On this date in 1907, the Liner Dakota was on her seventh
voyage on a clear bright afternoon when she struck a reef off the coast
of Japan and sank.
The liner was launched only three years before, on February
6th, 1904, at New London, Connecticut. The guest of honor breaking christening
the bow with champagne was 17 year Mary Bell Flemington from Ellendale,
North Dakota. Mary Belle stood 6 foot 3 and had been voted the prettiest
girl in North Dakota by her fellow UND students. The New York press
called her the Diana of the Prairies.
Mary Belle was given a tour of the sights in New York,
but she wasnt that impressed. After 6 days, she headed home, saying,
I wouldnt give my little garden in Ellendale... with its broad
vista of the prairie, for all the palaces on Fifth Avenue.
Mary Belles christening of the Dakota held more
responsibility than one might think. She had to break the champagne over
the bow only after the ship started sliding from its braces into the water,
but before it got too far out to reach. The luck of the ship was at risk,
and the more the bottle shattered, the better luck the Dakota would have.
If she missed entirely, sailors would possibly refuse to board. In the
case of the Dakota, the ship should have had great luck, as Mary Belles
aim was true.
The Dakotas twin cargo-passenger ship was the Minnesota,
both of which were part of the Great Northern Steamship Company (GNSS),
owned by railroad magnate James J. Hill. Each of the ships weighed more
than 22,000 tons, were 622 feet long and had a beam of 73. Each had accommodations
for 200 first-class passengers, with room for at least 1,800 in steerage
The Dakota and Minnesota were the largest steamers in
the world flying the American flag. James Hill believed that the liners
would be able to take on so much cargo that he could lower operating costs,
attract more business and make his shipping venture profitable. But, the
maximum speed of the liners was only thirteen knots pretty slow
for a passenger liner.
The Dakota departed on her first voyage from Seattle
to the Far East on September 20, 1905. On her seventh voyage, the Dakota
was about forty miles south of Yokohama, Japan, when Captain Emil Francke
steered her into what Japanese fisherman called Onigase, or the Devils
Sea. The area was well charted and widely avoided by mariners of all kinds
because of its treacherous reefs, and that day, the sea lived up to its
name as the Dakota steamed into the Shira Hami Reef.
Chief Officer Ahman, a superior navigator, had the watch,
but had been relieved by Captain Francke, who was admired, but not adored,
for his tough standards of discipline. Francke later said that he realized
his mistake and tried to change course, but it was too late. To Franckes
credit, his officers and crew didnt blame him for what happened.
Thankfully, the ship was close enough to shore to avoid
loss of life; all the passengers were safely evacuated, and a third of
the cargo load was salvaged before the vessel broke apart and sank.
Maybe they shouldve used better champagne at the
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