The USS Midway / San Diego’s Premiere Attraction

If your travels take you to San Diego, California, a visit to the historic  USS Midway Museum is a must. Here you’ll be able to explore a real aircraft carrier and one which was the longest serving aircraft carrier of the twentieth century. During her forty seven years in service, the USS Midway had a total of about 200,000 servicemen assigned to the vessel.

uss midway museum

USS Midway

On 30 September 2003, the USS Midway  began her journey from the Navy Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility, Bremerton, Wash., to San Diego where she would be a Museum and Memorial. She was docked at the Charles P. Howard Terminal in Oakland, Calif., in October, while the construction of her pier in San Diego was completed.

The USS Midway is now docked in San Diego Bay just east of the downtown area and has been transformed into one of the most visited ship museums in the world.

Explore the USS Midway

The USS Midway CV-41, was the third vessel named Midway. Named after the Battle of Midway,

uss midway aircraft

The massive hangar deck of the USS Midway

The ship is amazingly restored and full of really interesting exhibits. The ship is literally a floating city at sea. During it’s operational years the USS Midway carried about 4,500 crew members.

Your trip though the USS Midway will take you to the crews quarters, the officers quarters, the four acre flight deck and other portions of this magnificent vessel. Your admission includes a self-guided audio tour to over 60 locations from the engine room to the flight deck. When exploring the hangar deck which housed many of the aircraft you’ll notice the large elevators on either side of the ship that raised the planes from the hangar deck up to the flight deck.

The USS Midway Service

The USS Midway was operational from 1945 to 1992. It was commissioned one week after the end of World War Two. The vessel served in every ocean on the planet.

The ship is 1,001 feet in length which is about the size of three football fields. Weighing 70,000 tons the USS MIdway is as high as a twenty story building. Each of her two anchors weigh 20 tons. The ship could carry eighty planes.

More interesting facts regarding this vessel include…

  • During three tours of duty in the Tonkin Gulf, aircraft from the USS MIDWAY downed the first three and last MiG in the Vietnam conflict.
  • USS MIDWAY was the first carrier to be “forward deployed” in a foreign country, sailing for 17 years out of Yokosuka, Japan.
  • When operating at sea, USS MIDWAY was refueled every three days. She burned approximately 100,000 gallons a day.

A Perfect Family Museum

The USS Midway is a terrific museum adventure for the entire family. The vessel is literally a floating city. On board the USS Midway, you can learn about life on a Navy ship and how aircraft land and take off from an aircraft carrier. Visitors can tour many of the working areas and see more than 15 restored aircraft. Volunteer docents, many who either served on the USS Midway or are former Navy pilots, provide live talks about the catapult and other operations.

See additional Trips Into History articles on the links below…

A Great Museum and a Sunken Whale Ship

The Palace Steamers of the Great Lakes

Crossing the Atlantic with Marconi’s Wireless

Your La Jolla California Getaway

An excellent book regarding the USS Midway is…USS Midway: America’s Shield by author Scott McGaugh.

Things to Know Before Your Visit

  • Many doorways have a high threshold, and there are many stairs, some of them quite steep. Wear comfortable shoes with soles that give you firm footing.
  • Elevators provide access to the hangar deck and flight deck
  • Bring a light jacket; it can be windy on the Flight Deck
  • Leave the big bags behind. Only modest-sized diaper bags and camera bags are allowed
  • If you have a child in a stroller, either take them out and park the stroller at the entrance or be prepared to skip visiting many parts of the ship.

uss midway san diego

The self-guided USS Midway audio tour is included in the entrance fee (available in English, Spanish and Japanese). The audio tour incorporates the voices of many who served on the USS Midway. They tell the stories of their experiences on board the aircraft carrier.

The USS Midway Museum is open daily 10A to 5P. The last admission is at 4p. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

(Article and Photos copyright Trips Into History)


Pacific Coast Lighthouses / Point Pinos

Historic Point Pinos Lighthouse

If your travels take you to the beautiful Monterey Peninsula in California, you’ll want to add a visit to the Point Pinos Lighthouse to your west coast trip planner.

