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Steamer Larchmont before it wrecked off the coast of Block Island, click to enlarge

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Block Island, Rhode Island Larchmont Disaster

February 1907


Bodies of 73 Sound Disaster Victims Recovered.


One Is Insane and Limbs of Some May be Amputated.

Survivor of Larchmont Charges Captain and Crew with Cowardice in Deserting
Ship While Many Helpless Passengers Were on Board - Company's President
Absolves Crew, Praises Their Courage, And Asserts Schooner Was to Blame

Identified dead 38
Unidentified dead and missing 100
Survivors 19
Total on board the ship 157

Providence, R. I. Feb 14.
- A careful compilation of figures in this city early to-day shows that 138 lives are known to have been lost as a result of the collision Monday night between the Joy Line steamer Larchmont and the schooner Harry Knowlton.
It is known that there were not less than 157 persons on board the steamer. Of that number only nineteen survived. Seventy-tree bodies have been recovered, thirty-eight bodies have been recovered, thirty-eight of them having been identified. There are still 100 passengers who are either missing or unidentified.

Funeral Ship Arrives.
With her flag at half mast, the steamer Kentucky, of the Joy Line, reached this city at 6 o'clock this evening from Block Island, bearing eighteen of the survivors of the steamer Larchmont, which went down in Block Island Sound night before last, and forty-nine bodies of the victims of the disaster. One survivor of the wreck, Miss Sadie Galup, of Boston, was left on Block Island. There was one body left there when the Kentucky sailed from there this afternoon, but later fishing boats brought to the island twenty-two more bodies, making the total list of known dead not stand at seventy-three. Of the total number of persons aboard the steamer it is now almost certain that only nineteen have been saved, and of those only two are women.
All day fishing boats and tugs have scoured Block Island Sound in the hope that a boat or raft might be discovered that might contain some sign of life.

No Survivors Found
They failed to find anything but bodies to bear back to Block Island. Only a few bodies were washed ashore on the island during the day. After the tide turned the natural course for them would have been out to sea. It is therefore doubtful whether many more bodies will be recovered, and in all probability it will never be know how many lost their lives in this disaster.

Terrible tales of suffering were brought here to-night [sic] by some of the survivors, and one of the passengers asserted that in that awful hour of peril helpless women were thrust aside by men who cared only for their own safety. The charge of cowardice was make by Fred Hiergelsee, an eighteen-year-old lad of Brooklyn, N. Y. He said that not only were women left to their fate, but that Capt. McVey left the sinking ship in the very first lifeboat, that some of the ship's employes [sic] filled the boats to the exclusion of the passengers, and that at least one boat was without oars when it was put over the side.

Tells Another Version.
Louis MacFarland, a negro waiter on the Larchmont, gave a version of the departure of the captain's boat which was entirely different from that given by Hiergesell. He said that when re reached the captain's boat, to which he was assigned, he found Capt McVey there. The captain ordered that the boat be swung outboard, ready to lower, calling to the passengers at the same time to step into the boat The passengers, MacFarland said, seemed afraid to do so, and as the steamer was going down fast, Capt McVey ordered that the boat be lowered. When it reached the water, however, a rope, fastened to the ring bolt and attached to the davit above, became caught, and those in the boat were in danger of being dragged down with the steamer, when Boatswain Andrew Tobesen, who was on the deck, saved their lives by cutting the rope.

Hiergesell's statement was confirmed by other survivors of the terrible tradedy, but, notwithstanding the fact that there was none to corrobarate him, he held steadfastly to his statement.

Official Blames Schooner.
President Dunbaugh issued a statement to-night [sic], in which he said:
"The schooner was responsible for the collision. The officers and crew of the Larchmont are not to blame in any way. In view of the horrible conditions which prevailed immediately after the accident, I am satisfied the men did all in their power to meet the situation as conscientious and honorable men. It appears from my investigation that the schooner luffed right into the Larchmont and caused the accident which resulted in such great loss of life.

