Pittsburgh, PA Excursion Steamer ISLAND QUEEN Explodes, Sep 1947

Steamer ISLAND QUEEN Island Queen On Fire Wreckage



Pittsburgh -- AP -- A giant explosion and fire spewing damage over a wide river front area Tuesday destroyed the five-deck excursion steamer "ISLAND QUEEN," killing an estimated 28 crew members and injuring at least 17 others.
More than 60 of the big boat's 92 crewmen were aboard when two tremendous blasts rocked the vessel at her Monongahela River dock. The tragedy occurred just 45 minutes before she was to take on passengers for a scenic three-hour river cruise.

Pittsburgh -- AP -- EDWARD L. SCHOTT of Cincinnati president of the company which owned the "ISLAND QUEEN" excursion boat, announced last night the total of dead and missing in the tragedy numbered 24.
Cincinnati -- AP -- F. S. CHRISTMAN, assistant director of operation of the U. S. Corps of Engineers of the Ohio River division, said he had been advised that a boiler had exploded on the excursion boat ISLAND QUEEN which was destroyed by an explosion and fire at Pittsburgh Tuesday.
The opinion, he said, was telephoned to him by JOHN H. DODDS, chief of operations in the Pittsburgh District Corps of Engineers.

Bodies were hurled high into the air, dropping more than 30 feet away into the river, by the force of the blast.
Police Superintendent HARVEY SCOTT and firemen estimated the death toll.
A fireman who probed the blackened wreckage after the oil and gasoline fed flames were extinguished reported at least 27 blackened bodies still aboard. Firemen began to remove them, wrapped in canvas.
Fireman S. B. LANYON declared: "I saw six bodies myself and they were blackened beyond recognition."
A short time after the bodies were counted, Fire Chief WILLIAM DAVIS ordered all firemen off the boat because, he said, the hulk was settling deeper into the river and threatening to break side-ways into the stream.
Sinks To Top Deck.
The charred and blackened hulk of the once proud steamer sank in the Monongahela River after burning for two hours. Only her top deck, still spewing thick black smoke from smouldering oil, was visible last night.
Police estimated it would take several days to probe the waters for additional victims of the spectacular blast which shook the downtown area, wrecking cars parked along the waterfront and smashing countless windows in nearby sotres and buldings.
At least 17 persons were injured and hospitalized. Authorities feared the death total might rise.
The ship's captain, N. C. HALL of Cincinnati, who was not aboard at the time the blast rocked the vessel at 12:15 p.m. (EST) said the "ISLAND QUEEN" carried a crew of 85. The boat had accommodations for 4,000 passengers.
Firemen Go Overboard.
Police, firemen and passersby dived into the murky waters to rescue crewmen hurled into the river by two tremendous blasts. Firemen, hampered by cars parked along the wharf, enlisted the aid of bystanders to kick open the automobile windows in order to remove the cars.
A fire boat standing nearby and other riverboats turned their hoses on the flaming steamer, whose home port was Cincinnati, O.
Police Superintendent SCOTT said 15 members of the crew were believed asleep aboard the vessel at the time of the explosion. He said police were investigating a report that an acetylene torch was in use on the ship.
Described As Inferno.
SCOTT declared:
"It was unbelievable. It happened so quickly. It was a real inferno, so hot it scorched cars and melted windshields."
WILLIAM L. FLUKE, who works for a ship outfitting firm in a nearby building, said, "the explosion was followed by a burst of flames which hit the boat. I thought the whole block blew up."
FLUKE'S desk was covered by broken glass from the smashed window.
Sidewalks in several blocks were blocked off to prevent injuries to the thousands of sightseers who jammed the area.
Owned In Cincinnati.
The ISLAND QUEEN is owned by Coney Island, Inc., operators of Coney Island Amusement Park on the Ohio River in Cincinnati. A company spokesman said the boat left there Saturday for a 10-day stay in Pittsburgh during which nightly "moonlight" excursion trips were scheduled.
The all-steel, glass-enclosed craft, which the company claims was the largest inland excursion boat in the United States, was 285 feet long and 51 feet wide.
Although no positive check was available, estimates of the number of dead and injured indicated that between 50 and 60 of the boat's 85 crew members were aboard at the time of the blast. Most of the dead and injured were believed to be from Cincinnati.

Kingsport News Tennessee 1947-09-10


Island Queen explosian 1947

My family was one of the lucky one's ,we were due to board the Island Queen at one PM that afternoon.This one of the few places That we were looking forward to visiting . We were blessed.