This area of California is uniquely scenic and draws tourists from the world over. Monterey California and the Monterey Peninsula offers some of the best golf found anywhere in the world, a tremendous selection of restaurants, whale watching and historic sites and a Spanish mission. To be sure there’s plenty to see and do there and a visit to Point Pinos is one of those attractions.

point pinos lighthouse

Point Pinos Lighthouse

Point Pinos has the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast. The lighthouse was built with a round concrete tower rising from the roof of a 1-1/2 story stone Cape Cod type house.The beacon began operating on February 1, 1855.

The California coast is rocky and the Point Pinos Lighthouse beacon has flashed for well over 150 years giving warning to shipping off those rocky shores. In  2006, ownership of the lighthouse was transferred from the Coast Guard to the City of Pacific Grove.The lighthouse has been beautifully restored and is now maintained by the Pacific Grove Historical Society.

The Pacific Coast Lighthouses

The United States took possession of California from Mexico as the result of the Mexican-American War during the 1840’s. It’s interesting to note just how relatively soon after the takeover that Point Pinos was established. Alcatraz actually was the first California lighthouse established in 1852. The lighthouse, also built in a Cape Cod style, was damaged during the 1906 earthquake, rebuilt as a tower, and today is an automated beacon.

fresnel third degree lens

The third order Fresnel lens on the Point Pinos Light.

Shipping of course increased dramatically due to the California Golf Rush. The only way to reach the gold fields from the east coast was either an overland journey that could prove quite lethal for many reasons or by ship either around Cape Horn or to Panama and through the dangerous jungles to a port on the Pacific side. From there it was a journey up the western coastline.

This influx of shipping and the general growth of California made it clear that lighthouses were needed.

A Series of California Coast Lighthouses

The California coast lighthouses were built at the most dangerous points along the coast. Lighthouses actually evolved from single lights in homeowners’ windows to fully-automated, independent structures on prominent peninsulas and sea cliffs.

Below is a list of just a few of the magnificent California lighthouses you can still visit today.

In addition to Alcatraz and Point Pinos, another California lighthouse of note is Battery Point near Crescent City and the Oregon border. Built in 1856, Battery Point was important to protect lumber shipping destined to San Francisco from the northwest forests.

point pinos pacific grove california

An old buoy exhibit at the Point Pinos Lighthouse

Another California lighthouse on the coast north of San Francisco is Point Arena. Point Arena Light was built in 1870 and is located on a narrow strip of land that juts out into a portion of the Pacific Ocean filled with dangerous reefs. Point Arena light was automated in 1977. Today you can visit Point Arena Lighthouse which is privately owned and tour the light and enjoy their historical museum. The address is 45500 Lighthouse Road
Point Arena, CA.

The Point Reyes Lighthouse is located on the Point Reyes headlands which jut out into the Pacific Ocean about ten miles. This site is considered to be one of the windiest points on the California coast. Point Reyes is just north of San Francisco which meant that many vessels had to navigate around this headland. Reportedly there have been some eighty shipwrecks off the point which had been very dangerous to mariners for over 100 years. Before the Point Reyes lighthouse could even be built, a suitable flat site was blasted out of the rock about 300 feet below the cliff. The Point Reyes Lighthouse is located within the Point Reyes National Seashore.

According to the National Park Service, Point Reyes is the windiest place on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest place on the North American continent.

See More Historic California Travel articles from our Western Trips site on the links below…

Point Reyes National Seashore

Mission San Juan Bautista on the Old Spanish Trail

A Visit to Carmel-By-The-Sea

A Visit to the Gatekeeper’s Museum / Tahoe City CA

point lobos shoreline

A look at the rocky Pacific coast shoreline from Point Lobos

The Los Pinos Fresnel Lens and Light Sources

The lens at the Point Pinos Lighthouse was manufactured in France in 1853 and is a third order Fresnel. A larger, second order light had been planned, but delay in shipment caused the present light, originally destined for the Fort Point Lighthouse in San Francisco, to be installed instead. The first light source was a whale oil lantern in which the oil was forced up from a tank by a gravity-operated piston. Lard oil soon replaced whale oil and then the light source became kerosene in 1880. Electric lights appeared there in 1915.

