Clifton Tragedy, The
DESCRIPTION: "A gray-haried mother knelt in prayer Before the holy light And the image of Christ was there...." She prays to "He, who... changed a raging tempest To a calm...." But the storm raged on, and the Clifton sank. The crew begged for mercy on their souls
AUTHOR: probably Peter Gallagher
EARLIEST DATE: before 1952 (Helan Collar collection, included in the Walton collection)
KEYWORDS: ship sailor wreck death religious
Sep 21/22, 1924 - Loss of the _Clifton_
FOUND IN: US(MW)
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Walton/Grimm/Murdock, pp. 179-180, "The Clifton Tragedy" (1 text)
cf. "The Seaman's Lament" (subject: The Clifton Wreck)
cf. "The Clifton's Crew" (subject: The Clifton Wreck)
cf. "The Clifton" (subject: The Clifton Wreck)
NOTES: Bruce D. Berman's Encyclopedia of American Shipwrecks (Mariner's Press, 1972) says that the Clifton, built 1892, foundered on the night of September 21, 1924; Walton says September 22. I would assume this is the same night. Walton says she went down with all hands; Berman that there were 27 men lost.
David Ritchie, Shipwrecks: An Encyclopedia of the World's Worst Disasters at Sea, 1996 (I use the 1999 Checkmark paperback edition), pp. 46-47, has extensive notes on the Clifton mystery. It was a "pig boat" or "whaleback," a craft designed with a very rounded bow, stern, and sides. These were designed to roll through Great Lakes storms -- and in fact most of them had admirable safety records. But they were not especially easy to maneuver.
The Clifton was worse than usual in this regard, because it had special loading equipment which made it very top-heavy.
The Clifton took on a load of crushed rock on September 20, 1924 at Sturgeon Bay, Wisconson, and headed for Detroit. A storm blew up during the voyage, but the boats which saw it on its journey reported no signs of trouble. Clifton was last seen by the tug Favorite off Forty Mile Point.
When the boat failed to reach its destination, a search was started, by air and water. Although wreckage was found almost at once, it took some time before the Glencairn found debris which could definitely be associated with the Clifton. One of the things recovered was the ship's clock, which had stopped at about four o'clock; presumably that was when the boat went down.
It is unlikely that there was anything mechanically wrong with the Clifton, which had sound engines and had been recently inspected. The cause of her loss is unknown. The suspicion, though, is that it had something to do with the way her deck equipment or hatches were designed.
This may be the most explicitly Catholic song I have ever seen among sailors; the sailors pray less to God or Jesus than to Mary. Presumably Captain Emmett Gallagher and his family were Catholic. - RBW
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