October 29, 1896

The Samuel P. Ely made a trip to Duluth in tow of the Hesper, a 250-foot steamer, along with the Negaunee, a similar barge. Both barges were loaded with limestone from Kelley’s Island, Ohio. The steamer had a coal cargo. The three ships passed up through the Sault Locks on October 24 and arrived at Duluth on the 27th. After discharging its coal, the Hesper shifted over to the grain elevators to take on wheat for Buffalo, while the two barges unloaded their limestone and waited for a tow to Two Harbors to load ore. Together, the three left Duluth on the morning of October29th. The wind blew at the rate of 48 to 50 miles an hour, and the rain that had fallen with considerable persistency all that afternoon came down in torrents nearly all night.
It has been over 100 years since a fierce 1896 October storm blew the 200-foot schooner barge Samuel P. Ely from its tow the Hesper and smashed it into the west breakwater of Two Harbors, Minnesota. The crew of the Ely along with two crew from a contractor’s scow caught in its path took refuge in the rigging of the Ely. Like may great shipwreck stories the accident was followed by a heroic rescue by a captain and crew of the railroad tug Ella Stone and a fisherman named Strand. Captain Joe Cox maneuvered the Ella Stone as close to the Ely as he could safely go towing the sailboat manned by Strand. The crew of the Stone then let out the sailboat on lines until it was close enough to the Ely to allow the stranded crew to drop into the sailboat. Three times they repeated the maneuver until all of the crew were rescued. The Ely of course broke up and sank next to the breakwater where it remains today.
Thanks to Mr. Gunderson’s 6th grade class at Virginia-Roosevelt Elementary School for the research on October’s Day in History.

Thanks also to Minnesota’s Learn and Serve America Service Learning Program for their help.

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