The Point Pinos light is 89 feet above sea level. The present 1000 watt bulb is amplified by the lenses and prisms to produce a 50,000 candlepower beam. Reportedly the light can be seen up to 15 miles under good conditions. In addition, a Class D radio beacon operated continuously which had a range of up to 20 miles. The light also had a fog horn which could be turned on manually. In 1993, when GPS navigation came about, the radio beacon and the foghorn were deactivated.

(Article and photos copyright 2014 Trips Into History)

A Great Museum and a Sunken Whale Ship

There is no greater community connection to the old whaling industry than Nantucket Massachusetts. Nantucket’s citizenry as well as it’s merchants were thriving whether the general economy was booming or sluggish. Whale oil was in great demand throughout the world for this was the fuel used to light homes and streets.

whaling in the 1800s

Hunting the sperm whale

Nantucket Whaling Museum

Nantucket has one of the finest museums you’ll find anywhere that portrays the story of the whaling industry… it’s sailors, ships, captains, methods, dangers and economic impact.

The Nantucket Whaling Museum is a must stop for anyone planning a visit to this scenic island. The museum is located at 13 Broad Street and is operated by the Nantucket Historical Association. The museum is dedicated to the history of whaling. This is where you can relive the time when a small town launched wooden ships into the Atlantic Ocean for the start of their long trips around Cape Horn and into the Pacific Ocean.

The Strange and Tragic Tale of the Whale Ship Essex

From all the stories of the great whale ships that called Nantucket home, the tragic tale of the whale ship Essex demonstrates just how dangerous this profession was in the early 1800’s. The sequence of events that befell the Essex and it’s crew is unique to all other whaling stories and was responsible for later novels being written. It’s a hair raising and shocking story of being stranded literally in the middle of nowhere and running out of food.

whale ship essex

The whale ship Essex

A Whaler’s Life

A whaler could depart on a ship from Nantucket Island and literally be away working at sea for a few years. If he had a family they could be without him for possibly years. Whaling was a very unique occupation.

Typically a captain would be hired by the ship’s investors and be responsible for signing up a crew. If he was fortunate the captain might find experienced sailors around Nantucket. If an experienced crew wasn’t available, and there was a shortage, then recruiting green sailors from further inland was necessary.The ship would be provisioned by it’s owners and any pay the captain and crew would receive would be a share of the profits at the end of the voyage. Size of shares were entirely dependent on the rank and function of the crew mate. The largest shares of course went to the investors and then the captain.

The Pacific Sperm Whale

1800’s whalers were especially hunting for the Pacific Sperm whale. They were killed primarily for their excellent oil. This whale oil was used not only in lighting but also in cosmetics, soap and a variety of products.

During the 1800’s the job of killing whales was done from smaller whaleboats launched from the side of the larger whale ship. The whaler crews would use harpoons to grab the mammal. The whale would pull the whale boat by the harpoon’s line and eventually tire at which time the sailors would kill it with lances. The entire endeavor was dangerous. The small whaleboat could be capsized easily and at only a moments notice. Additionally, it was known that sperm whales rather than fleeing underwater after being harpooned might very well turn around and attack the whaleboat.

owen chase essex whaleboat crewman

Owen Chase, First Mate of the Essex crew

The Attack on the Essex

There have been several writings on the attack of the Essex. Probably the most comprehensive account of the attack, aftermath and 1800’s Nantucket whaling life in general is… In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by author Nathaniel Philbrick. Another is, Shipwreck of the Whaleship Essex by author Owen Chase. It’s also common knowledge that Herman Melville used the Essex incident as a model for his latter chapters in his book Moby Dick.

