St. Louis’ 1902 Labor Day Tragedy
On Labor Day 1902, September 1st, six members of the local Naval Reserve decided to take a skiff out on the Mississippi River for Labor Day. The men ranged in age from 18 to 20 years old. The owner of the skiff hesitated to rent them the skiff due to the Mississippi river level rising to dangerous levels for navigation. The boys convinced the man of their experience with river navigation, so Charles Uhl reluctantly agreed.
A strong current exists on the Mississippi River at St. Louis always but the higher river levels cause small craft to be caught and propelled down river regardless of navigation skill. Initially, the boys handled the current okay. It caught them and propelled them a couple of times but they were in no danger of colliding with other crafts.
George Ehrhardt, Charles Eaton, Arthur Emle, George Reese, Thomas Coglin and Herman Stauss were thoroughly enjoying themselves, when they decided to dock at Rutger Street. Also docked at Rutger Street were several large coal barges.
As the young men approached the Rutger Street wharf, a current caught their skiff and propelled it into a coal barge. Charles Eaton was sucked under the coal barge and never came back to the surface.
The other five boys tried to climb onto the underside of their capsized boat. George Ehrhardt was helping Coglin onto the boat, when he slipped and fell into the river. The current pulled him under and he never returned to the surface either.
While Emle and Stauss rested on the boat’s underside, Coglin and Reese tried to steer the skiff back to shore but did not make much progress. Realizing the desperation of their situation, Stauss removed his red sweater and began swinging it over his head.
Several fisherman did not realize the boy’s situation but Charles Uhl picked up on their distress and quickly rowed out to them. When Uhl was within earshot, he told the boys not to move, so as not to upset the boat. Uhl’s quick actions rescued the other four boys. The current would have eventually gotten all four of the survivors.
Charles Eaton was an only son. George Ehrhardt was his parents’ second son. Both Mrs. Eaton and Mrs. Ehrhardt required sedation on the news of their sons’ deaths. Mrs. Eaton suffered particularly over the death of her only son, an amateur photographer.
Without Charles Uhl’s quick action, four more families would have lost their sons. Circumstance put Uhl in this position but his actions made him heroic.
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