Bible Serves as Haunting Reminder of Steamboat Tragedy
Posted On: 03/24/2017 - 10:18am, Posted By: Scott Gampfer, Associate Vice President for Collections & Preservation
The Printed Works Collection contains a unique object with a surprising connection to Cincinnati’s worst steamboat disaster, the 1838 explosion of the Moselle.
Elijah North’s bible from 1836 Moselle steamboat disaster.
Built in Cincinnati, the steamboat Moselle was considered to be among the fastest vessels of its type when it entered service in March 1838. The Moselle was piloted by a competitive young captain, Isaac Perrin, who was eager to take advantage of the boat’s swiftness to shatter existing speed records. On the afternoon of April 25, 1838, the Moselle pulled away from the wharf at Cincinnati bound for St. Louis. Before starting its voyage to Missouri, the boat went back upriver about a mile to Fulton to take on some additional passengers. It was at this location that disaster struck. With its steam kept high, the bow of the boat had just been pushed off when a tremendous explosion took place. The boilers burst, blasting the entire forward section of the boat to fragments and hurling debris and hapless victims into the air. At the time, the boat was packed with about 280 persons, many of whom were deck passengers.
The loss of life was frightful: eighty-one killed, fifty-five missing, and thirteen badly injured. Among the killed was Mr. Elijah North of Alton, Illinois whose body was discovered on the riverbank.
Close-up view of note found in bible.
Mr. Richard Hershner, originally from Cincinnati, was looking through old books at a shop in Connecticut when he came across a nice leather-bound bible published in 1836. He discovered a handwritten note glued to a leaf of the book. The note read “This book was in the hand of Mr. Elijah North when he was killed by the explosion of the steamer Moselle lying near Cincinnati, Ohio, April 24th 1838. [sic] By the violence of the explosion his body was thrown upon the shore and when found this book was firmly grasped in his hand.”
There was an effort at the time of the disaster to recover the personal belongings of the victims and return them to the families. It is believed that North had family in Connecticut. Mr. Hershner, who had not known of the Moselle disaster before acquiring the book, believed that CMC was the appropriate repository for this moving artifact and thoughtfully donated it to the collection.