Letting history sink in

A century later, a storied WW1-era naval wreck lurks among the breakers


January 2017

Eureka, CA -- One hundred years ago this month, the USS Milwaukee ran ashore near Eureka in one of California’s costliest peacetime naval disasters.

Despite the loss of the cruiser, whose rusting hulk remains beached near the low tide mark, Humboldt citizens heroically saved almost the entire crew on that fateful January 13, 1917.

The Milwaukee, a 10,000-ton, 400-foot ship laden with torpedoes, had become beached after attempting to rescue a Navy submarine, which had become stuck in the ocean shallows a few days earlier near the town of Manila.

Miraculously, only one life was lost between the two accidents. Both times, local residents brought the sailors out of the pounding waves to shore, and fed and housed them in their homes.

While the Navy eventually recovered the submarine, the ship never budged, a $7.5 million loss left to salvagers and souvenir hunters.

For decades, its decaying hull was a popular backdrop for beach picnics. Even today, her rusted bulkheads can be seen, a short distance offshore at minus tides.

To see the silent sentinel of the past, from Hwy 101 in Eureka, take Hwy 255 over the Samoa Bridge, go 2 miles until it dead ends, go south on New Navy Base Road for 1.2 miles. Park on the right, near a large boulder, almost directly across from the closed pulp mill smoke stack, and cross the dunes to the beach.

For more, visit the Humboldt Bay Maritime Museum, in the parking lot of the Samoa Cookhouse. It has many relics from the wreck as well as copies of the book by Eureka historian Ray Hillman, Shipwrecked at Samoa, California. Or request our Redwood Coast Heritage Trails brochure at admin@redwoods.info.

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