"The fact that the steamer sank so soon after the crash; the fact that so many were unable to reach the boats even after they were put out, is, to my mind, sufficient proof that the crew acted bravely and did all it its power to aid the passengers who were able to reach the deck."

Saw Both Sides' Lights.
The story brought in by the Kentucky to-night [sic] was a story of tradedy such as is difficult for the imagination to picture as occurring in a comparatively narrow strait, through which vessels are constantly passing. The light from Block Island and from the Rhode Island mainland were visible when the ship went down, carrying with her many of the passengers undoubtedly. The same light could be seen by the others who had managed to get into the boats, only to succumb in the icy sea.

So quickly did the vessel go down that there was no time for a single signal of distress to be given which might have told the life-savers on both shores of the tragedy that was happening so near to them.

The survivors who reached here told stories of what happened aboard after the ship received her death blow from the schooner, that make the picture even a more terrible one. Men, women, and children, it appears, fought to get up the stairs from the main deck to the hurricane deck, where the boats and rafts were. Some had to give it up, apparently. One of the survivors, failing to get up by the stairway, where men were fighting for their lives, succeeded in climbing through a port hole and up on the outside of the steamer. How many failed to get up the stairs and reach the deck before the ship went down will never be known. All of the stories agree that the boat sank not more than ten minutes after the collision. This was about six minutes after the captain's boat had left the ship.

Went Down Stern First
According to Purser Young, who was on this boat, the ship seemed to go down stern first. As her light disappeared beneath the waves, those in the boat heard heart-rending cries coming from her that told of the awful struggle for life that was going on. They saw no other boats, though a few apparently got away from the steamer, only to be swallowed up in the sea that was running.

Of the nineteen survivors, eight, including the two women, were rescued from a piece of the hurrican deck that floated away when the ship sank.

Thirty-five were on this piece of the deck when it floated away. Seven persons were alive and the body of another was found on it when the fishing schooner came alongside just before noon yesterday. Seven men landed on the island from the captain's boat, three reached shore in a second one, a boy swam ashore from a boat that went down half a mile from the island, and another picked up on a raft some distance out.

Two Improvised Morgues.
Block Island's two life-saving stations, one at Sandy Point and the other at New Shoreham, were turned into morgues and hospitals during the night, and the dead crowded the living. The boatroom floors were lined with the dead, each one frozen as stiff as the boards on which -t rested. In the living and sleeping rooms the suffering survivors rested on cots and beds, racked with the pain of frozen limbs and shuddering with the recollection of the horror of their experiences. Many were denied the merciful unconsciousness of sleep, and throughout the long, dreary night they tossed and cried and sobbed, and the howling wind outside only served to keep fresh in their minds the terrors of the storm through which they had fought their way to the island. It is feared that none of those survivors will remain unscathed. The frost penetrated too deeply to be overcome by medical treatment and the surgeon's knife will be the only salvation of some of the unfortunates. Some will lose fingers, some hands, and it is feared some will be obliged to have limbs amputated.

An enormous crowd had gathered at the Fox Point wharf when the funeral ship was sighted coming up the river late this afternoon. Ambulances from the two hospitals were waiting at the dock for the survivors and several patrol wagons were read to receive the corpses. The police were forced to rope off the pier and allowed only a few to go down to the ship. Waiting at the lines were a crowd of weeping men and women. In the crowd was a group of the members of the Salvation Army. They had come to see if they could find among the bodies any of their comrades who sailed for New York on the ship the night before last. They seemed overcome with grief. None of the bodies were in coffins. As soon as they had been placed in coffins they were hurried to Monahan's morgue.

Ice Covered All Bodies.
All of the bodies were frozen stiff and incrusted with ice. In many cases the arms were raised as if the ice had incased them while they were in the very act of fighting the fate that was in store for them. Of the bodies which had been recovered when the Kentucky left, only five were women. There were no children, though there were some aboard the vessel.

It took some time to prepare the bodies, and the work of identification at the morgue did not begin until late this evening.

