Delos Smith a hero in Atlanta rescue
Built in Cleveland, Ohio in 1891, the Atlanta was the third new wooden-hulled propeller ship owned by the Goodrich Line.
The Atlanta, with accommodations for 175 people and 950 tons of cargo, traveled Lake Michiganís cross-lake route to Muskegon and Grand Haven until 1906. She then serviced the west shore route, with stops at Manitowoc, Sheboygan, Milwaukee and Chicago.
On March 18, 1906, the Atlanta left Sheboygan, enroute to Milwaukee with a load of enameled ware, pianos, furniture, leather and excelsior. Eight miles south of Sheboygan, fire broke out in the engine and boiler area, spreading quickly to the cargo holds. When the gusty winds and the inflammable cargo caused the fire to rage out of control, the shipís master, Capt. Con McCauley, gave the order to abandon ship.
Working 12 miles north of Port Washington, Capt. Delos Smith on his fish tug Tessler saw that the Atlanta wasnít making any headway. Sensing trouble, the Tessler marked her nets and quickly went to the Atlantaís aid.
It wasnít until Capt. Smith was fairly close to the steamer that he saw she was afire. Lines were tossed to the hurricane deck near the bow. The terrified crew and passengers either slid down the ropes or jumped onto the deck of the tug to escape the raging inferno. Of the 75 people aboard the flaming Atlanta, only one was lost. A deck hand, trying to leap to safety, fell into Lake Michiganís icy waters and drowned before help could get to him.
With more than 70 people crowded on the deck of his tug, Capt. Smith set a southerly course for Port Washington. A northbound Goodrich steamer, the Georgia, met the Tessler and took the survivors back to Sheboygan. The Tessler returned to the Atlantaís burning hull and beached it, 14 miles south of Sheboygan.
The loss of the Atlanta was estimated at $150,000. Only a portion of the bow and stern sections remain, in 20 feet of water off Cedar Grove.
The gallant actions of Captain Delos Smith and his crew were documented in many of the nationís newspapers. The heroic rescue of the Atlanta completes another chapter in Great Lakes history.
By Rick Smith
Editor's note:Oliver H. Smith and Evelyn C. Smith were recorded speaking to the Ozaukee County Historical Society (Wisconsin). The main topic of the night was the steamer Atlanta fire that occurred March 18th, 1906 and the Senator and Marquette collision in a dense fog October 30th, 1929. Go here to hear their first hand recollections of these events.