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The “BUCKEYE BELLE” Disaster
November 12, 1852.

One of the worst steamboat disasters that ever occurred on the Muskingum River was that of the Buckeye Belle Steamboat explosion on November 12, 1852.

Shortly after 5:00 p. m. on that day, the Buckeye Belle steamboat, was making a regular run from Marietta to Zanesville, and while it entered the Beverly, Ohio canal in the slack water navigation works, a tragic explosion took place that killed 24 people instantly and 6 others died later from injuries caused by the explosion.

As the boat entered the canal and was steaming along with everything going well, all of a sudden, her boilers let go with a terrific boom, and the entire superstructure from stem to stearn was blown to pieces and thrown high in the air. The hull of the boat sank to the bottom of the canal all at once. There were 45 people on board. Only 10 people escaped injury.

20 people died instantly and the unrecognizable bodies of 13 people were buried in the nearby Beverly Cemetery. One large box buried there, contained fragments of human bodies picked up on the canal banks in the vicinity.

The Buckeye Belle Steamboat was a sidewheel steamer, the largest boat to travel up and down the Muskingum River, and was owned by Captains Harry STULL of Zanesville and James T. HAHN, of McConnesville. On that day, the officers on the boat were:
1. Capt. James T. HAHN - Commander
2. Cal STULL - Pilot
3. ??? - First Engineer
4. Joseph DANIELS - Second Engineer
5. Milt WHISSEN - Chief Clerk (First Clerk)
6. William STULL, 2nd clerk
7. William BARRELL - Fireman
8. Charles CUTLER- Steward
This steamer boat also made annual trips from Zanesville to Keokuck, Iowa, for the transportation of immigrants from the Muskingum Valley who was settling in the Demonies Valley in Iowa.
These immigrants also took with them their belongings and domestic animals.

While doing my research on this disaster, I was only able to compile only 4 accounts of people, out the of 10 who escaped injury is that of A. LAYMAN; Joseph DANIELS, 2nd Engineer, Miss Charlotte STONE, and Plus PADJITT. Four others who survived the tragedy was the Hon. Mr. BARTLETT, a member of the House, from Washington County, Ohio; the Hon. Mr. OAKLEY, member of the House from Monroe County, Ohio; the wife of A. LAYMAN and Calvin R. STULL, the son of Captain Harry STULL.

A. LAYMAN, was at the time of the explosion, the Editor of the Marietta Republican Newspaper. He and his wife were setting in the ladies cabin, talking to other passengers when the explosion happened. He said, “The whole history of steam explosions presents no parallel to this”

Joseph DANIELS, of Harmar was the 2nd Engineer of the boat. He was severely scalded from the blast. A Corner’s jury found that he was to blame for the explosion. The jury reported, “From the evidence before us, there can be no doubt but the explosion was brought about by the improper conduct of the 2d Engineer, who was employed from the 1st Engineer, and who held down the main valve to keep the boiler from blowing off.”

Miss Charlotte STONE was from McCONNELSVILLE. At the time of the explosion, she was setting in the ladies cabin, with Layman and wife, Charlotte STONE, Senator COVEY, and Plus PADGITT. Charlotte kept the ladies from jumping overboard and drowning, and put out the fire, caused by the stove in the ladies cabin. She recalled seeing 16 bodies buried in one grave.

Plus PADGITT was a 16 year old passanger, and resident of Beverly. He wrote this account of the tradgey, shortly after it happened:“I recall that when the gang-plan, was pulled up, I went inside the boat and sat near the center of the large main hall, close to the big iron stove and was engaged in conversation with about 25-30 other passengers when the explosion happened. I heard no sound, felt no shock, experienced no pain. When conciseness returned, I found myself away forward on the bow of the boat so near the edge I could reach the water.”

He thought he had died. He later discovered he had been blown a distance of about 75 feet and was scalded from head to foot. “The entire boat, in a manner, was totally demolished excepting perhaps about 15 feet of the rear part of the ladies’ cabin. The studding under this being swept away, it fell upon the lower deck in such a way that it was in imminent danger of capsizing.”

PADGITT also stated that a score of more people were either blinded, crippled or maimed for life, and that a great many ladies were in the cabin of the boat. Not one was hurt, but went wild with fear, except for the one person, Miss STONE of McConnelsville. She kept her head, when the hysterical women would plunge into the icy cold waters of the canal, she personally blocked the door, keeping them in the cabin until help arrived. In the panic and frenzy someone knocked over the stove, setting the cabin on fire, but Miss STONE smothered the fire with blankets.

The Coroner’s jury also reported this about the explosion:
“In regard to the extent of the explosion, we think history can scarcely produce an equal. It would be difficult to conceive of a more perfect wreck. All her upper works above the main deck, forward of her wheel house, were literally torn to splinters. The balance of her upper deck was either carried back into her engine room or thrown overboard. All of her beams were broken from stem to stern. The hull of the boat had the appearance of having been burst or spread open, and the plank having sprung off, she sank immediately. Water in the canal was immediately shut off by means of head gate, and let out at the lower lock. Fragments of the boat were thrown to a great distance. Portions of the burning embers were hurled as far as 300 yards at an elevation of probably 300 feet, and contained sufficient heat to set fire to leaves in the woods.