Providence had been filled all day with relatives of the missing ones The reason for the delay in the Kentucky reaching here was due to the difficulty in getting the survivors and the bodies on board of her at the island. She could not get very near the shore owing to the ice, and consequently the bodies had to be taken out to her in small boats, as did the survivors. They had been landed fie miles from where the boat lay and had to brought the five miles in wagons.

Refuses to Go on Ship.
Sadie Galup, who lives in Boston, refused to allow herself to be taken aboard the Kentucky, though she was urged to do so in order that she could get proper treatment at a hospital here. She is threatened with pneumonia, and is also frost-bitten. She is almost crazed from her experiences and at the idea of going on another boat she became delirous [sic].

The experiences of Miss Galup and those on the part of the hurricane deck that floated off when the ship went down were related by Mrs. Harris Feldman, the other woman on this makeshift raft, who was saved with her husband, both being from New York, and by David Fox, of Bridgeton, N. J.

The Feldmans were in a stateroom on the saloon deck when the crash came and fought their way upstairs to the hurricane deck where the boats were. Feldman put his wife in a boat, but many had crowded into this boat and he found he could not get aboard himself. He is a big man and an old Black Sea sailor. Seeing that he and his wife were liable to be separated, he pulled her out of the boat just as the ship began to settle and the water had risen to the deck. They grabbed on to the deck and suddenly there was a grinding noise and they found themselves floating on an improvised raft made up of about half the deck.

Three Rescued; One Dies
Two women and a man were found in the water a minute later clinging to the raft. They were hauled aboard, but died almost immediately. Their bodies froze at once and were washed overboard. One after another the others on the craft gave up the fight for life in the cold and died, an? The swirling seas quickly took their bodies overboard.

If it had not been for Feldman, the two women would have died. "All night long," said Mr. Feldman, "my husband kept beating the other woman and myself to keep the life in our bodies. The he would seize us and make us walk up and down holding on to him. There was never a moment that he gave it up. Most of the others were stiff and sat down to die, but my husband would not give it up. He told me that I must keep alive. Miss Galup could not keep walking, and finally fell down and lay between two dead men on the raft. We could not get her up, but my husband kept beating her all over her body. The waves swept over us constantly, and we were covered with ice. Some of the people prayed. We could see the lights all the time, but not a single boat. We shouted, but there was no answer. All we could do was to pray. Finally, when we had almost given it up, we saw the fishing boat and knew that we were safe."

When taken aboard the fishing boat, the clothes of the women were frozen to their bodies, but Feldman, the Black Sea sailor, had kept the blood moving in them and had saved their lives.

He Prayed on Raft.
David Fox, of Bridgeton, J. J., worked with Feldman through the night in this heroic task. He is a big man, too. He was on his way home from attending a Bible conference. His stateroom was stove in by the schooner. He was the man who gave up the fight to get up the stairs and with the water rushing to the cabin, through a hole that was as big as a hogshead, he says he managed to crawl through a porthole to the deck. Fox said that through the night he kept walking on the little raft and helped some of the weaker ones to do likewise. He prayed out loud that help might come, and he tried to keep the courage of the others up. Those rescued from this raft said they owed to lives to the Black Sea sailor and the Bible student.

An experience almost as harrowing as that of the little company on this raft was that of sixteen-year-old Fred Heigersell, the only boy that was saved. He had run away from home, he said. He reached the hurricane deck and got into a boat with four other men. They did not get the boat free from the Larchmont until she went down. Then all five in the boat tried to row, but they had little success. Still they kept her headed for the lights on the island.

Boy Swam to Shore.

Just before they reached the island a wave upset the boat. Hiegersell started to swim to the lighthouse. He says he looked around and the four had disappeared. He says he swam for fifteen minutes and finally his feet struck bottom. He saw a light in a house, and he had just strength enough to tap on the window. The people in the house heard it and found him unconscious under the window.

