Synopses & Reviews
On August 8, 1873, the elegant Wawaset steam boat carried one hundred fifty passengers down the Potomac River. Families and vacationers were returning to their downriver homes or trying to escape the August heat of Washington, D.C. An engine room fire suddenly spread through the packed, wooden boat. Panicked passengers jumped overboard. In all, seventy-six drowned or died from burns. Among the victims were six members of a DC police officer's family, including his pregnant new wife. Local papers extensively covered the tragedy called for an investigation. A government hearing determined that the master and pilot were unlicensed and that the boat was authorized to carry only fifty passengers. Despite these violations and the public outcry, the captain and crew only received minor punishments at the local hearing and at a federal hearing in DC. Alvin Oickle, author of Disaster in Lawrence and Disaster at Dawn: Cedar Keys, has turned his eye to the Mid-Atlantic region. His latest work centers on Washington, DC, but it also touches on communities in Maryland and Virginia. Disaster on the Potomac is very similar in structure and style to Disaster in Lawrence.
For passengers of the steamboat Wawaset, August 8, 1873, began with a pleasant cruise from Washington, D.C., down the Potomac River. As the Wawaset came into sight of a small Virginia landing, fire broke out below decks, and frantic passengers leapt from the flames only to be pulled down by the swift waters. Author Alvin F. Oickle puts a human face to the tragedy as he profiles some of the seventy-five who perished, among them young mother Alethea Gray and six members of the Reed family. With a fast-paced style and firsthand accounts, Oickle masterfully narrates the last run of the Wawaset against the backdrop of a tense post Civil War society.