Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Fateful Trip on the Magnolia

The small town of Ripley, Ohio is located about fifty miles east of Cincinnati, and in 1868, one option for travel between the two cities was by steamer on the Ohio River. One such steamer, the Magnolia, was a popular mail line packet that regularly traveled between Maysville, Kentucky and Cincinnati.

My great-great-great grandmother, Catherine Thill, came to this country in 1848 from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France. She was twelve years old. Her family settled in Cincinnati where, in 1860, she married Nicholas Becker. By 1864, Nicholas, Catherine and their young son, Nicholas, Jr. moved to Ripley where they spent the remainder of their lives.

On Wednesday, March 18, 1868, Catherine and Nicholas, Jr., having spent time in Cincinnati, were returning to Ripley aboard the steamer Magnolia. They were just two of the 145 passengers and crew on board that day. As the Magnolia passed by the small Kentucky village of California, a horrible explosion occurred. Many were burned, drowned, or otherwise injured.

Luckily, Catherine and Nicholas, Jr. were not injured. They and the other unharmed passengers were taken by rescuers in skiffs to California. Between eighty and ninety people lost their lives in the terrible accident, including several citizens of Ripley.

An account of this incident can be found on Riverboat Dave's Paddlewheel Site. His account is taken from an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer, however, the date on the site is incorrect. In March of 1868, the 17th was a Tuesday, not a Thursday. A list of passengers and crew are also on the site, however, there is no mention of Catherine Becker or her son, Nicholas. A Mrs. Baker, of Ripley, is mentioned. I believe this to be a misspelling of Becker.

My information about this story can be found in the book Historical Collections of Brown County, Ohio compiled by Carl N. Thompson, copyright 1969. Mr. Thompson's story of the Magnolia accident was obtained from the Martin Family History, published in the Ripley Bee in 1928. It includes Catherine Becker and states
"Mrs. Becker, who is now about 91 years of age (1928) had her eight year old son with her, now a well known citizen of Ripley."

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