1936, The Ohioan, salvaged off Point Lobos


The Ohioan was a steam powered 5,153-ton freighter built in Maryland in 1914. Operated by the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company she was requisitioned for use in World War I transporting material and troops to Europe. After the war the ship went into service between the east and west coasts of the United States via the Panama Canal.

In early October, 1936, she was nearing the Golden Gate with a cargo of washing machines, trucks and general merchandise.  Her captain and the pilot who had come on board lost their bearings in a thick fog. Narrowly missing Seal Rock, the Ohioan ran aground off Point Lobos, casting a sea of sparks into the night air as her steel hull hit the rocks. She came to rest 100 yards off shore and the following day her crew was rescued and barges started a salvage operation. Huge crowds came and watched as cargo was transferred in heavy seas crashing over her stern.

The salvage rights were sold at auction to William Mitchell for $2,800.20 who continued to take cargo and gear from the ship for the next several months. In the process the Ohioan was set afire when a workman torched spoiled meat and flames spread threatening to set off dynamite left on the ship for salvage operations. Nine thousand gallons of crude oil were still on board. An explosion would foul the surrounding waters and beach and threaten the entrance to the Golden Gate. Mitchell and Joseph Rosenberg rowed out to the ship and, while holding the flames at bay, threw the dynamite overboard.

Mitchell finally managed to remove virtually all the machinery and furnishings and sold the scrap metal rights. But the rusted hulk of the Ohioan remained off Point Lobos until a winter storm finally broke up the ship two years later.


Salvage Rights
(What $2,800.20 will get you at auction.)

Washing machines, tumbled dry.
Tub fulls of stinky black crude oil.
Pig and cattle carcasses, remnanted and sour.
Herniated trucks with axles 
pinioned to truckbeds.
Four upholstered chairs, innards exploded.
Canned tomatoes, case cracked and seam split.
Aspirin, eyewash and bicarbonate of soda, 
formerly packaged.
Cooking utensils, crusted with fish stew.
A hundred retold stories, each unprintable.
And a thousand gallons of mean smoke, 
filtered through dynamite.