I am sure that most of us are familiar with the story of the Old Scow that has been stranded on the shoals of the Niagara River for many years. We have probably heard about the daring rescue of the two crew members who were stranded on board for more than 17 hours on Aug. 6, 1918.
What you might not be as familiar with is the fact that the old scow had company for more than a decade.
The American subchaser Sunbeam was built at the Brooklyn Navy yards in 1917 for the American navy shortly after the United States entered the First World War. When the war ended in 1918, its service as a patrol boat ended and the Sunbeam was declared war surplus and put up for sale. Seymour Lasker purchased the vessel and intended to convert the ship into a private pleasure yacht.
On May 21, 1923, Lasker was joined by three others as he left New York on his way to Lake Michigan where work on the Sunbeam would take place. Unfortunately, Capt. Charles McMahon and his crew made a serious navigational error and turned downriver instead of going west into Lake Erie. Upon realizing their mistake, the crew docked at Chippawa with the intention of returning to Lake Erie the next day.
While the crew slept ashore that evening, the Sunbeam became untied and drifted unnoticed into the Niagara River, where she finally came to rest just a few yards above the old scow, roughly 300 metres off the Canadian shore. As you can imagine, Mr. Lasker was very anxious to retrieve his ship. The 24-metre-long ship was equipped with three motors, each valued at $7,000 and an onboard compass said to be worth $600.
Lasker decided that the recovery was too expensive and ended up selling the boat to famed local daredevil Red Hill Sr. for $1. Unfortunately, Hill came upon similar difficulties and determined that salvaging the ship was too costly. The Sunbeam lasted on the rocky shoal for more than 13 years. Built entirely of wood, the ship gradually deteriorated and finally broke up in 1936 or 1937.
Today, some people say you can still see parts of the engine, the propeller shaft and other bits of heavy equipment from the Sunbeam when water levels are particularly low. People interested in more information about Niagara's colourful shipping history can check out our Historic Niagara Digital Collections at www.nflibrary.ca/nfplindex.
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