The crew of the Essex had been having good luck harpooning sperm whales during November of 1820 in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This area was some 2,000 miles off the west coast of South America. On November 20th things changed dramatically. This was over one year since the Essex had departed Nantucket Island in August 1819 and the unthinkable happened.

The Essex was attacked and rammed, not once but twice, by a sperm whale that appeared to come from the area where other female sperm whales had been successfully harpooned and lanced just prior. It was said that this bull sperm whale seemed to have a purpose in it’s attack. It was if this bull whale was enraged by the killing of the female whales and wished to take revenge out on the large mother ship the Essex. The ship that the harpoon crews went back to.

moby dick whale attack

Moby Dick whale attack illustration

Although the Essex was not a new ship it was not a poorly made vessel either. The force required by this bull sperm whale would have had to be tremendous to push over the hull of the 87 foot ship. It was speculated that the whale had to have been nearly as long as the ship. This prolonged attack caused the Essex to go over on her side with her sails in the water. The crew left the floundering vessel using their whaleboats which were few. The Essex had been short two whaleboats due to earlier storms and the evacuation was a crowded one. Twenty crew in all crowded, along with provisions, on the three small whaleboats.

After two nights and after several sailors returned to the Essex to grab hold of as many provisions as they could take onto the small whaleboats they left the sinking vessel. What transpired next over several months pushed men to the breaking point and beyond.

Marooned on a Pacific Island and Eventual Rescue

Because of earlier reports concerning Native cannibalism on some Pacific islands, the Essex crew was particular as to which island chain they would try to reach with their primitive whaleboat sailing vessels. After one month in these small boats, hungry, tossed around and beaten by the harsh sun, they finally reached land. It was a small island and while it did at first supply some needed food, the provisions didn’t last. Another move had to be made.

After some time the survivors set sail from the island (Henderson) on two whaleboats. After a while the two boats separated and went their own way. In February of 1821, some 95 days after the sinking of the Essex, a boat carrying the captain and three other crew members were picked up by another whale ship out of Nantucket just off the west coast of South America. They had survived their ordeal by consuming the remains of other crew members who had died or were executed on the boat. The second boat was never heard from again.

Three men had stayed back on the island and were later rescued. It was also later said that lots had been drawn on the captain’s boat as to who would be sacrificed and who would be the executioner. The entire story shocked Nantucket when word reached there.

In total there were eight survivors of the original crew from Nantucket. Four from the captain’s boat, three rescued later off Henderson Island and another who had deserted the ship when the Essex visited South America prior to the whale attack and sinking.

Links below are to additional Trips Into History articles you may also find interesting…

The Tragic Sinking of the General Slocum off New York

The Loss of the SS Wexford on the Great Lakes

The G.P. Griffith Passenger Steamer Disaster

Visit the Historic Paul Revere House in Boston MA

whaling harpoons

Types of whaling harpoons of the 1800’s

Visiting the Nantucket Whaling Museum

As mentioned above, visiting this museum is a trip back into the days when whaling made Nantucket. A great many ships left Nantucket during the 1800’s hunting the whale. It was how one made a living in Nantucket.

This museum will take you back to that time when an entire town’s economy depended on the whaling industry. Exhibits at the museum include a large amount of nautical items, captain’s journals and a very interesting video and it’s really a not to be missed museum.

I would also highly recommend any of the books mentioned earlier in this article. The story of the Essex tells what can happen when disaster strikes far from civilization and what ordinary people can and will resort to when trying to survive. It’s a shocking and enlightening true story.

Nantucket is a very scenic and historic place to visit and a stop to the Nantucket Whaling Museum is a great addition to any trip there.

