Princess Sophia anniversary

The Princess Sophia

This week is the 94th anniversary of the sinking of the Princess Sophia passenger ship in Lynn Canal, which claimed the lives of about 350 people.

For more than 20 years, Oct. 25th has been marked by prayers at the Evergreen Cemetery graves of two passengers, Walter and Francis Harper, who perished in the disaster.

Every year, the Rev. Mark Boesser, Archdeacon for the Episcopal Church in Southeast Alaska, and Wilson Valentine, Parish Chaplin at Juneau’s Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, visit the gravesites of the couple. The Harpers were newlyweds when they booked their passage on the Canadian Pacific Railway ship from Skagway.

Valentine says Walter Harper is important to the history of the Episcopal Church in Alaska.

“He was a Native person that was a translator for Archdeacon Hudson Stuck, in the early 20th Century.  He also climbed Denali with Archdeacon Stuck in 1913, the first ascent of that mountain.  And Walter was actually the first human being to set foot on the summit,” he says.

The Princess Sophia left Skagway on Oct. 23, 1918, bound for Seattle, with stops along the way in Alaskan and Canadian ports.  She was the last ship of the season.  Within four hours, however, the ship grounded on Vanderbilt Reef in Lynn Canal, in blinding snow and strong winds.

While distress calls were heard, the storm intensified, making rescue attempts unsafe. Captain Leonard Locke apparently told rescue boats to wait out the storm for their own safety.

Three days after it grounded, the Princess Sophia sank with no time to get anyone off the ship.

Valentine is among a group of Juneau residents who are beginning to plan for a 100th commemoration of the sinking of the ship.