On a stormy night in January 1896, one of the newest and largest transatlantic passenger liners ran aground on its final approach to the port of New York. For ten days the massive steamship St. Paul loomed just a few hundred yards from Long Branch, New Jersey’s famous Iron Pier. It became a national sensation–tens of thousands traveled to see the “helpless monster” and newspapers around the country published daily updates for millions more. (Why? See upcoming article in New Jersey History!) Like today’s media sensations, the St. Paul became a resonate symbol for a fractious nation. But let’s not get too highfalutin — the wreck was solid joke material. It was also the inspiration for this lovely bit of doggerel titled “The St. Paul Lies Beside the Sea,” which was published in several papers including the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Tribune. The four stanzas mock the despair of the wreckers who “dropped a bitter tear” over their inability to free the stranded liner — brilliant! (Of course, they got it off not long after “The St. Paul Lies Beside the Sea” appeared in print.)
“The St. Paul Lies Beside the Sea”
The St. Paul lay beside the sea
and loomed up tall and black;
She lay just where she struck the beach
That penetrating whack.
And that was odd, becuase the place
Was ‘way out of her track
Her screws screwed round and she was moved
Scarcely enough to show;
The tugs all tugged with their might,
But tugging was too slow;
No helpful storm blew from the East;
There was no storm to blow.
The captain and the wrecking man
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand.
“If this were only cleared away,”
They said, “It would be grand.”
“If seven maids with seven mops,
Swept it for half a year,
Do you suppose,” the captain said,
“That they could get it clear?”
“I doubt it,” said the wrecking man,
And dropped a bitter tear.