Beginning in the mid-1800s, steamboats carried people between New York City and the Albany area on the Hudson River. Romantic images lull us into believing it was a quiet means of travel, but a crowded river, faulty equipment and the bravado of the captains resulted in at least one major catastrophe every year. Night boats collided and sank, carelessness caused boiler explosions, races put passengers at risk and fires would quickly swallow the wooden vessels.
The grand Empire of Troy suffered many collisions. The Swallow broke in two on a rock, Reindeer’s explosion took forty lives at once and the Oregon and C. Vanderbilt entered into an epic and dangerous race. Collected from eyewitness accounts, these are some of the most exciting and frightening stories of peril aboard steamboats on the Hudson River. Now, local historian J. Thomas Allison has written Hudson River Steamboat Catastrophes: Contests and Collisions (History Press, 2013). Allison provides an entertaining look at the romantic but perilous age of steamboat travel on the Hudson River, including tales of reckless captains racing each other and passengers’ eyewitness accounts of collisions, crashes, explosions, and fires.
The book points out that a crowded river, unreliable boat equipment, and the audacity of some steamboat captains created yearly catastrophes that put passengers and vessels at risk. Researched through eyewitness accounts, the stories are both exciting and frightening and give a real sense of the danger that traveled on the Hudson River.
Allison has had interest in history ever since he was a boy and was a key factor in starting the “Victorian Cultural League” of Albany in 1982. The league is an informal social group of people interested in things and places of the 19th century. The group covers everything from the 19th century including cookbooks, dining rooms, eating practices, plumbing, and steamship travel. Allison is also a member of local historical societies and is an active member of the Friends of Schuyler Mansion.
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