Many Died When Providence-Bound S.S. Narragansett Burned, Sank
The closing minutes of Friday, June 11, 1880, were shrouded in thick fog on Long Island Sound. The events of that evening would stun the nation and launch one man's year-long mission to kill an American president.
Here is how it all unfolded.
Between 11:30 p.m. and midnight on June 11, 1880, two passenger steamship collided in dense fog in Long Island Sound, just a few miles from the mouth of the Connecticut River.
The S.S. Stonington and the S.S. Narragansett were heading in opposite directions when they collided. Both ships belonged to the Stonington Line, which delivered passengers between Providence, Rhode Island, and New York City.
The Stonington was headed west toward a final destination in New York, while the Narragansett was headed east to Providence.
Author Candice Millard (Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President) writes that Stonington signaled its presence in the foggy sound but not Narragansett.
"At steady intervals, the blast of the foghorn reverberated through the darkness, but no ship returned its call," Millard wrote.
"The 253-foot steamship Narragansett 'abruptly materialized from the darkness and collided' with the Stonington," Millard wrote.
The Narragansett took the brunt of the collision.
Millard wrote that the Narragansett's boiler suffered a direct hit in the collision and exploded.
"Flames licked the well-oiled decks, sending a deadly firestorm billowing through the ship," she wrote.
The Narragansett sank quickly.
The captains of several vessels, including at least one from the Fall River Line, heard the emergency horn blasts from the Stonington and responded to the collision, and crew members helped to pull some of the victims from the water.
The next day, the Kansas City Daily Journal reportd a death toll of 200-300 people because of the "dreadful disaster."
GeriWalton.com provides witness and media accounts of the tragedy.
Damage to the Stonington was not as severe as the damage done to the Narragansett. The vessel limped to its homeport in Connecticut the following morning, and its passengers disembarked.
Among them was a man with a date with destiny.
Forty-one-year-old Charles Guiteau of Freeport, Illinois, who traveled from Boston to Providence, where he boarded the New York-bound Stonington, concluded upon surviving the shipwreck in Long Island Sound that it was a sign from above that he should kill the President of the United States.
Guiteau assassinated President James A. Garfield by shooting him in Washington, D.C., on July 2, 1881. Guiteau was sentenced to death and was hanged five months later.