Lecture features Disaster on our doorstep

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) The Juneau-Douglas City Museum hosted authors Mary Lou Spartz and John Greely to discuss the book that reviewed how Juneau responded to the Princess Sophia disaster.

    The Sophia is still considered the worst shipwreck in the history of the North Pacific.

    The story has been told many times but the authors said there is a gap between after the ship went down to when the story goes to Vancouver and the final resting place of the ship.

    Spartz approached Greely about writing a book to cover the gap.

    A variety of boats went out to retrieve the remains of the shipwreck. Some sent to Canada and some to the United States.  The Sophia first launched in 1912, was built in Scotland and built for use in Alaska.  It was built after Titanic and was a key link for Juneau.  At the time, Juneau's population was 3,000 people. The town and economy was in doldrums.  The goldrush was slowing.  This was an opportunity for Juneau to bring cargo and goods to town.   World War I was ending and influenza had caused a lot of deaths in Juneau.
    The territory was 5 years old.  The Captain was Leonard Locke and the Govenor Tom Riggs.


    The Captain was here to run ships on time. He plunged the ship into a blizzard with 360 people on board. He was looking forward to retiring.   He was determined to receive his full retirement.


    Governor Tom Riggs was born in Alaska and a hands on type of guy. He organized the rescue and recovery operation. He knew people that were on the boat.
    Lynn Canal and Vanderbilt Reef was where the sinking occurred.  There were two routes you can take into Juneau. Vanderbilt Reef is what the ship hit. A Day marker and bell were the markings and were covered at high tide and night, visible in the day.


    The ship was full of gold. The Bothelo family awoke to their mother proclaiming her friend Cynthia Perkins visited her in a dream and had been in a shipwreck. A visit to the nearby customs confirmed Perkins was on the ship.


    Riggs went out on one of the rescue vessels. Both the bow of the Sophia and stern were on the reef.   It was impossible to safely lauch a lifeboat safely. Rescuers thought it was safe to leave and weather the storm.  The weather worsened and high tide started coming in.  The high tide turned and drove the boat  off the reef. It went down in 30 minutes.


    Different ships involved in the rescue were named Cedar, Lone Fisherman, USS Peterson, Estebeth, Amy, a mail boat, King and Winge, ships involved in the recovery of the Pricess Sophia. After disaster Riggs pushed for more navigation in Lynn Canal.


    The tide deposited bodies on beach.   They were hard to identify because they were covered in diesel fuel and buried in the snow. Many died because of suffocation. They had life jackets on but it was unclear if they used the lifeboat. About 180 victims were brought to Juneau

    Photos of Sophia taken from King and Winge.  The October 26, 1918 headline in the Juneau Empire read Princess Sophia sinks and 350 souls probably perish. About 20 bodies were buried at Evergreen Cemetary.  Walter Harper and his wife Francis were among those identified.
    Harper wanted to be a doctor and she was a nurse. Family decided to bury them here. Harper’s father one of the first gold miners in Alaska. Parents separated when he was two years old and he was raised by his mother. They met when Walter had typhoid fever and she nursed him.

    The C.W. Young Building became the morgue for the victims. Bodies were brought here . Volunteers accomplished many good works in the recovery.  Bodies processed by undertakers office, belongings were identified and bodies were cleaned up. Volunteers embalmed the bodies. Personal effects were sent to probate. Coffins were built to transfer the bodies to VANCOUVER.  The Princess Alice arrived November 11 to transport the bodies.


    A marble slab covers the Harper's grave in the Evergreen Cemetary. Other unidentified bodies graves are not easily identifiable.
    This year a monument was installed at Eagle Beach State Park.  A plaque was erected at the entrance of Eagle Beach by the Pioneers of Alaska.  A granite boulder was donated and plaque attached.  The Princess Sophia Commemoration Committee presented a variety of programs this fall to commemorate the sinking of Princess Sophia.


    The book, Disaster on our doorstep by the authors was offered for sale at the museum.
    43 bodies were never found including the Captain.  Bodies were recovered into Spring of 1919. Two expeditions that were sent into the ship to recover mail and any bodies in 60 feet of water.  It took over six months it took to do the recovery. Five dogs were on the ship.  There were reports and rumors of one dog, possibly, an English setter, that was said to survive the wreck.  

     

     

     

     

    More from News of the North

    Current Conditions

    Crude Oil Price