My good friend, Helen Delich Bentley, the former congresswoman and former federal maritime commissioner, wrote in a letter to the editor of The Baltimore Sun that I had overlooked one of the most dramatic Atlantic sea rescues of all time, when the Missouri, out of Baltimore, rescued all passengers and crew from the steamer Danmark in 1889.
Under the command of Capt. Hamilton Murrell, 25, who lived in Ruxton and later Eutaw Place, the Atlantic Transport Co. steamer Missouri departed West Hartlepool, England, on March 28, 1889.
This was the Missouri's second westbound voyage since entering service in January, and the captain's second voyage as its master.
The 4,200-ton ship, with its distinctive three masts, black-striped red funnel and green hull, was bound for Baltimore, in its holds cargo of cement, linseed oil, rags, wool, indigo, herring and goatskins.
It was a routine crossing despite the high seas and head winds. It was at 1:15 p.m. April 5 that a Mr. Lucas, the officer in charge, sighted a steamer with flags flying, off the Missouri's port bow.
It was the Danmark of the Thingvalla Line, dead in the water and wallowing in the sea, some 800 miles from Newfoundland.
The Danmark, under the command of Capt. C.B. Knudsen, had sailed from Copenhagen for New York on March 26, and 15 days out, a boiler room explosion had killed the vessel's chief engineer, snapped a propeller shaft and punched a hole in the ship's bottom.
Because of a heavy running sea, Knudsen had decided not to risk putting passengers and crew in lifeboats.
Summoned, Murrell went on the bridge. "I saw it was a signal of distress which the ship was flying," Murrell wrote in an account of the rescue.
"The course was at once altered, and the Missouri was steered as close as possible to the steamer," he wrote.
The Danmark's captain signaled: "I have 735 passengers on board, and that is too many lives to be lost on one vessel."
The Danmark crew was trying to stem the chill Atlantic waters that had been steadily rising in the ship's holds. It was a race they were increasingly losing and couldn't possibly win.
Now that their prayers were answered and a rescue ship had come to their side, the question was how to safely proceed.
Murrell feared an open-sea transfer in rapidly deteriorating weather conditions, and opted instead for a 10-inch hawser that was dropped by the Danmark and that the Missouri picked up.
It was his plan to tow the Danmark to the nearest port, which was St. John's, Newfoundland, hundreds of miles to the west.
As the Missouri steamed through the Atlantic night with its ward on its stern, the barometer began to fall, the wind increased and the seas ran even higher.
It was April, high iceberg season on the North Atlantic.