The Tivoli, Maryland Pier Collapse - July 25, 1883 - An Engineer's Aspect


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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Tivoli, Maryland Pier Collapse - July 25, 1883

In The Baltimore Sun's article, "The Bells that Toll for Tivoli," dated September 5, 1995, Gilbert Sandler writes, "If you are in Bolton Hill any evening around 7 p.m. you will hear the notes of the ancient hymn "De Profundis" sounded out by the bells of Corpus Christi church at Mt. Royal and Lafayette avenues.

Image: Photograph of the tower and clock of Corpus Christi Church on the corner of Mount Royal and Lafayette Avenues in Baltimore, Maryland. The church was founded in 1880 and was built in 1886-1891 as a memorial to Thomas Courtenay Jenkins and Louisa Carroll Jenkins from their children at a cost of $350, 000.

Source: Maryland Digital Cultural Heritage.

The bells mourn the loss of the congregants who drowned July 25, 1883, at a church picnic at Tivoli Beach, down the Patapsco (where Sparrows Point is today). Those innocent picnickers, on an outing to raise money for the fledgling church founded a year earlier, were attempting to board a barge for the moonlight ride back to Baltimore, when the pier they were standing on collapsed.

Sixty-three people sank to their death -- 34 women, 23 children, six men. The city was plunged into mourning."

The Bourbon News, Millersburg, Kentucky, July 31, 1883.

A Pier, with Seven Hundred People On It, Gives Way--Large Number of Lives Lost--Some Seventy Bodies So Far Recovered--An Indescribable Scene of Terror in Partial Darkness.

BALTIMORE, MD., July 24, 1883.

A terrible calamity occurred at North, Tivoli, an excursion resort on the Patapsco, ten miles from this city, about 10 o'clock last night, by which many lives were lost, the number being estimated between sixty and seventy. The accident was occasioned by the giving way of the outer portion of the pier, on which several hundred persons were congregated awaiting a boat to return to this city.

The locality is in a small bay district, about two miles from North Point Lighthouse. It was formerly known as Holly Grove, and was the first regular excursion place fitted up near the city, about fifteen years ago, and was the most popular resort at that time and for several years afterward. Yesterday an excursion was given to Tivoli under the management of the Mount Royal Beneficial Society of the Catholic Church of Corpus Christi, of which Father Starr is pastor, Mount Royal avenue and Mosher street.

The excursion went down on the barge Cockade City, which was towed by the tug Amanda Powell. The barge was formerly an old canal-boat, which had been fitted up with several decks for excursion purposes, and used as such for several years. Yesterday she made three trips, the last being made from this city between 6 and 7 o'clock last evening, and reached Tivoli before 10 o'clock.

During the day she had taken down about five hundred persons, and on her last trip about one hundred. A large number of those who went down during the day had remained, intending to return on the last trip. When the barge approached all those on the shore made a rush for the end of the wharf, which is several hundred feet long, and were closely packed together at the gate, about twenty-five feet from the end, impatiently awaiting admittance through the gate. As the barge came alongside and struck the wharf it suddenly and without warning gave way, and a large portion of the crowd was precipitated into the water, which is about ten feet deep. Many were able to save themselves by fleeing toward the shore as the outer end of the pier crumbled and fell. Darkness added to the confusion and terror, and little could be done at once to rescue the drowning, most of whom were women and children. The first news of the disaster reached this city a little after 2 o'clock this morning, when the barge landed at Henderson's wharf, bringing a number of the bodies of the drowned.

Image: The recovery of bodies from Tivoli, Maryland Pier collapse of 1883.

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, No. 1454 -- Vol. 56, New York, August 4, 1883.

Up to noon sixty-five bodies had been brought to the city. All except four have been identified. The following is a list, with ages, so far as ascertained. It will be seen that a greater proportion were young ladies and children:

John McAnny, Mrs. John McAnny and infant, Mrs. Crouch and two children, Katie and Lena; Mrs. Thomas McLaughlin and three children, Katie, Mary and John, aged thirteen, ten and nine years; Mrs. Keller, Mrs. Rebecca Erman and daughter Belle, aged sixteen; Miss Mary Burns, Miss Kate Colbert, Miss Laura Swearer, Maggie Thompson, Maggie Burns, Wilhelmina Willian, Agnes Feehin, Mary Newman, Mary McGahan, Mary Spies, aged eighteen; Rosa McBride, Maggie Lynch, aged ten; Mary Lynch, aged twenty; Mary and Jennie Carey, sisters, aged twenty and twenty-two; Minnie Kindest, aged eleven; Margaret McGeehan, aged thirty; Bridget Gaffey, aged twenty-eight; Winfield Gaffey, aged twenty-one; Minnie O'Neill, aged three; Fannie Le Maria, Mary Lindburg, two sisters named Parr, Annie Owens, Mollie Murphy, Mary Hughes, aged seventeen; Olivia Scull, an infant; Mary Hammill, aged eighteen; Alice Ryan, Johanna O'Connell, Mary Giblin, Elizabeth Connors, aged twenty-two; Annie Miller, aged twenty-three; Elizabeth Bockman, aged sixty, and a daughter, Elizabeth, aged nineteen; Patrick Ryan, aged thirty-eight; James Owens, W. A. P. Jacobs, Thomas S. Moseman, Daniel Gibbon, infant, Albert Ross, aged forty; Jesse Sumwalt, Henry Tonburg, Wm. Garmer, aged eighteen; Bernard Gately, Edward Calahan and Annie Weidel.

