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19th-Century Shipwreck Found Near San Francisco — Again



Published on 25 April 2014



by Office of the Spokesperson

(WireNews)

Washington, D.C.

The underwater wreck of the passenger steamer City of Chester, which sank in 1888 in a collision in dense fog near where San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge now stands, has been rediscovered, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced April 23.

The story of City of Chester will be shared with the public in a future waterfront exhibit NOAA will place at the Crissy Field sanctuary office, a former U.S. lifesaving service station built in 1890 in response to the City of Chester accident.

The 61.6-meter-long steamship City of Chester had just left San Francisco and was headed up the California coast to Eureka with 90 passengers on August 22, 1888, when it was struck by the steamer Oceanic at around 10 a.m. Impaled on Oceanic, which was arriving from Asia, City of Chester remained afloat for six minutes before sinking. Sixteen people died in the accident.

The rediscovery of the wreck restores an important historical link to San Francisco’s early Chinese-American community. Reports at the time initially criticized Oceanic’s Chinese crew in the racially charged atmosphere of the times. Criticisms turned to praise, however, when the bravery of the crew in rescuing many of City of Chester’s passengers was revealed.

“Discoveries like this remind us that the waters off our shores are museums that speak to powerful events, in this case not only that tragic wreck, but to a time when racism and anger were set aside by the heroism of a crew who acted in the best traditions of the sea,” said James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, whose past work has included documenting historic wrecks in California.

This NOAA team was not the first to find the shipwreck. The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, NOAA’s predecessor agency, believed it had located the City of Chester in early September 1888 by dragging a wire from the tugboat Redmond to snag the hulk.

A veteran salvage diver of the time, Captain Robert Whitelaw, also claimed to have relocated the wreck, sending a hard-hat diver down more than 61 meters in 1890 to report City of Chester nearly cut in two, with the tide running through the cut “like a millrace.” No attempt was made to raise the wreck then and there are no plans to do so today.

“Connecting to the history of the Chester is sad in one way, but we were also connecting to scientific history on a different level," said NOAA NRT6 team leader Laura Pagano. "Using our high-tech multibeam echo sounder to re-discover a wreck originally found over a century ago — by Coast Surveyors dragging a wire across the seafloor — is immensely fulfilling. We are equally proud to have provided information on an important link to the rich heritage of the San Francisco Chinese American community.”

Today, it is a protected site and a grave belonging to the state of California. “Whether we see them or not, wrecks like City of Chester should be remembered today and in future generations,” said NOAA’s Delgado.

 

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Posted 2014-04-25 09:07:00