Either last night or tonight (sources differ) 103 years ago, the steam/sail ship Clara Nevada sank near Eldred Rock, south of our homestead.
This should not be considered an online information source on the wreck of the Clara Nevada–I don’t have the resources at hand to research it properly. This is merely a remembrance of an incident that happened near our home—something to think about today as I sit and watch the cold, gray waters of Lynn Canal, beneath which the Clara Nevada and her victims sleep.
The Clara Nevada, like many other less than seaworthy ships of the time, got pressed into service to carry prospectors to Alaska during the Gold Rush. Her owners had a shady reputation; her trip north started badly and continued that way. She collided with a revenue cutter while departing the dock in Seattle. She bounced off just about any dock with which she came in close proximity between there and Skagway. Her steam boilers behaved poorly on the trip north. The crew apparently spent much of their time drunk and unruly.
On February 5 or 6, 1898, she left Skagway headed south with an unknown number of passengers—supposedly 25 to 40, although later accounts report up to 150. She supposedly carried a fair amount of gold as passenger cargo.
A northerly gale blew up, with winds reportedly 50-80 mph. That night Clara Nevada struck a submerged pinnacle off Eldred Rock. Witnesses reported an explosion, which some said was her boilers; others said it was dynamite. Later dives on the wreck found no boiler damage; a ship carrying miners north seems unlikely to carry dynamite on the return journey. At any rate, the reported explosion prompted theories that the incident may have been deliberate sabotage in an attempt to steal the gold on board.
Officially, no one survived the wreck. Later, people reported seeing the captain and members of the crew alive elsewhere in Alaska, adding fuel to the sabotage theory. We’ll probably never learn the truth.
In 1907 Eldred Rock lighthouse began operation, having been built as a direct result of the wreck of the Clara Nevada.
The next year, within a month of the date of Clara Nevada’s demise, she returned to Eldred Rock. The morning following a violent gale, Assistant Keeper Currie found the ship beached on the north end of the rock. The storm had brought Clara Nevada back up from the deep briefly before she sank once again.
That’s the part of the story I love. Poor Mr. Currie! It would be bad enough for a lighthouse keeper to discover a ship hanging on the rocks, but to realize it was a ghostly wreck must have really given him a scare!