From the Washington Herald, 7/9/1911, p. 1, c. 7
OLD EXCURSION STEAMER BURNED TO WATER’S EDGE
River Queen, Long in Service, Completely Destroyed.
HUNDREDS SEE BLAZE
Pleasure Seekers on Other Boats Watch Fiery Spectacle.
Harbor Police and the Firefighter Battle Desperately to Prevent the Flames from Spreading to Other Vessels – President Lincoln and Gen. Grant Held Famous Conferences Aboard Burned Vessel.
Her decks swept by a raging fire which threatened to spread to adjoining wharves, while thousands of excursionists aboard pleasure boats coming up the Potomac River looked on with breathless excitement, the steamer River Queen was completely destroyed by fire which broke out in her boiler room at 10:45 o’clock last night while she lay alongside the wharf of the Independent Steamboat and Barge Company, foot of Seventh street southwest.
For three hours the streets and river side were black with a surging mass of spectators, while the fire department, aided by the Firefighter and the harbor police, fought desperately to keep the flames from destroying the entire shipping district.
JAMMED WITH CROWDS.
Hundreds of automobile parties just returning from the theaters and cafes raced down Seventh street, while each street car was packed and jammed with men, women, and children who hastened to the scene from every part of the city.
Out in the river the steamer Charles Macalester, her decks crowded with Saturday night excursionists, was just preparing to land, and the cries of “Fire!” caused the officers to give orders to reverse engines and back the steamer into the west side of the harbor. The Queen Anne was lying at the same wharf when the fire broke out, and although no one was aboard her except the crew, she was quickly towed from her moorings.
The flames, illuminating the black masses of spectators, could be seen from the top floors of most of the buildings of the city. Fully 3,000 persons witnessed the fire and at the end of less than an hour the steamer was nothing but a mass of charred ruins.
It was estimated by Samuel Bensinger, president of the company, that the damage was $25,000. No insurance was carried. As far as cold be learned, the fire department and company officers could not ascertain the origin of the fire.
Only three persons were aboard her at the time the fire broke out – Babe Woods, J. L Adams, quartermaster, and George Jones, deckhand. Woods first discovered the fire, and almost at the same time, Jones, who was sleeping in the washroom on the starboard side, and Adams, who was asleep in the pilot house, were awakened by smoke.
They ran onto the wharf and pulled the alarm, calling over at the same time to the Harbor police precinct, which adjoins the wharf. The Firefighter was immediately put into action and played its full streams on the burning vessel.
Fight Through Mobs.
By this time the River Queen was wrapped in a sheet of flames. The firemen had to fight their way through mobs of excited spectators. Lines of hose were stretched from every available fire plug and enough water to swamp the boat was poured over her.
The firemen met with some difficulty in fighting the fire, as the vessel had to be pushed away from the wharf to prevent the flames from spreading.
To add to the intensity of the scene, the Mcalester came up the river just at that time and for a while there was a near-panic. The boat backed to the far west side of the harbor.
At 1:45 o’clock this morning the vessel was brought up to the wharf after it was thought the flames were extinguished. The heat scorched the dry timbers of the wharf. Part of the dock and the roofing suffered considerable damage.
The fire department and fire boat played constant streams of water over the vessel until after 3 o’clock this morning. The River Queen has been the best-known river boat in Washington ever since it was built in 1864. It is said that in that year she was used as a special yacht by President Lincoln on his trips to Richmond, Norfolk, and other points.
While the River Queen was burning at the water’s edge a huge crowd rushed down Seventh street and closed in upon the weird spectacle. The police tried in vain to break the congestion. The pulling, pushing, tugging, fighting mob was under the spell of the flames, and seemed almost on the brink of holding a midnight carnival and celebration over the doomed vessel.
Crowd Packed at Scene.
Cabs, automobiles, and all sorts of vehicles rattled over the cobblestones and were jammed and pinned hopelessly within the crowds. Fights broke out, wild cries and whoops filled the air, and the police had no alternative but to let the riot continue while the steamer burned.
This whistling of the fire tug, the belching engines feeding the nozzles, the shouts of the crowd, and the honking of motors made as wild and delirious a scene as the river front has seen in many a night.
The police made only one arrest, Lewis Banks, of 3300 Georgia avenue, being taken to the station for disorderly conduct.