July 28, 1916: Car forces horse and wagon into ship canal

On this day in Duluth in 1916, Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railway Chief Engineer H. L. Dresser drove his car off the approach to the Aerial Transfer Bridge and into the Duluth Ship Canal. Dresser said he accidentally pressed the accelerator rather than the brake and as the News Tribune reported, the car burst “through the steel barriers of the aerial bridge gate and hurl[ed] a horse and wagon ahead of it” and a stunned crowd of onlookers watched as “the auto and driver and the horse and wagon with a tremendous crashed plunged from sight beneath the waves.” Dresser’s car had hit the one-horse delivery wagon, owned by Bridgeman-Russell Creamery, which of course spooked the horse. According to the newspaper, “The struggling animal urged by the smashing battering ram behind broke through the steel gates as if they were paper and catapulted  high in the air. The machine leaped after that, turned a complete somersault.” James Ten Eyck, the Duluth Boat Club’s legendary rowing coach, happened to be waiting for the ferry when the accident occurred; he “stripped to his undergarments,” dove into the canal and secured a life line to Dresser, bringing him to safety. (The delivery wagon driver was standing on the approach and so was not propelled into the canal.) The horse never returned to the surface, as he was harnessed to the wagon, which essentially kept the horse anchored to the canal floor. The newspaper later reported that Dresser suffered a broken rib and “severe shock.” A dredge derrick later raise the car, wagon, and horse’s corpse. Read about other casualties of the canal here, and of the aerial bridge here.

Engineer Dresser’s car is pulled from the DUluth Ship Canal in July, 1916. (Image: Lake Superior Maritime Collection)