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Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
  • One of Hannibal's greatest tragedys

  • The river is where the Flying Eagle lived and the river is where she would die.
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  • The low waters of the nation's rivers have lately evealed its normally hidden treasures.
    Ships that once traveled the waters above came to rest on the murky bed years ago are once again seeing the light of day.
    The Montana, a riverboat resting in the waters of the Missouri River near St. Charles, Mo., has emerged and is attracting visitors once again. The same can be said on the St. Louis Riverfront south of the Gateway Arch. The USS Inaugural, which served as a museum, broke away during the Great Flood of 1993 and sank. The former World War II minesweeper has been the victim of graffiti artists and has rusted in the muddy waters of the Mighty Mississippi River.
    Beneath those same Mississippi River waters in Hannibal, a riverboat rests, yet she is not visible like others along the popular rapid stream. She is submerged only as a piece of local history from a devastating day and in one particular case she is a watery grave. She is none other than the Flying Eagle.
    Excursion steamboats were popular at the turn of the 20th century. They were very useful to communities, especially Hannibal and Quincy, they made traveling between the two towns an easy affair.
    That's where the Flying Eagle comes in, her duties were just that, take Hannibal and Quincy travelers to their destinations.
    She had a double deck a powerful paddle wheel and two ornate smokestacks serving as the lungs that allowed her to travel the rushing current. She'd breathe thick, black smoke into the air as he traveled from port to port.
    The river is where the Flying Eagle lived and the river is where she would die.
    Tragedy
    Wednesday, June 3, 1903 started out routine on the river.
    Mrs. John A. Syndey's Sunday School Class of the Park Methodist Church and others boarded the Flying Eagle for an excursion, according to the June 4, 1903 edition of the Hannibal Morning Journal. The class consisted mostly of young ladies and at about 10 o'clock 178 passengers were ready to ride. Certainly a routine day for pilot Frank Slater as well. The Flying Eagle pulled away from land and began its trip heading north toward the Hannibal railroad bridge — sometimes referred to historically as the Wabash Bridge.
    River currents suddenly became an obstacle and the Flying Eagle crashed into the bridge. It caused immediate panic.
    Slater told a reporter with the Hannibal Morning Journal what happened.
    "The boat was running along very smoothly until it had passed almost through the draw when a swift current carried it over and against the structure and the wheel struck the pier," he said. "I immediately gave the signal to back the boat, but the wheel had been torn to pieces and backing was out of the question. The boat lingered a few moments and the barge sung around and struck the bridge too. It was when the barge came in contact with the bridge that most of the people made their escape. I hung onto a life preserver as the boat sank and was picked up down the river by the ferry boat."
    Page 2 of 2 - Many of the passengers were rescued but four of them drowned.
    Martha Coppedge, Lonnie B. Curts and Harry Eichenberger all lost their lives. They were all in their mid-teens. "Peggy" Harvey and James Harvey, cooks on board, also drowned.
    According to the Hagood's historical book, "The Story of Hannibal," Eichenberger made it back to land safely but jumped back into the river to try and save Curts. Cook James Harvey was never recovered, it's believed he went down with the boat.
    Searching
    It took more than a week to find all of the Flying Eagle's victims.
    R.A. Curts offered $250 to anyone who found his daughter's body, as reported in the Hannibal Morning Journal. Men began dragging the river later that June 3 day to find the bodies of those lost, but no one was turning up.
    Harry Eichenberger was found June 10 near Ashburn, "Peggy" Harvey, reported as the second cook was found June 11 in Clarksville. Lonnie B. Curts and Martha Coppedge were found June 12. The Hannibal Morning Journal reported Curts was found three miles south of Saverton and Coppedge was found north of Louisiana.
    The newspaper reported "Peggy" Harvey was believed to be buried in Clarksville while the other victims were all laid to rest in Hannibal's Mount Olivet Cemetery. Curts and Coppedge were buried the same day, June 13.
    The Flying Eagle wasn't seen again for decades when low river levels in Hannibal during the mid-1930s revealed the ship once again.
    "Word on the street in downtown Hannibal was that the Flying Eagle ... had surfaced due to an all-time low of the Mississippi River. Kenneth Grace had a motorboat and asked my father to go see it. I, of course, tagged along," Harry Musgrove of New London — who was 6 or 7 at the time — told the Courier-Post in 2011. "At that time, the old boat was stranded in sand from the Universal-Atlas Cement Plant. As we approached, we could see the upper deck out of the water and we were able to tie off and actually walk around. We filled Kenneth's boat with so many artifacts that we later made a window display of them at our drug store on Main Street."
    The Flying Eagle hasn't been seen since.
    For now she belongs to the flowing waters of the great river, the Mighty Mississip.
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