 29 University of Evansville basketball team members, coaching staff, supporters and flight crew die when their chartered DC-3 crashed near the east Evansville Airport boundary on December 13, 1977. The crash was about 7:30 pm in rain and fog. The team was flying to Nashville to take a bus to Murfreesboro, Tennessee for a game with Middle Tennessee State. The Aces had moved to NCAA Division 1 basketball and decided to fly to more places than in the past. The crash could only be reached by the railroad that runs along the east airport boundary fence. The deceased were loaded into a box car and taken by rail to the C. K. Newsome Community Center in downtown Evansville. Assistant coach Mark Sandy, who was on a scouting trip into Illinois and Athletic Director Jim Byers who had a scheduled coaching interview were not on the chartered airplane. The failing DC-3 airplane flew low over the Byers home just before crashing. In Oct., 1979 the Memorial Plaza was dedicated behind the U of E Administration Hall.

" 30 out of 225 Evansville residents die from the 1832 cholera epidemic. Some of these poor souls felt fine and their first symptom was to collapse where they stood. Death could come within only 4 hours.

" 30 To 60 people died when the steamboat Henry Lewis collided with the E. Howard steamer near Lewisport, Kentucky on March 9, 1856. The boat was pushed as far as possible to the Kentucky shore. The steamer E. Howard had an earlier collision and sunk the Swallow.

" 40 People die when the boiler of Evansville steamship "Phantom" exploded near Smithland Kentucky on September 15, 1869.

" 60 Residents and canal workers died from illness, construction injuries and cold weather in 1837 and 1838.

" 63 Air line passengers and crew die when their 4-engine Lockheed Electra broke apart above Tell City and fell to earth about 12 miles to the east near the river village of Rome on March 17, 1960. The perished were 33 men, 21 women and 9 children, 6 of the dead were crew members. The flight was from Chicago to Miami. All were killed upon impact or earlier as the airplane disintegrated from 18,000 feet altitude. Parts of the airplane were buried 50 feet into the earth. The first reported cause was weakness of the outer engine supports; a 1996 report found the cause to be metal fatigue of rivet holes around a cabin window. There are two memorials in Perry County to pay homage to the lost souls.

" 111 Coal miners die in the Centralia No. 5 mine on March 25, 1947. The cause was an explosion when a blown-out shot ignited coal dust. During a later season, every high school basketball player was an orphan from the 1947 mine disaster. (The school sports name was already the "Orphans" and [Orphan] "Annies".)

" 100 to 120 People die when steamship Missouri's boiler explodes below the mouth of Green River on January 30, 1866, very near the present site of the Evansville-Henderson twin bridges. At 2:10 am Evansville, Henderson and Newburgh were rocked by a low sounding blast and concussion. The rising sun revealed the wreck of the grounded steamship hulk near the location of LST-325. Some survivors had been rescued from the river and taken to Newburgh. The survivors were rescued by the steamship Dictator, both ships left Evansville near the same time. Some believed the two ships were racing at the time of the explosion. The wreck of the Missouri became highly visible when the river was lower as reported in the Evansville Journal on May 11, 1866.

" 150 Civil War soldiers die from an Ohio & Mississippi Railroad accident on September 16, 1861. A train with 8 passenger cars carrying 600 Illinois Union soldiers crashed into a creek when a railroad bridge gave way under the passenger train. The crash site was between Shoals and Huron, Indiana. The crash happened at night when a broken rail caused four passenger cars, a box car and a baggage car to crash into one tangled mass. Dead and injured were taken to Cincinnati and then returned to their homes in northwest Illinois.

" 695 People die from the most deadly single tornado in all US history on March 18, 1925. The exact number of deaths was not known as there was a 219 mile long track of destruction that covered great distances of rural land where there was little body recovery. Death estimates range from 689 to 826. It has been classified as a "F5" tornado storm. In addition to the tornado (called a "cyclone" in those days) was the flood level water of the Wabash River. The 300 residents and rubble in Griffin Indiana were coated with storm-blown mud. For all useful purposes Griffith was totally destroyed. The Griffith death estimate was 25 to 49 people. The highest death count was 234 in Murphysboro. There were no warnings or alerts of destructive weather. In fact, the weather bureau was not allowed to use the word "tornado" as the word could spread fear and panic.

" 1,000 Canal workers and citizens died from cholera in the southern Indiana Wabash & Erie Canal project construction in 1850 and 1851. Cholera was native to the Far East, primarily India, in the 1800's cholera spread across the entire world. There were 3 different world epidemics; the first was 1832; later outbreaks were 1849 and 1866. Cholera was so deadly that the usual time between first symptoms was 24 to 48 hours. Some people felt in perfect health as the first symptom hit, some would die within 4 hours. They quickly became bewildered with great intestinal pain. The cholera symptoms were diarrhea, acute spasmodic vomiting, painful cramps and then dehydration. The epidemic was spread by food or drinking water contaminated by the bacteria Vibiro cholerae.

" 1,547 to 1,800 Union soldiers, former POWs, were going home on steamship Sultana when 3 boilers exploded near Mound City, Arkansas on April 21, 1865. (Sultana had stopped in Evansville to take on Union soldiers and off-load Confederate POWs.) The Sultana was built to carry 376 passengers but she was loaded with 2,700 Union POWs from Andersonville prison, they were scheduled to off-load in St Louis. The investigation found that the ship was so overloaded that she would lean heavily from one side to the other during routine river navigation. Sultana had 4 large boilers arranged side by side across the width of the hull. While navigating and "rolling" from left to right, the boilers would ride high and be starved of cooling water. One of the boilers, water starved, overheated and exploded. This caused two adjacent boilers to explode as well. The combination of blast, cold water, sick and disabled passengers and dark of night caused the great loss of life. The Sultana remains the single greatest loss of life on river or ocean in US history. The other great losses are; 879 - USS Indianapolis 1945, 1,177 - USS Arizona in 1941, 1,198 - SS Lusitania in 1915 and 1,517 - SS Titanic in 1912.

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