A New Book Chronicles Gold Rush-Era Shipwreck Near the Homestead

By , June 25, 2011

I just finished reading a great book about a local shipwreck: The Clara Nevada: Gold, Greed, Murder and Alaska’s Inside Passage (check your local independent bookstore). I was honored to have Steven read and comment on my post on The Clara Nevada from February. He agreed to a book swap: a copy of his book for my Shy Ghosts Dancing: Dark Tales from Southeast Alaska.

Steven C. Levi, The Clara Nevada

(Photo: BarnesandNoble.com)

For anyone interested in this incident, Levi’s book is long overdue. As I mentioned in my post on the wreck, there’s precious little information available on it. Even the date the ship wrecked was in question (Levi clears that up for us; it was February 5, 1898). Levi has taken the pains to research archives and contact ancestors of key players, and has come up with the best description of what is known to have happened, and what may have happened that night. He also provides some key background on the ship’s captain and other players in the drama.

The key questions are what happened, and why. The Clara Nevada went down in a 90 mph winter storm, so while there were witnesses, no one saw much clearly. Levi found all the available descriptions and reports, and lays them out in sensible order.

Most intriguing, Levi believes the ship did not wreck, but was destroyed in a robbery attempt! This is an old theory that has been dismissed by many sources (sources that could not, in fact, provide much, if any, useful information on the incident. I’m just sayin’ . . . .) but Levi patiently and clearly makes his case, that the ship’s demise may have been robbery and mass murder. And, you know? He could be right! There might be a fortune in gold somewhere near our homestead. It makes one think.

Besides enjoying this “history mystery,” I got caught up in the research process Levi describes. He didn’t sit in his pajamas running Internet searches, he traveled to archives, scanned through miles of microfiche, and dug for information. This is the less glamorous side of research, but readers will appreciate the pay off. It shows what can be uncovered when one delves into the past.

Levi’s book caps a string of shipwreck serendipity for me. My interest in the fate of the Clara Nevada led me to read a couple of the many books available on the wreck of the Princess Sophia on Vanderbilt Reef north of Juneau in 1918. When we took Aly to Canada, I found a CD in a Whitehorse thrift shop. I bought it for other reasons, but when Michelle scanned the song list, she asked if I’d bought it for the song about the Princess Sophia. I hadn’t even seen it. Then, within a week, I learned of The Clara Nevada: Gold, Greed, Murder and Alaska’s Inside Passage. I’ll be rereading it again when the February winds began to blow on Lynn Canal. Maybe sooner . . . .

 

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