John Vonderlin: What’s in a [ship’s] Name

Story by John Vonderlin
Email John ([email protected])


Hi June,
A while back we were posting about the “New York,” the ship that ran aground in 1898, under very strange circumstances, almost in your front yard. The ship had been named the “‘T. F. Oakes,” and was renamed the “New York,” hoping for better luck, after a series of unfortunate events. They should have known better, based on my research into the fate of ships named “New York” through the years.
The following story, while occurring a bit beyond the subjective boundary of the Coastside, describes in detail the public’s reaction to a local shipwreck. In this case the ship is the “City of New York” and its story comes from the October 30th 1893, issue of the San Francisco “Morning Call.” It ran aground at the mouth of the Golden Gate off of Point Bonita on the Marin Headlands.
The article paints a scene of the curious, mixed with the profit or gaity-seeking, as if a circus had come to town. My guess is memories of this day were the stimulus for many a weekend picnic gawking adventure five years later, to view the forlorn hulk of the “New York,” that had run aground on your beach. My guess the scene at Half Moon Bay was similar, only longer lasting.
I’ll attach some info on the other ill-fated ships named “New York,” at the end of the article. I’m sure this streak of horrible luck for all these ships is just a strange coincidence, but I’ve got to wonder if the answer to the question of “What’s in a Name?” might be in some cases, “Destiny.” Enjoy. John

