John Vonderlin: 1901: The Rio de Janeiro

Story from John Vonderlin

Email John ([email protected])

Hi June,
   This is a story about the shipwreck of the Rio De Janeiro, mentioned in the posting about the Gifford, the bark that went aground at Mussel Rock, and received no speedy help from the nearby Life Saving Station. The Rio suffered the same fate, and after reading this, you can see why some people might have been suspicious of the Lifesaving Station’s personnel a few years later. This article appeared in the March 1st, 1901 issue of “The Call,”  I’ll see if I can find out if Mr. Ellingson had an extremely early version of an I-Pod or was just drunk, or at least what the official investigation concluded.  Enjoy. John
The San Francisco Call.
MARK ELLINGSON, lookout of
the Fort Point Life-saving Sta-
tion, confessed yesterday to his
superior officer, Captain Joseph
Hodgson, that on the fatal morn-
Ing when the steamshio Rio de Janeiro
went on the rocks he (Ellingson) had
heard the startling distress whistles of
the doomed ship and had taken no notice
of them. Captain Hodgson, on hearing
the awful admission, took the wretched
speaker by the throat and almost stran-
gled the breath from his body.
The information that the Rio de Janeiro
had sounded prolonged whistles of dis-
tress and that the signals had been heard
by the life-saving lookout has been sub-
stantiated in every detail, both by the evi-
dence of witnesses before the official in-
vestigators of the disaster and by the con-
fession of Mark Elllngson. From the time
the first boatload of survivors of the Rio
came ashore to tell of the tragedy at the
Fort Point rocks until yesterday morning
Ellingson has stoutly maintained that he
rever heard the slightest sound, on last
Friday morning, which would have caused
him to think that a shlp was in distress
close to where he was on duty. His su-
perior officers defended him and abuse
was heaped on those who had charged
Ellingson with criminal neglect of duty.
   Captain Hodgson of the Fort Point
Iife-saving Station has since Friday,
begged and pleaded with Ellingson to tell
him the truth to all questlons put to
him. Ellingson had but one answer: “I
heard nothing out of the ordinary while
I was on duty on Friday morning.
On Wednesday Ellingson’s comrades no-
ticed a change in his demeanor. Elllngson
was moody and kept to himself. He did
not join in the conversation of the hardy
men who are ready to go out on the angry
seas in the most stormy night to try and
save life. Ellingson’s comrades thought
he was brooding over the fact that for-
tune had failed to help him in the mission
of saving some of the souls on board the
   A. M. yesterday, he sought Captain Hodg-
son and sald, “Captain, I have something
to say to you.” Ellingson then unfolded
the grave story of his action at the time
of the wreck of the Rio.
“I told you a lie. captain.” faltered El-
lingson. “I told a lie when I said I did not
hear the Rlo’s whistles.”
Captain Hodgson sprang on the man
who trembled before him and, grasping
him by the throat, choked him until he
was livid In the face.
“You cowardly dog, you cowardly dog!”
exclaimed the captain as he threw Elling-
son to the floor. ‘
  When released, Ellingson told his story
in a few words.
“I heard the long whistles, but I did not
pay much attention to them. I cannot
tell you why — I don’t know.”
Before Captain Hodgson had time to
realize fully the awful importance of the
confession,  Ellingson had passed out of
his presence and made his escape from the
life-saving station.
Captain Hodgson reported the confes-
sion to his men and Ellingson might have
felt the weight of their wrath If they
could have laid their hands on him.
The life-savers were wild with anger.
 for the neglect of Ellingson. They
could have upheld their reputation and
saved many lives when the Rio de Ja-
neiro took her final plunge.
The confession was reported by Captain
Hodgson to Major Blakeney, who is Su-
perintendent of the Twelfth Life-saving
District, which includes California………
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