They resided in almost every section of the city, being members of Catholic churches in different localities. As soon as the bodies had been deposited on the wharf the barge went back to Tivoli, and before seven o'clock this morning had returned to Henderson's Wharf with her second load of dead, numbering over thirty. By this time the news of the calamity had spread throughout the city, and thousands gathered at the wharf and in the vicinity.

BALTIMORE, MD., July 24--4 p. m.

Up to this hour the number of bodies recovered at Tivoli is sixty-six. It is estimated that the loss will reach between ninety and one hundred. The city authorities have taken action looking to the burial of those victims whose relatives are too poor to provide it themselves.

The Sun, in an extra issue after 1 o'clock says: "The boat had made three trips to Tivoli. The morning boat took down one hundred, the 2 o'clock boat twelve hundred and the 6 o'clock boat seventy-five. This latter boat reached the pier at 8:20, and prepared to take all hands back to the city at once, as requested by Father Starr. The excursionists, knowing this was the only boat, dashed along the pier until they were stopped by the gate near the steamer. Some youths tried to climb over the gate, and a man and boy seated themselves on the rail, with their legs hanging. A too sudden movement caused the rail to break, and the two were thrown into the water.

A commotion followed, and there was a sudden crash and a chorused shriek. Splinters flew in every direction, and about two hundred people were struggling among the broken timbers in eight feet of water. The noise and cries were so loud that watermen heard them two miles away. Those who witnessed the scene say that it was sickening. The moon had gone down, and the only light was that shed by two feeble coal-oil lamps. some rescuers took barge lanterns and set them on the wharf. Two of them exploded, and added fresh terror to the scene. Those on the decks of the barge threw life-preservers, stools, and benches into the water. These struck a great many and knocked them insensible; others let down planks and ropes. Indescribable hopelessness and terror reigned. Shrieks, curses, groans, cries for God to "Save us," and heart-rending prayers for help.

Those males drowned were trying to help women and children. After the confusion a huge fire was built on the shore for those who had been saved, and their clothes were soon drying. Dredging for bodies then commenced. Twenty-eight bodies were found up to ten o'clock, when Father Starr took upon himself the responsibility of ordering the boat up to Baltimore, and it came up, and went back at daybreak.

The bodies at the Eastern Police Station were identified this afternoon as those of Alfred Burgan, aged eighteen, and Miss Kate Ives, aged twenty-eight; and the two children as those of John McAnany, leaving alive but one of that family, a little boy of six years, who was rescued. The bodies of two more children are said to have been found, but only one of them, the child of Bernard McGahan, has reached the city. At 8 o'clock this evening Coroner Morfit began an inquest, at which Father Starr, pastor of the Church of Corpus Christi was present.


Following is the verdict: "We find that Louisa Swearer and others came to their deaths by drowning, by the breaking of the bridge at Tivoli on the night of July 23 and that the authorities of the place did not use proper care and precaution to prevent the occurrence."


The following article transcribed by GenDisasters, describes the inquest:

The Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, July 30, 1883.

The Sufferers by the Tivoli Disaster - the ante-chamber in the mayor's office at the City Hall during Friday and Saturday at noon presented perhaps the saddest pictures of distress which have been seen within any building of this city. A Mr. John T. Ford, acting by request of the mayor, and aided by the clerk of the office, Mr. A. J. King, was visited by a large majority of the relatives of those who were drowned at Tivoli. Made conspicuous by the general sympathy for him was little Ryan, from whom in one fell swoop death took all of his family. He is a bright, pleasant-faced modest boy, about ten years of age, and the tears in his eyes as he thanked and shook hands with Mr. Ford indicated he fully felt his sorrow. To those who are caring for and protecting him a liberal donation was made, and other provision is intended for his future care and education as well as for his companion in grief, little Johnnie McAbeney.....

Mr. Pascal Serio, the Kutaw-street fruit dealer, who was so active in saving life in the Tivoli disaster, was ill last week from his exertions.

Miss Annie L. Martin writes to The Sun that she was rescued by Mr. Walter B. Hook, who also saved a number of others.


Apparently, there were many heroic efforts made that left their impression on John T. Ford. From: Baltimore: its history and its people, Volume 1, Page 261-262 -- By Lewis Historical Publishing Co, 1912:

"The Tivoli disaster, July 23, 1883, by which 34 women, 23 children and 6 men were drowned at Tivoli, an excursion resort, fifteen miles below the city, on the Patapsco river, is one of the saddest events in the history of Baltimore. An excursion had been made to Tivoli under the auspices of the Mt. Royal Beneficial Society, the participants including many members of the Catholic congregation of the Church of Corpus Christi, in the northwestern part of the city, and friends from other parishes and of Protestant denominations. A little after 9 P. M., while the excursionists were gathered on the wharf, awaiting admission to the steamer which was to bring them back to Baltimore, some of the rotten timbers supporting the wharf gave way under the unaccustomed load, precipitating everybody into the water. Some three hundred persons were thus endangered. Heroic efforts were made by various persons to rescue the women and children, and most of them were saved. Christopher Doyle saved fifteen persons, and Patrick C. Beatty seven.

Image: John T. Ford: For a period of forty years, Ford was an active and prominent figure in Baltimore's civic life. He was connected with many banking and financial concerns, and his business advice was sought and relied on. He was president of the Union Railroad Company, member of the Board of Directors of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, vice president of the West Baltimore Improvement Association, and trustee of numerous philanthropic institutions. In 1858, while serving as President of the City Council, he was made acting mayor of the city of Baltimore, and he filled this position with marked ability. His winning and gracious personality won him a host of friends.

Source: Wikipedia.

At the instance of John T. Ford, proprietor of Ford's Opera House, eleven silver medals were struck for the rescuers, Doyle, a sawyer, of Battery avenue, receiving the highest honor."