(Article copyright 2013 Trips Into History. Photos and images in the public domain)





The Palace Steamers of the Great Lakes

The history of transportation on the Great Lakes is an interesting topic and one which has quite a long history. One of the reasons that make the subject interesting is the role it played in transporting immigrants to the then northwest territory of the United States.

walk in the water steamboat

Steamship Walk-In-The-Water

U.S. Historians generally refer to the side-wheeler Walk-In-The-Water, launched from Buffalo New York in 1818, as the boat that ushered in Great Lakes navigation Great Lakes. This first steamboat on Lake Erie was both a passenger and freight carrier. This was merely nine years after the steamboat itself was developed as a transportation vehicle. During this very same year the Great lakes received it’s first lighthouse at Erie Pennsylvania. In fact, steamboats are credited with developing much of the midwest and Great Lakes region for half a century during the 1800’s. By the 1850s steamboats dominated river and lake transportation. As you can imagine, the history of the Great Lakes also includes some very tragic shipping disasters.

The Palace Steamers

The Palace Steamer is a type of vessel that started to operate on the Great Lakes from 1844 to 1857. It’s very name implies that this was a luxurious vessel. Palace steamers marked the high point of Great Lakes passenger service. The fact is that many steamers whether on the Great Lakes or on this nation’s rivers referred to themselves as “palaces” because of their luxurious appointments.

There were some twenty-five of these ships built specifically for Great Lakes transportation. The vessels sported stained glass windows and domes, parlors, saloons, beautiful carpeting and the finest of furniture. The Palace steamer was the first class way to travel the Great Lakes in the decades before the American Civil War. It’s interesting to see the contrast between the finely appointed Palace steamers and their many luxuries and the inherent dangers that Great Lakes navigation could present.

The Palace steamers were built to carry hundreds of passengers and large amounts of cargo. Steamers actually decreased freight rates while being more speedy than wagon freighters.

niagara palace steamer sidewheeler

Niagara steamship

The Palace Steamer Niagara

The second Palace steamer to begin navigating the Great Lakes was the Niagara. The Niagara was a 245 foot long sidewheeler with a thirty-four foot beam and was considered one of the world’s longest steamboats. Entering service in 1846, and owned by the Collingwood Line,  the steamboat Niagara played a big role in bringing settlers to new homes in Wisconsin.

All went well for many years with the Niagara until September 23, 1856. That was the date that the beautiful Niagara met the fate of many 1800’s steamboats, fire. The Niagara which was a frequent sight on the Wisconsin shoreline was steaming on Lake Michigan between Sheboygan and Port Washington Wisconsin bound for Chicago Illinois.

The fire was first noticed in the engine room and the smoke that emanated caused the passengers to panic. Men, women and children rushed on deck. Captain Miller, who was asleep, was called and the steam pumps set to work. The fire hoses were not working and the panicking passengers took to the lifeboats. The stampede and fighting between passengers caused every lifeboat but one to capsize causing many to just jump into the water. Others lowered themselves into the water by rope. Most of these were women and children.

lake michigan shoreline

Moonlight over Lake Michigan shoreline

At the same time, the Niagara’s captain steered the vessel toward the Lake Michigan shore at top speed which seemed to only fuel the raging fire even more. The vessel made some headway toward shore but sank about one mile short near present day Belgium Wisconsin.

Links to three additional Trips Into History articles about Great Lakes shipping you’ll enjoy are the

Sinking of the Lady Elgin

The Sinking of the Carl D. Bradley

The Storm of 1913 and the Loss of the SS Wexford

The Aftermath

It was believed that the fire caught in the “fire room,” or “engine room” and had made such rapid headway before being discovered that all attempts to extinguish it was futile. Captain Miller and most of his crew survived the fire and sinking of the Niagara. It was reported that over 150 passengers were lost making it one of Wisconsin’s worst transportation disasters. It was also reported that a small schooner saved six persons, the propeller driver Illinois picked up another thirty survivors.

city of cleveland steamer

The modern day sidewheeler steamer "City of Cleveland", 1941

Captain Miller during the investigation pointed out that there were over three hundred life preservers aboard the Niagara and that he felt not more than half a dozen were used. Some reports from the era stated however that there were no life preservers on board. If indeed there were so many life preservers present, the only logical reason offered for their non use was that the utter panic and chaos aboard the vessel caused such terror that many passengers simply acted irrationally.