Margaret J. Waters

Coney Island Steamer, Island Queen

My Dad took me to Coney Island, Cincinnati, Ohio on July 4th - - I do not remember the year but it was really close to 1947 as I recall.

We took a bus from Mason, Ohio to Cincinnati and walked from the bus station in Cincinnati down to the river front where the Island Queen Wharf Boat was moored. I believe some of the old Greene Line Steamers were somewhere near that spot also.

I remember the Public Landing going down to the Coney Island Wharf Boat was something like cobblestones.

We entered the wharf boat and Dad bought tickets for the ride to Coney aboard the Island Queen.

Once aboard the great old vessel, I was fascinated by the engine room where I watched the great big old "Grasshopper Legs" that drove the side paddle wheels as they hissed and chugged and did what they were designed to do.

After that I kind of ran my dad's legs off because I had to go from the bottom deck to the top and back down again - - over and over - - drinking in every detail I could grasp of what I was experiencing because it was one of the most wonderful days of my life.

We sat on the very top deck behind the wheel house and as we passed under a bridge across the river near Cincinnati, I was sure the smoke stacks of the steamer were going to collide with the bottom of the bridge, but we passed underneath alright. It had been an optical illusion that a 9-year-old kid had trouble processing.

The "Queen" chugged along toward coney and the day was nice and warm and there was a breeze coming over us from the river.

I recall listening to the whooshing sound made by the smoke stacks. It sounded like some giant breathing or something.

There wasn't any smoke as I remember because the Island Queen was an oil burner and I thought my Dad told me her engines were like diesels or something.

We spent the day at Coney.

Leaving the Island Queen at Coney Island, we walked across the forward gang plank to get off the ship and then up a long concreted walkway to the old river entrance to the amustment park and the first thing we encountered once inside the grounds of the park was what was called "The Land Of Oz." It was the "Kiddie Land" of Coney.

After the fireworks were finished late that night, the announcement came over the speakers in the park that the last trip of the Island Queen to Cincinnati was loading.

We went down the long concrete walk again and boarded the Queen for the return trip to Cincinnati.

I remember that just before the ship arrived that night, the first thing I saw of her was her bright searchlight moving back and forth in the near pitch blackness of the night outside the lights of the amusement park itself.

Then after I saw the search light, there she was - - all lit up with what looked like thousands of light bulbs - - so magnificent I cried.

One the way down river that night, it got really cold out on the river and I wasn't too warmly dressed.

Dad and I leaned up against the side of the ship's wheel house and Dad held me close to try to keep me warm.

I could hear the soft grinding of the ships engines five decks below as she paddled her way back downstream to the Port of Cincinnati.

The Ship's pilot saw us and came out of the wheel house and laid his big blue uniform coat over and that is the way I slept as we returned to the city.

As we departed the Island Queen and walked back up the public landing, I turned for one last look and saw here in all her resplendent glory with all those light ablaze and the saddest feeling came over me.

I turned to Dad and muttered, "We'll never see her again, Dad, we'll never see her again."

A few days or weeks later I went to meet the newspaper man to get our copy of the Cincinnati Times Star and there was the awful news spread all over the front page that our beloved "Island Queen" was gone.

I am 76-years old now but that night still burns brightly in my memory because that ship and the experience of Coney Island in those days was a wonderment for any child or any adult who wanted to feel like a child again for a little while.

Just wanted to share.

Island Queen survivor

To:John White,

I just happen to run accross this sight as I was doung research to try and find some pictures of the Island Queen. I was thinking about makeing a model of her. Anyway, My step grandfather was Earl Silvernell. He ran all the gambling devices on the Island Queen. I guess that means the slots. He was aboard her the night she blew up as a result of a torch burning through an oil tank or fuel tank was what I remember him telling us as kids.

He told us that he was about to retire to his cabin when the explosion occured. It blew him into the river and burned him badly. He was in and out of conciousness as he floated away down stream where was found two days later on the riverbank. Earl passed away from cancer quite some time ago, around 1978 or so.Still have a few small black and white photos of the Island Queen that were taken the following day of the explosion. For years we had one of the slots off of the boat in our rec room. It had survived because it had been taken off for repair in Ohio.

Don't know if this info means anything to you or not but just thought I would share it with you.

Feel free to e-mail if you like at opengateiprg@aol.com good luck,

Crew of the Island Queen

My name is John White and I was a part of the crew of the Island Queen. I would like to find the names and addresses or hometowns of any of the crew. My email address is theway3737@sbcglobal.net


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