The tragedy of the Annabelle Wilson

The maxim “you can’t take it with you” is a caution that earthly possessions aren’t useful after death. “Lighthouse Dave,” a tour guide at the Dunkirk Historic Lighthouse disagrees. When he describes the shipwreck of the Annabelle Wilson which sank just a half mile off the Dunkirk harbor 100 years ago in 1913, he notes Captain Barney McIntyre did take his money with him – he just can’t spend it anywhere. Apparently McIntyre went down with the vessel while attempting to retrieve some personal valuables from his cabin just before the vessel sank.

The Dunkirk Lighthouse began sending out a welcome beam of light to mariners on Lake Erie in 1826. Since then, the structure has weathered many storms and has been a silent witness to more than a few shipwreck tragedies. For the last three weeks my column has been about notable shipwrecks. The fourth and last in this series is about the tragedy of the Annabelle Wilson, a disaster that was the closest to Dunkirk.

Eyewitness reports from people on shore and three survivors are the source for much of the account. The EVENING OBSERVER reported on the event.

“It ain’t the first wreck I’ve been in, but it was the worst and was the closest call I ever had,” survivor Henry Simmons said about his experience.

The shipwreck happened on Saturday July 12, 1913 at 1:25 p.m. Built in 1887, the barge Annabelle was on its way from Erie, Pa., to Port Colborne, Ontario with 1000 tons of coal. The Annabelle Wilson and the Meteor, its tug, decided to seek refuge in the Dunkirk Harbor when a storm with large waves made it too treacherous to continue the trip.

The July 14, 1913 edition of the EVENING OBSERVER’s headline read, “Two Lives Lost When Barge Sunk Near Dunkirk Light Went Down in Terrific Gale Saturday Afternoon Within Half Mile of Safety Diver is Seeking Body of Captain.” The front page account reported the barge had just turned about to make for the harbor when it got caught in a trough, or depression of water.

“When the cargo shifted to the starboard, the boat leaned over on that side and huge waves swept over her side rushing through the uncovered hatchways, the vessel sinking without warning,” the article said.

While the crew of three was rescued, the captain was not.

One of the survivors told the EVENING OBSERVER, “Captain Barney McIntyre must have realized something of the impending danger. His first thoughts were of the safety of his wife, for according to some of the members of the crew he said something about tying her to the rigging. This purpose however he never carried out, for at the suggestion of his wife, it is said, he went to the cabin to get his valuables, and that was the last seen of him, for at that time the boat foundered.”

The account continued, “Mrs. McIntyre was standing near the cabin when her husband went down, as nearly as the members of the crew are able to remember. People on the shore saw the boat go down. They describe it all as having occurred almost in a moment of time. One witness said she went down bow first into the water like a duck, while another witness near the Point Gratiot Lighthouse says she sank straight down.”

Lizzie McIntyre, the captain’s wife, was found face down in the water shortly after the Annabelle sunk. The newspaper gives an account of this as well.

“Captain McIntyre’s body is believed to be in the boat. His wife it is believed was dead when she was picked up, or at least so far gone as to have little more than a faint spark of life left. She was rushed to the hospital where for more than two and a half hours Dr. N.E. Beardsley and Dr. William J. Sullivan worked, using the pulometer, a recent invention installed a few months ago by the Dunkirk-Fredonia Medical Society.

From the start, the physicians said that the woman showed no signs of life when brought to the hospital, but they gave her the benefit of the doubt and worked hard to restore her consciousness. The crew of the tug Meteor worked over Mrs. McIntyre on their way to shore, rolling her on a barrel, but the lake was so rough that little could be done.

The captain of the Meteor, who happened to be the first cousin of the dead skipper, rescued the three crew members and recovered the body of Mrs. McIntyre.

Survivor Albert Blundell said, “I climbed up on the rigging when I saw the boat was going down and jumped as the tug passed by.”

Survivor James Mullen “had a close call, but his ability as a swimmer saved him. He swam a hundred feet in big waves and caught hold of an old hatch cover and held on until he was rescued.”

Police Chief Quandt was called to assist and was in charge of the machine which pumped air to the diver, searching for the captain of the Annabelle.

Henry Simmons, one of the survivors, was assisted to the Central Avenue hotel where “he was put to bed.” County Coroner Blood took charge of Mrs. McIntyre’s body.

He was the same coroner who was on hand with the sinking of the Idaho in 1897.

Make it a good week and count your blessings – the valuables that you can take with you.