A view of the Princess Sophia’s port side, The ship, which was bound for Seattle, struck Vanderbilt Reef because of a confluence of conditions, including a late train and poor visibility. The ship sunk Oct. 25 1918. (Alaska State Library-Historical Collections, ASL-P87-1699)

A view of the Princess Sophia’s port side, The ship, which was bound for Seattle, struck Vanderbilt Reef because of a confluence of conditions, including a late train and poor visibility. The ship sunk Oct. 25 1918. (Alaska State Library-Historical Collections, ASL-P87-1699)

Events commemorate Sophia’s centennial

Memorials at cemetery, museum, on stage pay tribute to shipwreck

Thursday marks the 100th anniversary of the most infamous maritime disaster in the history of Southeast Alaska, and local history enthusiasts are ready for the somber occasion.

On Oct. 25, 1918, the SS Princess Sophia sunk into the waters of Lynn Canal after it ran aground on Vanderbilt Reef in the early morning of the previous day. Captain Leonard Locke believed it was unsafe to transfer passengers off the ship in the stormy seas. It took all 353 passengers down with it. As legend has it, the only survivor was a dog.

The wreck is still under the waves near Vanderbilt Reef, and its story has been told time and time again over the years through books, articles and museum exhibits.

[The Sinking of the SS Princess Sophia]

Three major events are taking place Thursday. The first, at noon, is an annual memorial service at Evergreen Cemetery. The service takes place at the graves of Sophia passengers Walter Harper and his wife Frances Wells. Harper and Wells are two of the main figures in the lore of the Sophia, in part because Harper was the first group of climbers to reach the summit of Denali, which was then known as Mount McKinley. The event is expected to last about an hour.

At 5 p.m., members of the Sophia Committee are putting on an event at the Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff State Library, Archives and Museum atrium. Members of the committee will deliver a commemoration to start. Lt. Gov. Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson’s chief of staff will present a proclamation from the governor, and Father Gordon Blue of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church will deliver a benediction. The whole ceremony is expected to last about half an hour, and is free and open to anybody.

At 8 p.m., “The Princess Sophia” opera will have its first performance. There will be performances at 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. The two-act opera is presented by the Orpheus Project. The production takes the stage at Juneau-Douglas High School’s auditorium, and tickets are available at www.orpheusproject.org, the Juneau Arts and Culture Center and Hearthside Books.


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


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