Bar Harbor, ME Ferry Boat Disaster, Aug 1899


Twenty drowned near Bar Harbor, Two hundred excursionists fell in a mass into the water.The ferry gangplank gave way. The Victims, shut in on all sides, having no avenue of escape, clutched one another and sank in groups before the work of rescue could be begun.

Bar Harbor, ME Aug 6, 1899. At least twenty persons were drowned to-day at Mount Desert Ferry, eight miles from here, by the breaking of a gangplank on which they were walking from the wharf to a steamer which was to have conveyed them to this place. They were members of an excursion party from Bangor and other points on the line of the Maine Central Railroad.

They Maine Central Railroad operated it's crack Pullman train, The Bar Harbor Express from New York City and Boston to their dock at Ferry Point in the town of Hancock, Me, 8 miles away across the bay from Bar Harbor. Guests and their luggage would detrain and board the local ferry steamer for the short trip to their summer destination. The dock was connected to the ferry boat by a wooden boarding ramp which had a series of chains and counterweights in order to align the boat deck with the dock at whatever stage the tide was at that moment. The first few guests boarded easily then, when a mass of humanity estimated to be 200 people were on the gangplank at the same time, when it suddenly gave way plunging most into the cold waters of the bay 15 ft below.

Penned in on 3 sides by the pilings of the dock and on the fourth by the boat, they fought for their lives for a few minutes while more than a hundred excursionists above on the dock looked on, stupified, and failing at first to realize the enormity of the tragedy they were witnessing. Ropes and life preservers were thrown to the crowd in the water but a mass panic ensued. Clinging to each other some eventually slipped beneath the surface to drown. Many persons taken alive from the water were unconscious and near death. Many of those were revived with great difficulty.

The steamer Cymbria, also owned by the Maine Central Railroad made a quick trip from Bar Harbor with 4 doctors aboard. Rescuers struggled to save those they could but it was nearly impossible to get into the spot with small boats. Many were pulled out of the water by ropes and manpower. Those needing immediate medical attention were taken to the nearby Hotel Bluffs where the doctors had set up emergency facilities.

The freight house at the dock was turned into an emergency morgue, the bodies being moved there for identification as soon as they were removed from the water. By noon 17 bodies had arrived there and 3 more, being taken to Bar Harbor on the steamer Sappho, died while enroute for an appalling death toll of twenty citizens. The known list of casualties follows.

Murray, Mrs William, Brewer; Bridges, Irving, W. Hancock; Colson, Albert, Levant; Oakes, Mrs Alonzo P, Bangor; Summer, Miss Grace, Bangor; Murphy, Joseph, Old Town; Estey, Mrs Hollis W. Ellsworth; Cushman, Clifford, Corinth; Ward, Miss Lizzie, Bangor; Downes, Charles W. Ellsworth; Sweetser, F.E. Portland; Lank, Ora M, Danforth; Bennett, G.H, Brewer, Bennett, Mrs G.H, Brewer; Stover, Mrs Charles, Ellsworth; McCard, Melvin, Corinth; Billings, Mrs A.H, Bangor; Derwent, Mrs George, Bangor; Lewis, Miss, Hampden; Unknown woman, believed to be from Boston.

Coroner D. L. Field of Ellsworth, Me has impaneled a jury to hold an inquest. The jury will begin its work in the morning. After the bodies in the freight house had been identified, coroner Field gave the necessary permission to have them moved, and relatives and friends soon after took each in charge and returned them to their respective homes for burial.

Taken from the archives of the New York Times.