One cause offered for the disaster was that some flammable cargo caught fire. The only other cause ever proffered for the Niagara fire was incendiary in nature. In other words, it was possible that the fire was started by an arsonist although there never were charges brought.

The Wreck of the Niagara

The sunken hull of the Niagara was discovered in 55 feet of water about one mile off Belgium Wisconsin and about eight miles north/northeast of Port Washington Wisconsin.The vessel’s boilers were found a little north of the hull site.The site is just offshore of Harrington Beach State Park. This is about 39 miles north of Milwaukee.

A Lake Michigan Diving Site

Today, the Niagara wreck site is visited by divers of intermediate skill level. The Wisconsin Historical Society, with assistance from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee WATER Institute, installed a seasonal mooring buoy at the site. Boats stopping at the site are to moor to this buoy. The mooring prevents boat anchors from further damaging the wreck, and provides a solid and safe descent and ascent line for divers. The wreck site is a Registered Historic Place.

(Photos and images from the public domain)

The Stolen Boat

An Incredible Journey

While researching the subject of steamboats and the people who piloted them, I came across a very strange, amusing and unique story. The story of the Stolen Boat actually has it’s tragic elements while at the same time is somewhat comical.

new york harbor

New York Harbor painting by George McCord

It’s the story of a steamboat company whose owners and captain eluded eastern creditors and a sheriff and then managed to relocate the stolen boat to California where it had an illustrious life on the busy Sacramento River. Obviously, a steamboat is not the easiest thing to make off with and certainly not easy to hide.  How was this new vessel able to sneak out of New York harbor without being stopped by the sheriff who just happened to be one of the boat’s financial partners and creditors? 

What did the sheriff, who also just happened to be on the boat, think when the boilers were suddenly fired up? When asked…the skipper simply replied to the sheriff…”To wear the rust off the bearings and see that the engine worked well”. After riding around in the New York harbor for awhile, the crew then forced the outnumbered sheriff and his deputies off the vessel and headed out to the open sea. Thus the story of the stolen steamboat began.

This is one of those strange but true tales that just needs sharing. Here’s how the adventure began.

The Voyage of the “New World”

The steamboat “New World” was a 530 ton, 320 foot long sidewheeler. A fairly large vessel, the New World was actually built to steam from New York to San Francisco via Cape Horn. As I mentioned in other articles, several of the steamboats on the western rivers were originally from New York and since there was no Panama Canal in 1851, going around the tip of South America was how a boat sailed from New York to California. In the year 1850, at the beginning of the great California Gold Rush, there were some twenty-eight steamboats operating on the Sacramento River. In future years this would only increase.

cape horn

Cape Horn

A Close Call in Rio

The first leg of the trip of the stolen steamboat began after the hasty departure of the New World from New York was Rio de Janiero.

Like many of her sister steamers, the New World endured her share of Atlantic storms. Weather forecasting was non existent and the ocean storms were expected.The storms however were not her major problem on the first leg down to South America. While on the way, the crew and passengers picked up yellow fever. The story down to Rio de Janiero gets even better. While approaching Rio the New World was chased into the harbor by a British frigate since she had no legal paperwork. Apparently, the paperwork was with the boat’s creditors who allegedly were owed a lot of money by it’s owner, William A. Brown. The creditors and the harbor police would not find out until after the fact that the vessel was steaming to California.

The skipper of the New World was a man by the name of Ed Wakeman. Wakeman worked for William Brown. It was under Brown’s instructions that Ed Wakeman was to take the vessel to San Francisco. With a British vessel in pursuit and no papers to show the authorities at Rio de Janeiro, Wakeman came up with an idea to fall overboard. When he was retrieved from the sea soaking wet he explained to the authorities that the papers had been with him in the water and were lost. He convinced the American consul of this tale in Rio and was given the clearance to depart.

Also, see our Trips Into History articles on the Steamboat Natchez and The King of the Steam Boat Men on the Columbia River.

