Alexander County

1940 It Happened in Cairo

Arranged for Publication by Anne West 1940

Chapter III


Four of the seven members of Maud's immediate family are still living. They are Maud herself (Mrs. Earl H. Mayne of Brooklyn), and her brothers, Wood A. of Cairo, Fred M. of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Robin C. of Chicago.

Her mother, Laura Rittenhouse, daughter of Dr. Daniel Arter, a pioneer citizen of Southern Illinois, died in Chicago in July, 1911, and was brought to Villa Ridge, Ill. (only a few miles north of Cairo) for burial. Her brother, Dr. Harry H. Rittenhouse, died at his home in Chicago on January 10, this year.

The most tragic death in the family was that of her father, Wood Rittenhouse, who was drowned along with ten others when the ferryboat Katherine capsized during a cyclone at the junction of the two rivers on the morning of May 26, 1896. This occurred less than a year after Maud had married and moved to New York.

Katherine was a little stern wheel boat, built to tow a showboat and christened The New Idea. But Captain J. S. Hacker had converted her into a ferryboat at Mound City and brought her into service just 20 days before the accident. The Captain (in an interview with the writer in 1938) recalled that the sky appeared cloudless when the boat pulled away from the Cairo bank and that the cyclone struck just a few minutes from the time of its appearance. Of the sixteen people aboard, eleven were drowned. The boat did a complete side turn, but the clerk, Captain Hacker and two passengers came up right together on the bottom guard. As soon as they realized what had happened they became conscious of someone moaning back on the stern. Climbing back to investigate, they found the engineer sitting waist-deep in water with a galvanized tub over his head in an effort to keep off the rain and hail that followed in the wake of the cyclone. Until the others put in their appearance he had thought he was the sole survivor.

By this time so much air had got into the seams of the Katherine that she began to settle. The heavy machinery weighted one end down, while buoyancy held the other up, and the boat settled three-fourths right side up in forty feet of water, with the one end anchored at the bottom of the river. Only the jackstaff and a small area around it remained sticking out of the water. The clerk, the engineer, Captain Hacker, and one of the passengers struck out for shore swimming, but the engineer soon turned back to await rescue by a tug which eventually arrived on the scene. Three days after the Katherine turned over occurred the famous St. Louis storm which brought disaster to so many people.

The fact that Wood Rittenhouse, together with Charles Gilhofer, another highly esteemed citizen, had been drowned brought a deep sense of loss to Cairo. The following account of the tragedy is taken from the Cairo Daily Telegram of Tuesday, May 26, 1896.

Eleven Human Lives Lost

By the Capsizing of the Ferryboat Katherine This Morning

She Turned Over in the Great Storm

The most horrible disaster in the history of Cairo occurred this morning. Eleven human lives were lost by the capsizing of the ferryboat Katherine during a cyclone that this morning swept this vicinity. There were sixteen persons on board at the time and of these eleven were drowned."

List of the dead: Mrs. William Shannon of Bird's Point; Miss Bertha Stanley of Cairo; Miss May Jones of Cairo; Charles Gilhofer of Cairo; Richard L. Thurman of Cairo; Wood Rittenhouse of Cairo; the infant son of Mrs. Shannon; Mrs. Lou Massey, colored, of Villa Ridge; Louis Hall, fireman; Asbury Alexander, deckhand; George Davis, laborer.

Captain Hacker, when asked about the accident, said, "The boat was caught in a twister which blew her all to pieces. Nothing could be done to save her. It was not storming when I left the ferry landing, but in about five minutes it was upon us."

"I was in the pilot house when she went over;" said Rankin Posey, the clerk. "I went to the bottom and must have been under 20 feet of water. I followed along the rail under the water until I emerged. I caught hold of Joe Curry and pulled him out. We were on the hull of the boat with the rain and hail beating down upon us. The boat righted itself after we swam ashore."

Captain Marion Wright got the tug Theseus ready to go to the rescue. The tug with a barge got away shortly after 9 o'clock. Among those on board were States Attorney Butler, Hon. Reed Green, Harry Candee, Pierce Walsh, George Burgess, Peter Lind, and a young son of Wood Rittenhouse. States Attorney Butler (the William N. Butler whom Maud includes in her list of admirers) had thoughtfully purchased a quart of whisky and the survivors, who were completely exhausted, were given draughts from the bottle. Captain Hacker was out in a skiff endeavoring to find the bodies when the tug reached the scene.

Wood Rittenhouse was one of the oldest and best known residents of the city. He was manager of the Three States Ferry Company. Mr. Rittenhouse was born in Ohio in 1835 and came to Cairo in 1858. He was engaged in the flour and commission business located on Ohio levee. He was for several years president of the Cairo Board of Trade. In 1863 he married Miss Laura Arter, daughter of Dr. Arter. She survives with five children, four sons and one daughter, Mrs. Maud Mayne, wife of Dr. Mayne of Brooklyn.

(The Katherine was later raised, put back in service, and operated for eight years.)

Dr. Harry H. Rittenhouse was the brother who studied medicine in New York at the same time as Earl Mayne. This account of his death is taken from the Cairo Evening Citizen of January 11, 1940.

Old friends in Cairo of Dr. Harry H. Rittenhouse, a former Cairoite, will regret to learn of his death in Chicago, following an illness of more than eight years.

A letter from Robin Rittenhouse of Chicago, brother of the deceased, to his brother Wood A. of Cairo, states that Dr. Harry passed away at 3:15 a. m., Wednesday, January 10.

The high esteem in which the deceased was held by members of his family, is found in these few words in the letter: "A better man never lived. His example is a power and strength for his family."

Dr. Rittenhouse was born in Cairo in 1888, being the son of Wood Rittenhouse, Sr., and Laura Arter Rittenhouse, old residents of Cairo, coming to this city in 1858, the latter being the daughter of Dr. Daniel Arter, a pioneer citizen of Southern Illinois.

Dr. Harry, as he was affectionately known, graduated from Cairo high school in the class of 1888. He received his medical education in New York and Chicago, where he began the practice of medicine on what was known as "Rosalie Court" in Hyde Park (Chicago).

He was married in Cairo to Lilias Y. Wood, daughter of Col. and Mrs. John Wood, on April 30, 1901. They have resided on Rosalie Court ever since their marriage, and it was in this home that Dr. Rittenhouse passed away.

During the years of his failing health he has had the constant devoted care of his wife and family.

Dr. Rittenhouse is survived by his wife, his three sons, John Wood, Harry Jr., and Gordon, and a number of grandchildren. He also leaves a sister, Mrs. Earl H. Mayne (Maud Rittenhouse), three brothers, Wood A. of Cairo, Fred M. of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Robin C. of Chicago.

Funeral services, which were private, were held this afternoon and the interment was in Mount Hope cemetery.

Dr. Rittenhouse was of a fine character, courteous, kind, friendly and successful in his profession, being finely adapted to this calling. He was a devoted husband and father, the head of a household marked by kindness, consideration and hospitality. Their home was one at which the old friends from Cairo often gathered for social times.

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Extracted 25 Aug 2018 by Norma Hass from It Happened in Cairo, arranged by Anne West, published in 1940.

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