In the shipping lane off Point No Point, about 320 feet down, the wreck of the SS Admiral Sampson sits, her hull in two pieces.
Although the passenger and cargo steamer sank in 1914, for 80 years no divers attempted to reach the wreckage because of its depth and busy location. Rumor is that a very valuable diamond necklace is still locked in the purser’s safe along with a suitcase filled with gold. A lost treasure off Point No Point!
Visibility was zero …
The fog was thick at 4 a.m. on Aug. 26 when the Sampson left Seattle bound for Juneau, Alaska, carrying 160 passengers and crew. I read many accounts of that day, and a few mentioned that smoke from forest fires added to the near zero visibility. Capt. Zimro Moore posted extra lookouts, ordered the engines slowed to 3 knots and the ship’s whistle to sound at frequent intervals. But the Sampson got no further than Point No Point when it was rammed by a Canadian luxury liner, the SS Princess Victoria, headed for Seattle.
The collision tore a 12-foot gash in the steel hull of the Sampson and ruptured several large containers of fuel oil on board that immediately caught fire. Capt. P.J. Hickey of the Princess Victoria quickly decided to stay put as long as possible to reduce the amount of water rushing into the Sampson, giving passengers and crew extra time to escape. Some frantically climbed over the railings and leapt onto the opposite deck, others flung themselves into the water and swam to the Canadian ship’s lifeboats and ropes.
Capt. Moore had time to lower only one lifeboat, sawing its ropes with his pocketknife. After seven minutes, the Princess Victoria could no longer hold its position and pulled away. Minutes later, the Sampson sank.
The Seattle Star, a newspaper that ceased publication in 1947, printed a few first-hand accounts. Claire Bour, on her way to a teaching job in Ketchikan, reported that she heard and felt the crash and rushed to the deck, dressing as she ran. The deck was rapidly filling with water when someone from the Victoria Princess threw her a rope. “I clutched for the rope but missed,” she said. George Peterson, another passenger, seized the rope and then the school teacher. They were thrown into the Sound, he said, and struggled to hold on until a lifeboat picked them up.
Another passenger, Al Paris, one of 20 structural iron workers onboard, dashed to the deck with his suitcase in hand. According to the Star, “He arrived on deck to find the anchor chain from the Princess Victoria invitingly nearby. He backed up, took a running jump, sailed across a space of water, and grabbed the anchor chain, still holding his suitcase. Hand over hand he climbed the chain and got aboard.”
What still lies below …
Capt. Zimro chose to go down with his ship. Four other crew members and 11 passengers died. The Princess Victoria reached Pier 1 in Seattle at 10 a.m. with a three-foot hole above the waterline extending 20 feet back from the bow.
In 1991, using sonar, divers were able to locate the wreckage. Since then, divers have brought up about two dozen objects, including brass portholes, the ship’s whistle, its telegraph and silver coffee urns. They report there are more items in the sand. No one has yet to recover the diamond necklace and suitcase filled with gold.
— Annette Wright was an editor and writer for women’s magazines in New York City for 25 years. You can contact her at wright firstname.lastname@example.org.