#52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Disaster

Disaster struck the young family of William Hahn’s daughter Louisa in May of 1896.

On May 20, Louisa’s husband Charles and his friend Barto Marzoni took their boat – dubbed the “Ernest and Jimmie” – onto the waters of Pensacola Bay to collect drift timber.

In those days, Pensacola was a booming port town, exporting lumber for construction all over the world.

We don’t know what Charles and Barto planned to do with the wood they collected. Perhaps there was a resale market or they planned to use it for building or expanding their own homes.

They set out that Friday and no one ever saw them alive again.

Charles’ wife may have been planning an anniversary celebration. It would be two years in June since she married Charles. They had a baby boy, Henry Louis. Perhaps Louisa knew – or maybe she didn’t – that she had just become pregnant with their second child.

Barto had a wife and two children.

The men were seen that Friday afternoon collecting timber near the harbor. The people who saw them thought they were heading home. The Pensacola Journal reported on May 23, “It is inferred that their boat either capsized or shipped a heavy sea, when the heavy ballast, augmented by the weight of chains and dogs she was carrying, sank her to the bottom.”

Saturday, the men’s families notified authorities they were missing. Soon after, people looking for any sign of them found pieces of their boat washed up on the beach.

On Sunday, the Pensacola Journal reported that “parties are engaged in dragging the bay to locate the boat and, if possible, to recover the bodies.”

“Their husbands were steady, hard-working men, held in high esteem by all who knew them,” reported the Journal, and their relatives have the profoundest sympathy of the community in the sad affliction.”

It was a week before the bay gave up the first body.

Charles’ remains were found the morning of Saturday, March 28. The Pensacola Journal reported that the body “was readily recognizable, notwithstanding the emaciation resulting from the long exposure to the water.”

Funeral services were held just hours later at Christ Church in Pensacola. Charles Peake is buried at St. John’s Cemetery.

Graves of Charles and Henry Louis Peake

Graves of Charles and Henry Louis Peake

A day later, Barto Marzoni’s body found and returned to his family home. Mourners, according to the Journal, included members of the Lumber Stevedores’ Association. His funeral services were held Sunday afternoon at St. Michael’s Church, with burial following at St. Michael’s Cemetery.

The Journal printed, “It is remarked as a singular coincidence that both bodies were found at points in the bay nearly opposite to their boyhood homes, the two having been separated about two miles in their drifting, going in opposite directions.”

On March 31st, family members turned to the Pensacola Journal to thank the community.

L.D. Marzoni wrote, “The wife, mother and other relatives of the late lamented Barto F. Marzoni have adopted this method of expressing in part their high appreciation of the services rendered them by so many friends in the hour of their recent sad affliction, and for which their gratitude shall never know abatement.”

William Hahn, Charles’ father-in-law, wrote, “For the sorrowing wife and other relatives of the deceased Charles Peake I am commissioned to say to the numerous friends who so kindly assisted them in their recent trouble that appreciation of their services is beyond expression. They are deeply grateful for the sympathy and help so generously tendered them.”

Days later, April 10th, a boater noticed something unusual in the water. Closer examination determined it was one end of the sprit from the “Ernest and Jimmie.” The other end was still attached to the boat under 18 feet of water.

The Journal reported, “The find proves conclusively that the boat sank beneath the unfortunate young men, leaving them to struggle unavailingly in the water.”

The Peake family’s losses were not over.

Louisa gave birth to a baby girl on December 15, 1896. She named her Charlie B. A small marker at St. John’s Cemetery shows she died in 1897.

Grave of Charlie B. Peake

Grave of Charlie B. Peake

Charles and Louisa’s older son, Henry Louis Peake, enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1916 at age 22 years, 10 months. From April 6, 1917, to March 9, 1918, he served aboard the USS Hancock. On March 9, he was transferred to the Naval Hospital at League Island in Philadelphia. He died the next day.

Louisa remarried in December 1899. She and her new husband, William Henry Walker, had two sons.

About Taminar

When I grow up, I want to make movies and write books. Now in my 50s, I wonder if I'll ever really accomplish the dreams of my youth. I have made two short films, one for a college film-making class, the other for an MTV-sponsored contest. I have written short plays that have been produced, and a few short stories and reviews that have been published. I also perform and direct for community theatre. My working life has included stints in local TV news, public relations, retail management and cashier, and for a couple of years, I made the rides go at Walt Disney World. I have two cats and a husband.
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