SS Dix

SS Dix, ca. 1906 Courtesy Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society

The SS Dix Collides and Sinks Off Alki Point, With a Loss of 39 Lives, on Nov. 18, 1906

The inland passenger steamer SS Dix collides with the steam schooner SS Jeanie two miles north of Alki Point and one mile west of Duwamish Head. The Dix, traveling from downtown Seattle to Port Blakely on Bainbridge Island with 77 passengers and crew on board, sinks within five minutes with a loss of at least 39 lives. It is the greatest maritime disaster ever recorded on Puget Sound.

The Ferry to Port Blakely

The SS Dix, one of Puget Sound’s busy “Mosquito Fleet,” was a 130-ton, 102.5-foot inland passenger-steamer built in 1904 by Crawford and Reid in Tacoma, Washington. The ship, owned by the Seattle and Alki Transportation Company, was licensed to ferry 150 passengers and shuttled between downtown Seattle and Alki Beach during the summer months. Vessel inspectors determined the Dix was top heavy due to her narrow beam, only 20.5 feet, and high superstructure. Before certifying the steamer as a passenger carrier, the inspectors required that 30 tons of ballast be installed in the hull for stability. Even with the modification, the ship rolled excessively in rough weather and was considered hard to handle.

Port Blakely is located near the southern tip of Bainbridge Island. In 1906, it was a thriving community and home to the Port Blakely Mill Company, the largest lumber mill in the Northwest and the biggest producer of soft lumber in the world. The lumber mill often had payrolls of 1,200 workers and cut 400,000 board feet of lumber a day. In November, the Port Blakely Mill Company chartered the Dix for six months as a relief vessel for their inland steamer, the SS Monticello, to ferry passengers between Seattle and Port Blakely. The captain was Percy A. Lermond, a veteran of 13 years on Puget Sound as a pilot and master.

The SS Jeanie was a large 1,071-ton, 186-foot, three-masted steam schooner built in Bath, Maine, in 1883, and had run on nearly every route between San Francisco and the Arctic Ocean. In 1906, the vessel, owned by the Alaska Coast Company, was engaged in hauling passengers and freight between Puget Sound ports and southwest Alaska.

The Fateful Day

At 6:45 p.m. on Nov. 18, 1906, the Jeanie, commanded by Capt. Philip H. Mason, departed the Great Northern Docks in Smith Cove (now pier 90-91) in Seattle en route to the smelter in Tacoma with 400 tons of iron ore. After leaving Elliot Bay, the vessel proceeded south at a speed of 7 knots. At 7:00 p.m. the Dix, piloted by Capt. Lermond, departed Colman Dock (now pier 52, the Washington State Ferry Terminal) on a routine 40-minute run between downtown Seattle and Port Blakely. The passenger steamer proceeded west at a speed of 10.5 knots. The weather on Puget Sound was clear and the wind calm.

Shortly after leaving Colman Dock (known as “The Flyer Dock”), Capt. Lermond turned the helm of the Dix over to First Officer Charles Dennison and proceeded into the ship’s cabins to collect fares. The paths of the Jeanie and the Dix began to converge approximately one mile west of Duwamish Head. The Jeanie, which had the right of way, observed the Dix for at least five minutes and began slowing down to allow the steamship to pass. When the Dix continued on an intersecting course, Captain Mason shouted from the bridge “What in the hell are you trying to do?” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer). The Jeanie blew her whistle three times and reversed her engines in an attempt to avoid a collision.

Dennison apparently neither heard the signal nor saw the Jeanie. At the last minute, he signaled the engine room to reverse engines but it was too late. Inexplicably, instead of steering to port to avoid the collision, Dennison put his wheel hard to starboard, placing the Dix in the Jeanie’s direct path. Although the Jeanie had almost stopped, the Dix’s momentum carried her under the Jeanie’s bow. The Dix was struck on the starboard side, just aft of amidships.

 

Seattle Native Dick Gordon Orbits the Moon on Nov. 18, 1969

Chuck Conrad (1930-1999) and Alan Bean (b. 1932) land on the moon while Seattle native Dick Gordon (1929-2017) orbits in the Command Module Yankee Clipper.

The 10-day mission, called Apollo 12, was the second to achieve a landing on the moon and it was Gordon’s second space mission. Gordon admitted to “rationalizing” the fact that he was able to fly to the moon, but not to actually land. To Gordon, landing on the moon was “the name of the game.” Gordon piloted Gemini 11 in 1966 while it orbited Earth, achieving a rendezvous and docking, a space walk, and a high altitude record of 850 miles.

Richard F. Gordon Jr. was born in Seattle in 1929 and grew up near Poulsbo. He graduated from North Kitsap High School and seriously considered a vocation in the priesthood. After graduating from the University of Washington in 1951 with a degree in chemistry education, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War and volunteered for air cadet training. As a Navy pilot in 1961, he won the Bendix Trophy for flying an F-4 Phantom from New York to Los Angeles in two hours, 47 minutes, a world record.

After he retired from the Navy in 1972 at the rank of Captain, Gordon became for five years Executive Vice President for the New Orleans Saints football team. Dick Gordon died in November 2017.

 

Seattle Restaurant, Known as The Blob,

Is Torn Down on

Nov. 18, 1997

The restaurant commonly known as The Blob is torn down in Seattle. Located on lower Queen Anne Hill at the corner of First Avenue North and Roy Street, the structure — which resembles a melting igloo — is removed to make way for condominiums.

Rounding the Corners

The Blob started out as a boxy structure, built in 1946 to house Clyde’s Cleaners. In the 1950s, Paramount Cleaners moved in and operated there until the 1970s, after which the building became home to a variety of restaurants, none of which achieved any success.

In 1984, the building was purchased by Los Angeles developer Anthony Dadvar, who had a flair for “free-form architecture and functional sculpture” and was looking to open a Mexican-Spanish restaurant called Isla del Sol. For some odd reason, Dadvar attempted to transform the structure to make it look like a dwelling in Baghdad, but ran out of money.  

The building, which most people began referring to as The Blob, sat unfinished and boarded-up until 1990 when Brian Hauff, a restaurateur from Vancouver, B.C., opened Orestes, a Greek restaurant. At first, business was brisk due to people’s curiosity to finally eat inside the white stucco structure, but after novelty wore off, customers stopped coming.

Son of Blob?

Orestes closed a few years later, and The Blob briefly became a cowboy bar, but that business failed too. The doors were closed and the building never reopened.

In February, 1997, the property was bought by Motion Financial Services of Vancouver. When they announced plans to demolish the structure, a few Seattleites mourned the loss of one of the city’s more quirky structures. But there were many who considered it an eyesore, especially those who owned nearby businesses or apartment houses. 

After its demolition in 1997, The Blob was gone for good, although there are some who joked that it only mutated into the Experience Music Project, a much larger blob-like structure which opened at the Seattle Center in 2000.

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