SINKING OF FLYING EAGLE
River excursions were very popular and made an excellent money-making project for organizations about this time. The ticket charge was usually 50 cents. The average trip was as far as Quincy, but if the days were long, a few boats would go to LaGrange or Canton or a special to Louisiana.
The channel of the river at the old bridge is very deep and swift. Some say 35 feet in depth. The reason this spot was chosen for the bridge was the solid road foundation that was available at this spot.
On the morning of June 3, 1903, the river was 22 feet 6 inches above flood stage and it was raining. The boat did not leave until ten o’clock. A large barge was fastened by the side of the Flying Eagle. The Park Methodist Sunday School Class teachers and officials sponsored the excursion. Some names connected were Sade Conlon, Marguerite Rightmire, Fanny Ober, Lonnie B. Curts, Katie Eicheriberger, Olive Orr, and others. About 175 excursionists were aboard. As the boat neared the bridge, the Captain Adams and his co-pilot tugged at the wheel, but the swift current ripped the wheel from their hands and the boat slammed into the bridge pier. The big wheel struck the float and was sheered off. Both boat and barge began to sink.
The bridge tender turned the draw span around so it was close to the deck of the barge. Many passengers were about to jump on this. The Captain and the co-pilot were helpless after the wheel of the boat was broken. Someone cut the barge loose from the Flying Eagle as they realized that the barge would be dragged to the bottom of the river as the boat sank. The barge floated down the river and was nudged toward the shore at Cave Hollow where about 40 passengers were taken aboard the ferry which had come to aid the boat.
Women and children screamed and made a rush to climb on the bridge pier and draw bridge. Many passengers were able to jump on this. Lonnie B. Curts, a charming young girl in her teens, missed the span and fell in the river. Her escort, Harry Eichenberger, a handsome lad, jumped after her and lost his life trying to save his sweetheart. Martha Coppedge, another young girl, missed the span and disappeared in the swift water. James Harvey, the cook, also lost his life. The steamer “Satellite” and numerous small craft rescued and aided passengers. The fireman, Thomas Meyer, of Quincy, was the last man to leave the boat. The bodies of Lonnie B. Curts, Harry Eichenberger, and Martha Coppedge were recovered a week later.
The remains of the boat, Flying Eagle, were seen during the low water of 1936, sitting upright about 30 feet of the hull above water. On August 8, 1936, some youths dived and brought up a light bulb, that after being under water 33 years, would still light. They also brought other souvenirs.