• by Sandi Brewster-Walker

Larchmont Survivors Tell Different Stories - Part II

In Part 1, Captain McVey of the steamer Larchmont gave his account of the event of the collision of his vessel with the schooner Harry P. Knowlton. But, the other survivors of the steamer Larchmont told different stories. In the New York Times issue on February 13, 1907, the same issue that reported on the Captain’s version of events, survivor Oliver Janvier told his story. After the collision, Oliver Janvier, 21-years old, of 343 Montgomery Ave, Providence (RI), came ashore with nine (9) dead men in a small boat. The newspaper stated he was more dead than alive when he landed, waist deep in the surf near the Sandy Point Light. The men that rescued Oliver applied oils and other remedies to relieve his suffering. His feet, hands, face, and ears were badly frozen”. “I was going to New York,” Oliver stated, “to get a job. On the boat I met an Indian named Henry Rock, who is a member of Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show.” Pawnee Bill (1860 –1942) was born Gordon William Lillie, specialized in producing Wild West shows with vaudeville performers depicting a romantic version of the west. Henry, the performer mentioned to Oliver that he was traveling to Jersey City to see his wife. The survivor Oliver heard the steamer and schooner collide. “When I got into the saloon deck I found that it was filled with steam,” He continued, “… women were... rushing about, shouting and screaming and fighting each other, and begging God to save them. They all seemed to be rushing to the rail, where the officers of the boat were calmly directing the work of getting them into the life boats”. Oliver also told how Henry, the Indian might have died. Oliver might have embellished a little, “I found a boat with a canvas cover over it, and had a hard time getting the cover off. It didn’t take long to get the boat into the water after that, and people began to pile in. I saw men push women out of the way in an effort to get into the boat”. Finally, Oliver mentioned with eight men, the boat was rowed away from the Larchmont. Soon two other men joined the group. After that a woman floated by and said “For god’s sake, save me.” The group did not help her! The men in the lifeboat soon began to die! The surf men, who rescued Oliver, found his companions in the boat “all incrusted with spray and resembled cakes of ice more than human bodies”. The schooner Elsie from Block Island rescued Samuel Lacombe, Sadie Gallop, and David Fox, Harry Feidman and his wife. All were alive and found floating on some portion of the deck two miles to the east of Sandy Point. Lacombe hands and legs were badly frozen. “It is thought that both of his legs will have to be amputated.” The Suffolk County News (Sayville NY) on February 15, 1907 reported that survivor Frederick Hiergsell, of Richmond Hill (NY) believed, “…Captain McVey seemed to have no thought except for his own safety”. His statement was not confirmed by any other survivors! The Joy Line president Frank Dunbaugh issued a statement in defense of his officers and crew. He said, “…the ship’s officers were not only not responsible for the collision, but that considering the terrible conditions that prevailed immediately after the accident, the company’s men did everything possible to save lives”. He believed, “The schooner was responsible for the collision”. Another article written special for The New York Times on February 13, 1907 reported, “At 4 o’clock this afternoon the Scott Wrecking Company’s superintendent was in communication by telephone with Capt. David Hunt, who command the company’s tugboat Harriet.” At the request of the Joy Line officials, the tugboat was sent to Block Island with a diver, and given instructions to assist the survivors, as well as survey the wreckage. Captain Hunt reported, “… there was not a flagstaff, smokestack, or anything whatever that marked the marine grave of the Larchmont”. After his investigation, the Captain concluded the Larchmont must have sunk midway between “Block Island and Watch Hill in eighteen or twenty fathoms”. The vessel Argo, one of the largest boats owned by the Thames Towboat Company passed some wreckage floating in the Block Island Sound that Capt. Pettigrew was certain came up from the sunken Joy liner. The Thames Towboat Company was incorporated in 1865 at Norwich (CT); later moved in 1879 to New London (CT). It engaged in business on the Long Island Sound and other New York waters. The Argo’s commander shares the belief of Captain Hunt of the tug Harriet, as to the location of the Larchmont’s position on the bottom of Block Island sound, midway from Watch Hill and Block Island.

Sandi Brewster-walker is an independent historian, genealogist, freelance writer and business owner. She is the chair of the Board of Trustees and acting executive director of the Indigenous People Museum & Research Institute. She has served in President Bill Clinton’s Administration as deputy director of the Office of Communications at USDA. Winner of the Press Club of Long Island’s 2017 Media Award – 3rd Place for Narrative: Column. Readers can reach her in c/o the LI.Indiginous.people.museum@gmail.com.

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