The most complete story of the wreck is told by Purser Young. He said he was in his office when the two ships together. He rushed out in the cabin to find what was the matter and was almost blinded at once by the steam.

"I met the steward." Said Young, 'and he told me that the steam pipe had burst. The people were pouring out into the cabin in their night clothes. I shouted for every one to get up to the hurricane deck where the boats were. I could hear others of the crew shouting the same orders.

Every Man at His Post.
"When I reached that deck I saw members of the crew at the different boats. I am positive that every man was at his proper station and that they did everything they could to care for the passengers.

"My place under the rules was in the captain's boat, which was up near the bow. I found the captain directing the launching of this boat. Nearly all of the passengers seemed to be at the stern. There were only four boats there. The ship was going down fast. Our boat would have held ten persons. We got seven in her. The reason why only two of these were passengers was because there were no passengers where we were. We took all that were near us and tried to get back for more, but there was not any time left. The steamer had eight life boats and four rafts. I don't think these were enought [sic] for the people, but I'm not certain of that.

"It was about six minutes after we launched our boat that the Larchmont sank. She seemed to settle by the stern. We saw the light disappear as she went down and heard cries from the ship. Then we looked around for other boats. Several times we thought we saw a boat and rowed toward it, but each time it turned out to be a wave. It was trying to row against Niagara [sic]. We drifted to the island.

Defends Capt. McVey
"Capt. McVay did all a man could have done, I think, for his passengers, and stayed on the ship as long as was possible."

The two passengers that were in the captain's boat seemed to have been the only ones who were saved with any of the crew. The other survivors do not know what the crew did, except to tell them to get on the hurricane deck. From the fact that most of the crew are missing and undoubtedly dead, it is believed that they did attempt to rescue passengers and get the boats launched; but if they did so, those that they tried to save appear to have died with them.

The twenty-two additional bodies that were taken to Block Island after the Kentucky left were found by four fishing vessels. They arrived at the island with their flags at half mast, denoting they had dead aboard. Most of the bodies has been found floating north of the island.

Life preservers were found strapped to some of these bodies. These are the first prson [sic] to be found with any life preservers, but apparently very few stopped to put them on in their rush to reach the upper deck. The bodies brought in this afternoon were like cakes of ice. Some of the dead had their hands in the pockets of their coats.

Her Hands Frozen to Ears.
One woman was found with her hands up to her ears. She had frozen stiff in that position. The fishermen reported that the sound was strewn with the wreckage from the steamer.

Antonio Riezukiewitz, of Central Falls, R. I., entered a life boat with eight other passengers, all men. The boat had scarcely touched the water when it turned partially over, throwing all the occupants into the water. All but Riezukiewitz seemed to have been frozen to death almost as soon as they were immersed, for he was unable to find a trace of them when he came to the surface.

Riezukiewitz swam to the boat and climbed in. He said he did not remember how he was saved. He fell out of the boat twice, but each time clambered back. Finally he dropped into the water in the bottom of the boat and lost consciousness. When he awoke he was at Block Island. He is not partly insane as a result of his experience. During the trip from Block Island he created a scene by charging the officers of the steamer with an attempt to starve his to death. He was removed to the East Side Hospital, Providence, in a critical condition.

-------- . BROWN; Negro waiter, Providence
Freight Clerk JAMES CARROLL, Providence.
-------- PAFFER,
residence , unknown.
Block Island.
salesman, Providence.-
Son of James Flood (saved), New York.
waiter residence unknown
-------- HALL,
waiter, residence unknown.
chef, residence unknown.
Mrs. J. G. JENSON,
farmer. Block Island.
Olneyvllle, R. L
Salvation Army, Cambridge, Mass.
second assistant engineer, Providence.
assistant engineer, Providence.
watchman, Olneyville, R. I.
Petersburg, Va.
a negro, Providence.
watchman, Paterson, N. J.
Stewardess, Providence.
A Russian fireman, recognized, but name unknown.

continued >> Go to page 1, 2, 3, 4

Articles transcribed by Ann.  Thanks Ann!


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