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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Shipwreck: San Francisco's Worst Remains Undiscovered -- Along with Millions in Silver

Posted By on Wed, Apr 23, 2014 at 12:30 PM

click to enlarge And the captain goes down with the ship - GOLDEN GATE NATIONAL RECREATION AREA ARCHIVE

Amazing scenes were witnessed today when it was revealed the elusive wreckage of the City of Chester has been located 216 feet beneath the waves, not far from the Golden Gate Bridge. 


That ship's 1888 sinking killed 16 people; it was the second-worst disaster recorded on the waters of San Francisco Bay. 

The worst disaster, however, vanished without a trace. And, as is the case with so many horrendous incidents later rendered insignificant by the Great Quake of 1906, it has equally vanished from public memory. 

There is, however, a story to tell. It was 1901. It was the extreme tail end of a journey from Hong Kong to San Francisco. 

And it was foggy. 

On Feb. 22, 1901, the City of Rio De Janeiro steamed through the Golden Gate; had it not been so perilously foggy the city's lights would have beckoned. 


The voyage from the Far East was ostensibly 99.9 percent complete. But 99.99 percent is not 100 percent. Some 130 people would soon learn this in the most unforgiving manner possible. 

San Francisco's worst maritime disaster didn't take long to unfold. The City of Rio de Janeiro sank in just eight minutes after striking submerged rocks near Fort Point. The ship's underside was ripped nearly completely open and its hold flooded rapidly. Rescue crews only hundreds of yards away remained oblivious due to the dense fog; their first clue of the unfolding tragedy came when lifeboats floated by two hours later. 

By the time rescue vessels could be dispatched, it was too late to save many passengers. A few were found clinging to scattered bits of wreckage, but, of the 220-odd people aboard the boat, only 82 were saved -- many by Italian fishermen on the scene far sooner than official personnel. 

Captain William Ward, who always said he'd go down with his ship, went down with his ship. So did silver ingots with a present-day value exceeding $22 million

Detritus from the wreck washed up throughout the bay; luggage and chairs were found as far off as Suisun. In 1931, a man known to history only as "Captain Haskell" told gawping news reporters that he'd discovered the vessel with a two-man sub of his own devising. He filed a claim on the wreckage and hatched plans to become a millionaire. 

Instead, in July of that year, he would disappear, never to be seen again. 

The City of Rio de Janeiro has long since been forgotten. Its wreckage was never recovered.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Bio:
Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

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