Eclipse [Steamboat]

aka: City of St. Joseph [Steamboat]

The Eclipse was a steamboat that struck a snag on the Mississippi River near Osceola (Mississippi County) on September 12, 1925; a deckhand and a passenger lost their lives in the accident.

The sternwheel paddleboat that would later be named the Eclipse was built in 1901 at St. Joseph, Missouri, for Captain A. Stewart for service on the Missouri River, and was christened the City of St. Joseph. The steamer was 162 feet long and thirty-six feet wide with a five-foot draft. The vessel was later sold to the Planter’s Packet Company in Memphis, Tennessee, and later to the Lee Line, which ran it on a route between Memphis and Caruthersville, Missouri.

The 1925 accident was not the first for the City of St. Joseph. In June 1911, a flue collapse killed eighteen deck hands and injured engineer Floyd Morgan. A few months earlier, the vessel “was caught high and dry at Luna Landing, Ark. … and remained there some time.”

The City of St. Joseph was renamed the Eclipse in November 1916.

The Mississippi River was running low when the Eclipse left Memphis in September 1925 with forty-five passengers and crew members and twenty-eight bales of cotton, 460 bags of seeds, and assorted other cargo, heading north to Caruthersville. As the steamboat neared Ashport, Tennessee, the vessel’s Captain Templeton found the river channel blocked by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging vessels and turned back toward Memphis on September 12, 1925.

At about 7:00 p.m., as the Eclipse steamed through a channel flanked by sandbars between Osceola and Plum Point Landing, the steamboat struck a snag, which “local river men” held was a long-sunken derrick of the Mendel Box Company, “ripping the craft from bow to stern.” People rushed up a ladder to the vessel’s roof while others grabbed onto cotton bales and floated down the river. The Eclipse sank in twenty-five feet of water in about ninety seconds, leaving only the roof and pilot house above the surface.

One passenger, a Black girl who had boarded at Golddust, Tennessee, was lost. “She was last seen going back into the cabin…and it is believed that her body is caught in the sunken timbers of the craft,” a local newspaper reported. A “roustabout” named Will was last seen floating on a cotton bail, yelling, “See you in Memphis, boys.” His body drifted ashore at Wilson (Mississippi County) three days later.

The Eclipse’s two yawls transported the survivors to a sandbar, from which rescue craft took them to Osceola for bus rides to Memphis. Templeton stayed behind, diving into the “bowels of the packet” to retrieve papers and two cash drawers holding $700. “Other than this,” a newspaper stated, “only a box of spaghetti, some snuff, a few heads of lettuce and a stalk of bananas are left of the boat’s heavy cargo,” which had an estimated value of $60,000.

Citing the potential expense of raising the wreck of the Eclipse, its owners decided against doing so. The vessel was insured for $22,000 but only in case of fire and was thus a total loss.

For additional information:
“Find Body of Negro.” Memphis Commercial Appeal, September 17, 1925, p. 18.

“No Attempt to Raise Eclipse—Peters Lee.” Memphis Commercial Appeal, September 14, 1925, pp. 1, 2.

“Steamer Eclipse Goes Down at Ossceola [sic], Ark.” Caruthersville, Missouri, Democrat-Argus, September 15, 1925, p. 1.

Way, Frederick, Jr. Way’s Packet Directory. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1983.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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