The Efforts to Save the
Wrecked Steamer.
The Bay Filled With All Manner of
Craft Bound for Point Bonita.
At The Cliff.
The wrecked steamship City of New
York lies in about the same position she
has been in for several days, and the pros
pects of saving her are all based upon the
success the pumps will have in reducing
the amount of water in her hold when they
get to wnrk and the continuance of the
present fair weather. It is admitted on
all sides that if a storm of even moderate
force should come up at this juncture all
hopes for the vessel would be lost.
The Day was alive with all kinds of
craft yesterday bound for the scene of the
wreck— steamers, tugs, naphtha launches,
Whitehall boats, skiffs, and, in fact, every
conceivable manner of conveyance by
water to be procured was brought into
requisition to convey the large crowds of
people who were anxious to view the dis
abled ship. One or two of the boats had
bands of music aboard to attract customers,
and all of them had from two to a half
dozen runners, who labored incessantly
and with loud voices to secure passengers.
In the afternoon the crowds on some of
the boats were immense, appearing at a
distance like one black, surging mass.
Little time was given the passengers for
observation, however, when the wreck
was reached, the efforts of the boat
owners being directed more particularly
toward making as many trips, and. conse
quently, as many dollars as possible with
out regard to the advantages given their
On board the City of New York there
appeared to be but little activity, although
it was said that the pumps had about been
placed in position for work, and it was
thought probable that they would be put
in motion to-night at low tide. Donkey
engines have been placed on board to sup
ply the necessary power.
Alongside the wrecked ship lay a schooner
receiving what freight and other material
could be transferred to her. As the New
York lay yesterday afternoon her stern
was somewhat lower in the water than ber
bow. the gilt letters forming her name on
the former being just visible above the
small waves which washed about her.
Sume diversity of opinion exists as to the
exact extent of the damage done to the
hull of the vessel. It was said on board
the tug on which a reporter took passage
that one of the divers employed had stated
that he believed from the position of the
ship there was little if any hope of getting
her off safely. He said that a large rock
protruded through the hull and that the
action of the water in rocking the vessel to
and fro was gradually increasing the size
of the aperture and more firmly fixing the
ship in its critical position.
A big bank of clouds coming up on the
western horizon was viewed with a good
deal of anxiety by some of the officials
directing the work of relief aboard the
vessel last evening.
“If a storm comes up now,” said one of
them, “we might as well pull for the shore
and leave the vessel to her late. Ido not
believe she has settled in the water ma
terially during the past twenty-four hours,
and if we ran get the pumps to work and
they prove effective in reduciug the volume
of water in the, hold, I think the chances
iof getting her off are pretty fair. My chief
anxiety now, however, is about the
weather, and upon it depends the failure
or success of all future operations.”
Each one of the boats going and coming
from the wreck had the kodak fiends
aboard in various numbers. About a half
dozen of them took passage on the tug
Monarch at the time the reporter did, and
took snap shots at tho vessel from various
points of view.
Nearly Forty Thousand Spectators
on Sutro Heights.
Not since the explosion of several tons
of dynamite by the wreck of the schooner
Parallel near the Seal Rocks some years
ago has there been such a multitude at
and about the Cliff House as gathered in
that vicinity yesterday. It is estimated
that between 30,000 and 40,000 people were
carried from the city on the two railroads
to the ocean shore. The rush was con
tinuous from early in the morning until
the sun went down.
The managers found it difficult to handle
the traffic. The ringing of the conductor’s
bell-punch knew no cessation,and yet
hundreds of passengers escaped
paying toll because the collector of fares
could not reach them.
The Cliff House and Ferries Road car
ried the greater number of people. The
pressure upon that route was something
phenomenal, though the Park and Ocean
road had also all it could do to accom
modate its patrons. Extra trains were
run at short intervals on both lines.
The weather during the afternoon was
superb. The ocean was apparently with
out a ripple. There was hardly enough
wind to stir a rose leaf. The view of the
opposite headland was perfect. The
white building upon which is built the
Point Bonita light stood out with striking
prominence against the gray rolling hills
behind it. Tugboats and other craft were
distinctly made out skimming over the
mirror-like surface of the water near the
Marin County shore.
What all had come to see, however, was
the wrecked steamer. But the City of
New York, with its partly submerged hull,
was lying in the deep shadows cast by the
rocks that towered above and about it.
Without the aid of a good field-glass the
ill-fated steamer could not be seen to any
advantage. Those endowed with the
keenest vision were able to catch a glimpse
of its outlines and masts and to indi
cate the locality to those less acute of
From Lands End station to the Cliff
House beach the shore and adjacent hills
were dotted with men, women and chil
dren silently gazing at the opposite shore.
Here and there a hilltop fairly swarmed
with people. The Cliff House veranda
itself was thronged all day and the roads
leading to it filled with vehicles. If the
people saw but little of the wreck they
seemed to bo enjoying their outing, for the
day was one of rare loveliness, and the
view of the ocean and the entrance to the
harbor was full of bewitching enchant
The grounds at Sutro Heights have
seldom or never had such a concourse of
visitors. Out on the semicircular parapet
the crowd was enormous. A young man
with a telescope mounted on a tripod
coined money at 10 cents a peep. A line
was formed by those awaiting their turu
to see the wreck through his lens. A
dozen telescopes would have proved in
adequate to the public demand for that
aid to vision. The enterprising youth
made enough money in a few hours to
carry him through a hard winter. His
pockets were so weighted down with
silver that he was obliged to secure as
sistance to aid him in packing his instru
ments off the ground.
J. Hampton Hoge, the newly appointed
American Consul to Amoy, was anxious
to see through the glass the steamer upon
which he had intended sailing to China,
but his gallantry baffled his desire.
Whenever it came his turn to take a peep
he discovered the next person behind him
to be a lady. Mr. Hoge is a Virginia
gentleman, and in every instance he
stepped aside to allow the ladies to use the
telescope first. His gallantry was not
appreciated by the other men in the line,
and Mr. Hoge had to go to the rear of the
line every time he yielded his right. The
result was that when darkness fell the
gallant Virginian was somewhere near the
tail end and never saw the City of New
York through tiie big glass.
The Steamer Viewed From the Bluff
Above the Wreck.
Point Bouita presented a livelier ap
pearance yesterday thau it probably ever
did before. It was the objective point of
tbe largest number of sightseers that ewr
visited the place, it beiug estimated that In
the neighborhood of 500 people crossed the
hills during the day to view the wrecked
steamer City of New York, and ‘JO percent
of the visitors tramped across the hills,
carrying their lunches with them and mak
ing the occasion an excuse for taking the
walk and enjoying a day’s outing. Early
in the day the prospects were in favor of
foegy weather, but Dy the time the advance
nuard of the big procession reached the
point the fog lifted and everybody had a
good view of the stranded vessel. The
common remark was that the steamer
showed little signs of being unable to
leave her position, but looked more as If
lying at anchor waiting for orders. The
wrecking tugs laid alongside all day tak
ing off articles of value, but to the ob
server on shore it appeared that no great
enon was being made to dismantle tbe
steamer. While some of the men aboard
s.’ni) were engaged in labor it was notice
able that many lounged about and leaned
over the rail on tneir elbows observine the
great crowds of spectators on the bluffs
All day long excursion steamers visited
the scene of the wreck, and all appeared
to be crowded to their utmost capacity.
So a great disaster was made the occasion
by some of a merrymaking, but the ma
jority expressed sorrow that the fine steam
ship had been so unfortunate. Across the
hills from Sausalito, by following the
stairs straight up from the wharf as far as
they go and then striking off to the right
and taking the road over the top of the
hill, which terminates in a trail leading
down past a milk ranch at the base of the
hill, and then skirting a lagoon, keeping to
the left of it, about half way, then turning
to the left on the road, the Point Bonita
light is reached in a walk of about an hour
and a half; and among the visitors yester
day who tramped across the hills was a
fair sprinkling of ladies. Keeper Brown
is very courteous to visitors, and shows all
who desire through the lighthouse.

The troubles of ships named New York, began with the first one. Revolutionary War General, Benedict Arnold, built a so-named gondola, to support his campaign on Lake Champlain in 1776. He burned it and her sister ships to prevent them from falling into British hands just a few months later. Built by a man whose name has become synonymous with treason and traitor, then scuttled after defeat, is not a promising start to your name’s bloodline.
The second “New York,” was built in New York City in 1800 and was a 36 gun frigate. It served as the flagship of the fleet fighting the Barbary Pirates in 1802-1803. But, was burned and sunk by the British in the War of 1812.
Then there is this once burned, twice-not-shy company’s experience with naming ships “New York.” :

from the day it came into reality in 1850 until it was bought in 1893, the British Inman Line owned and operated a steamship called the City of New York. There were three different vessels that bore this name, all operated by the Inman Line, and each added to the fleet after its predecessor was wrecked.