Fragments of human bodies were thrown in almost every direction. Some five or six persons who are known to have been on the boat at the time of the explosion have not yet been found. Notwithstanding the many erroneous reports that have been put into circulation touching this great calamity, we feel safe in saying that great

praise is due to the citizens of Beverly and vicinity for the deep interest taken in providing for the wants and necessities of the suffers.”

In November of 1871, a local newspaper wrote a short paragraph about the “SAFE” from the blown-up “Buckeye Belle” was opened after laying 19 years in the Muskingum River. It disclosed nothing of value. There was talk that there was gold and silver in it.

There is a monument to honor the dead to the tragedy. It is located near the back fence of the Beverly Cemetery. The stone was donated by Edward M. Ayers, grandson of Captain Harry STALL who was the owner of the Buckeye Belle. The bronze plaque on the stone reads this:

“Here lie buried thirteen unknown persons killed by the bursting of the boilers of the Steamer Buckeye Belle on November 1, 1852 near the guard gates of the Beverly Canal. twenty persons wee killed and forty injured in this, the only major tragedy in the history of navigation on the Muskingum River. This monument is erected to the memory of these unknown dead and also to Capt. Harry STULL, the owner of the Steamer, by his grandson, Edward Matthew AYERS.”

Names of the dead in the Buckeye Belle Explosion - November 12, 1852

1. George C. MILLER, from Cincinnati.
2. Levi WHEELER, from Portsmouth
3. James KENNEDY. His residence in unknown
4. William C. ENTLER, from Hampshire Co., Virginia
5. John V. SEELERS, from Hampshire Co., Virginia
6. Franklin HANERIC, from Duncan Falls, Muskingum Co., Ohio
7. Henry MITCHELL, from McConnellville, Morgan Co., Ohio
8. Benjamin JOHNSON, from Morgan Co., Ohio
9. John BARBER, from Pittsburgh, Pa.
10. Charles CUTLER, A colored man. Steward. From Marietta.
11. William STULL, 2nd clerk. From Zanesville
12. E. F. ATHERTON, barber, from Beverly. (His body was not found)
13. Ezra BUZZARD, from Frederick County, Maryland.
14. William DENNIS, from Indiana.
15. Alexander SHURMAR, from Noble Co. Ohio.
16. John N. WEST, from Coal Run, Washington Co., Ohio
17. The bodies of 5 men. Their names are unknown.

The men who died within a few days of the accident were:
22. J. A. EVANS, from Hampshire Co. Virginia.
23. Milton E. WHISSEN, 1st Clerk, from McConnellseville
24. Senator Cassius C. COVEY, from Marietta. - He was enroute to Columbus to take his seat in the U. S. Senate of the 14th District.
He was setting in the ladies cabin with A. LAYMAN and wife, Charlotte STONE and Plus PADGITT. He suffered a fractured leg and other injuries when the stove collapsed and pinned him on the floor. (Read more about Mr. COVEY in the newspaper article below).

Capt. Harry STULL was the husband of Susanna COBURN, daughter of Nicholas COBURN and Rosamond OLNEY. They were married on April 27, 1827 in Muskingum, County, Ohio. They were the parents of two children, Lousianna Coburn STULL and Calvin Roe STULL. Calvin was the pilot of the steamboat, and in 1860, he was living in Beverly, Washington Co., Ohio continuing tobe a steamboat pilot.

Miss Charlotte STONE was born in McConnellsville, Morgan Co., Ohio on August 10, 1823. She was the granddaughter of Col. Jonathan STONE and grand niece of Rufus PUTNAM. About the year of 1893 she left Morgan County, Ohio and removed to Iowa City, Iowa. In 1923, she celebrated her 100th birthday, where an Iowa City newspaper did an article about her 100th birthday, and her memories as a child. One of those memories were of the Buckeye Belle Disaster.

Ohio Repository - Canton, Ohio
November 1852

The Hon. C. C. COVEY, member of the Senate from Marietta, who had his leg broken and was otherwise injured by the explosion of the Buckeye Belle, is dead. His loss will be severely felt in Southern Ohio. His talents were of a high order, and he was universally esteemed. He died on the 17th.We learn by the Zanesville Courier of the 18th, that the Hon. Mr. BARTLETT, member of the House, from Washington county, was dangerously injured by the explosion, much more so than first reported, and his recovery is considered doubtful. The Hon. Mr. OAKLEY, member of the House from Monroe county, was likewise dangerously injured, and will not probably be able to take his seat during the present session. Twenty-two persons were killed, or have since died, from injuries received from the explosion, and several are known to be missing. Several bodies were seen to fall into the river which have not been recovered.

The engineer on duty, although dangerously wounded, is not dead as reported. He insists that there was a full supply of water on. Experienced engineers, who have examined the fragments of the boilers and flues, find in dications of nearly or quite absence of water, and the most extraordinary and unusual pressure. An investigation of the causes of the terrible caisstrophe by the proper authorities, is progressing.

Written by Debbie Noland Nitsche
August 2004

References and key facts taken from:
Beverly Dispatch
Marietta Register
The Weekly Herald, (McConnellesville, Ohio)
The Parkersbug News
Iowa City, Iowa Newspaper.
Marietta Times
The Times Recorder (Zanesville, Ohio)
Ohio Repository (Canton, Ohio)


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