The Much Shortened Quarantine in Valparaiso

Ed Wakeman departed Rio de Janeiro but with eighteen less crewmen who died from the yellow fever. All went well however and the New World successfully rounded Cape Horn and steamed up to Valparaiso Chile. When he reached the coastal city the authorities there demanded that the vessel be quarantined for twenty days. This of course didn’t suit Wakeman. The story is that the captain argued continuously with the authorities and many believe he was pretty liberal in handing out cash to the right people. It’s not sure which did the trick, the arguing or the cash, but nevertheless, he departed from Valparaiso after only eight days.

valparaiso harbor

Valparaiso Bay, 1830

Captain Ed Wakeman also picked up some useful information while handing out money in Chile. He learned that New York authorities, on behalf of the vessel creditors, were waiting for him in Panama hoping to make an arrest. They also had extradition papers already signed. All they needed was Wakeman in person along with the vessel. A man who had already thrown himself overboard to escape trouble in Rio was not going to steam all the way up to Panama just to get himself arrested and transported back to New York. Ed Wakeman had another plan.

Making New Friends in Panama

Panama was a must stop for any vessel heading up the Pacific coast to San Francisco. Ed Wakeman knew it and so did the New York authorities. But skipper Wakeman had a plan. Instead of steaming right into Panama he went to an island offshore and anchored the vessel on the far side of the island. He then was crafty enough to make his way onshore in Panama. Panama City was filled with gold seekers trying desperately to find passage to San Francisco and ultimately to the California gold fields. These were men who had spent days if not weeks trekking through the malaria filled Panama jungle to make it from the eastern shore to the western side. Being stranded in Panama City waiting for passage was not pleasant.

isthmus of panama map

Isthmus of Panama

After coming ashore in Panama, Ed Wakeman looked for several hundred Americans desiring to get themselves to San Francisco. They weren’t hard to find. Captain Wakeman offered them passage on the New World for $300 per man if, and this was a big if, they would intimidate the two deputies from New York and about a ten man guard unit assigned them. After spending a long time in Panama waiting to find a vessel heading north, it didn’t take much convincing. The New York deputies and the guards were threatened by the mob to such an extent that they tore up the extradition papers and fled the country. It was then that Wakeman could bring the New World into Panama and pick up his unexpected paying passengers. The ship left for San Francisco without incident.

san francisco harbor in 1851

San Francisco Harbor, 1851

The Luck of Captain Ed Wakeman

Three things that worked well in Wakeman’s favor was that in 1850-51, there was no railroad to California where New York authorities could simply send people directly there to retrieve the boat and Wakeman. Secondly, there would be no transcontinental telegraph system for over another ten years. Thirdly, Wakeman was lucky that a California Gold Rush had just begun where large groups of men were willing to do just about anything to gain passage. The route through the jungles of Panama, despite the hardships of the jungle, was more popular than the Cape Horn route or the overland Oregon Trail route. It wasn’t so many years since the ill fated Donner Party tragedy in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

A New Life on the West Coast

After reaching San Francisco, the New World steamboat found work on the booming Sacramento River. This was the river heading into the gold country from San Francisco. The stolen boat New World ended up spending fourteen years going up and down the Sacramento under the operations of the California Steam Navigation Company. There is no information as to what action, if any, the New York creditors took to get the vessel back. It appears that the boat was sold prior to any action they could have taken in later years.

The New World was sold in the 1860’s to the Oregon Steam Navigation Company which had a monopoly at the time on the northwest rivers. As fate would have it, the New World returned to California after several years and was put in service as the Vallejo Ferry on San Francisco Bay.

In regards to Captain Ed Wakeman, the only information I could uncover was that he apparently lived out his years as a resident of San Francisco. I think we can assume that he didn’t have the urge to visit back east. It’s unknown what money, if any, the vessel’s questionable owner, William A. Brown, received after the boat was sold in California.

There is a great deal of information about the Sacramento River steamboats, including the New World, at the Maritime Museum-San Francisco located at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Another excellent museum regarding the old steamboats of the Columbia River is the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria Oregon.

(Photos from the public domain)