Mystery Photo #58: Steamer Perry G. Walker

Although the date Dec. 11 is recorded on this image, it’s not clear what year it was when the steamer Perry G. Walker arrived in Duluth covered in ice. It’s also not clear if this is a photo or an illustration … or an illustrated photo.

Here’s some stuff we do know:

The Great Lakes bulk freighter Perry Walker was built by Chicago Shipbuilding Co. and launched Oct 3, 1903. It was damaged two years later during the infamous storm of Nov. 27-28, 1905. That storm is best remembered for another steamer, Mataafa, which hit the north pier of the Duluth Ship Canal and foundered, costing nine crew members their lives. The Perry Walker fared much better; it suffered topside damage to the tune of $4,000 from waves washing over it on Lake Superior, but no one perished.

The Perry Walker’s most legendary incident occurred on June 9, 1909, when it rammed its bow through the lower lock gate in St. Mary’s Canal at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

Details from the next day’s Buffalo Evening News:

The upper gates were open when the Walker crashed open the lower gates and the tremendous power of the rapids was given instant play. The steamer Assiniboia, the big Canadian Pacific liner, moored within the lock, was torn away from her moorings. Riding on the crest of the flood she jammed the Walker from her path and her port anchor ripped a hole in the Walker’s side.

The liner’s engine crew put on all steam ahead in a desperate endeavor to give the big vessel steerageway and with her wheelsmen battling to overcome the swirling currents, the Assiniboia’s cargo shifted, and this gave her a considerable list and several plates on her port side forward of amidships were loosened.

The Walker was whirled around several times and finally landed on a shoal out of the channel. It is said she is undamaged below the water line.

The ore laden steamer Crescent City of the Pittsburg Steamship Company, which was just entering the locks from Lake Superior when the accident occurred, was swept downstream like a feather. She overtook the Assiniboia and struck her two glancing blows after having a great hole torn in her side as she swept past the broken lower gate. Tugs caught her and towed her to the American side, where she settled to the bottom. Both the upper gates of the lock and one lower gate were wrenched from their moorings. The other lower gate still hangs to its fastenings, twisted and broken.

The loss to the Canadian Government will reach $250,000 and the damage to the Crescent City is estimated at $100,000. The damage to the steamer Walker and Assiniboia was comparatively light.

Capt. Mosher, of the steamer Walker, declares that the accident was caused by his engineer making a mistake and throwing his lever to “full speed ahead” on the Captain’s order to “back up.”

The Walker was sold at auction 1913 to Lackawanna Steamship Co. of Cleveland, Ohio, and renamed Taurus. It was operated during World War II by Interlake Steamship Co., then sold for scrap in 1946.

1 Comment


about 5 years ago

Several websites online are selling this image as a historical postcard with a postmark from 1911. The website boatnerd captions the image with a specific date: Dec. 11, 1909. 

According to newspaper accounts, this date matches with the week of a major storm that killed 52 people across the Great Lakes. 

If there is anyone at home who is marking every Perfect Duluth Day historical post on a giant timeline on their wall, you should note Dec. 11, 1909 is also the day a Sheriff in Michigan ordered a stop to what would have been the final fight of Duluth's regional boxing champion and St. Louis River fighter Walter Whitehead.

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