Pioneers of Alaska - Juneau
Sinking of the Princess Sophia
The SS Princess Sophia ran aground on Vanderbilt Reef in a blizzard on the early morning of October 24, 1918.  A decision was made not to abandon ship due to rough weather and the hope that the storm would calm.  She was driven over the reef by the storm and was wrecked the following evening with a loss of 343 lives.  The wreck was the worst maritime accident in the history of British Columbia and Alaska; however it received little attention in the news media possibly due to the tremendous loss of life due to the Spanish Fly Pandemic and World War 1 Armistice being declared on November 11th.  The passenger list included many of the Yukon’s leading citizens.

Several small vessels from Juneau made heroic attempts to rescue the passengers during the gale force winds and high seas, including the U.S. Light House Service Tender Cedar, fishing vessel King and Winge and the Monaghan.

Several groups are planning to memorialize the anniversary the wreck of the SS. Princess Sophia, an event that dramatically changed the history of Alaska and the Yukon.  One plan involves the headstone of Walter and Frances Harper, who perished in the wreck and are buried in Juneau in Evergreen Cemetery.  Walter Harper was an Alaska Native mountain climber and guide who was the first person to reach the summit of Mount McKinley. 

SS Princess Sophia

SS Princess Sophia

He married Frances on September 1, 1918 and they were travelling south so that he could go to medical school and she was going to join the Red Cross.  The headstone which was made of marble is badly weathered and almost unreadable.  It reads “Here Lie the Bodies of Walter Harper and Frances Wells, His Wife, Drowned on the Princess Sophia, 25th October 1918.  May Light Shine on Them.  They Were SS Princess SophiaLovely and Pleasant in Their Lives, And in Death They Were Not Divided”.

Men’s Igloo 6 and Women’s Igloo 6 have started a committee to work with other groups that are planning to commemorate the anniversary and to develop our own project.  The committee members are Terry Brenner, Cindy Dau and Fred Thorsteinson. If you would like to be part of this committee contact one of them or contact us at pioneersofalaskajuneau@gmail.com.

   
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