Sunday, May 3, 2009

The End of the Line

More than one photographer has found this spot just south of the Braga Bridge on the Swansea side. It offers a view of 3 area bridges: Braga, Mount Hope and Bristol. The "city of hills and mills" lies just opposite and close enough to pick out the steeples of St. Mary's and St. Annes. In the foreground lies a mysterious shipwreck. Low tide makes it obvious that this was one hell of a ship. A little research reveals that they belong to the City of Taunton. She was one of the last and greatest of the Fall River Line ferries. Her ribs have been rotting on that stony beach just south of the Braga Bridge since the 1930's. For over 60 years, the Fall River Line offered travel between Boston and New York luxurious enough for royalty but inexpensive enough to offer the common man an uncommon chance to experience true luxury.

The City of Taunton was a great ship in a great line of ships but its days were numbered when they built a bridge in New London and then a canal on Cape Cod. The bridge enabled a less expensive all rail connection between New York and Boston. The Canal made ship travel between the two cities more practical since ships no longer had to round the Cape. Both spelled the end for the Fall River Line. When things got bad enough apparently they beached the great ship in Swansea and let it rot.

That's an ignominious end for a ship. Great ships shouldn't just sink into the muck. They should go down mid Atlantic with bands playing and be discovered by Bob Ballard decades later with his diving robots. Nothing in the tale of the City of Taunton was titanic in nature but she did survive two close brushes with disaster before market forces beached her in the 30's. She struck another Fall River Line ferry named the City of Plymouth somewhere in Long Island Sound. They struck just after midnight, March 21, 1903 in a fog that limited visibility to under 100 feet. The City of Plymouth had enough time to throw its engines into full reverse but the impact still damaged both ships severely. They towed the City of Taunton into New London for repair without any loss of life. The City of Plymouth made it into port as well but suffered more serious damage and the loss of 4 seamen and a passenger to drowning.

That wasn't the last near disaster for the City of Taunton. In 1910 she broke one of her intake pipes and water poured into her so fast that the captain despaired of reaching the closest port before she sank. He did and she didn't. She spent another 2 decades plying the waters of Long Island sound before she ended up on the beach in Swansea. I wish there was more to tell about Swansea's very own shipwreck ... tales of romance and jewels, young women made to feel beautiful by rakish young artists shortly before collisions with icebergs but one at least catches the whiff of a bygone era there between the ribs of the City of Taunton.

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