What do you do with white elephants? Lots of people have garage sales to get rid of them, and others donate them to someone else. But if those white elephants were warships, what would you do? And if they were wooden warships?
One of the first questions is probably why would warships be built out of wood? During World War I The Foundation Company was formed to provide ships to transport food to Britain and primarily to France because German was doing everything in their power to destroy the shipping industry and vessels of those two countries. The Germans were hoping to isolate and starve the populations into surrender.
Franklin Remington, a member of the Remington firearms company and the founder of the Remington typewriter business decided to assist Great Britain and France. His war effort was focused on building wooden warships in Savannah, GA, Brunswick, GA, Kerny/Newark, NJ, New Orleans, LA, Portland, OR and Tacoma, WA. that could transport the needed food. I believe these vessels would be better described as wooden cargo transport steamships rather than warships. However the two words, “warship” and cargo steamship” are used interchangeably in the documents. Unfortunately when the war ended in November 1918 many of those warships remained incomplete.
|Beached and burned, Minter WA|
Tacoma and Seattle shipyards had 36 of those “white elephant” warships; probably the last of their kind ever built. Bot all were built by Foundation Company. But what were they to do with them now? Throughout 1919 and early 1920 many were towed to Lake Washington Canal and anchored in Lake Union. There they remained. Finally the Navy decided on a solution - Scuttle them!
According to The Sunday News Tribune, Sports, Sunday Dec. 23, 1956, “It looked so easy in triplicate. But where and when? Minter Creek beach at the lower end of Henderson was selected. It was lonely and off any major ship lane.”
|Tethered Wooden Cargo Transport Ships before the fire, Minter, WA|
So in June, 1926, the the tug-towed ships passed up Henderson Bay, and Alva McKinley, a local resident was there too. Alva had a day off from his steel work job and decided to row over to a friend’s home and this is where we will pick up his recounting of the story.
|Burning Vessel, Minter, WA|
“Then the fun - if you can call ships afire fun - began. …I was launching my boat when about half of the towed ships burst into flames. … I followed - as fast as I could - the rest of the 35-ship flotilla, nut counting the tug. They stopped near Minter Creek. You know that’s near the lower end of Henderson (Bay).” The ships were tethered together on shore before being set on fire. As Alva began to understand that these ships were to be sunk he became quite curious. How?
|Burning Vessel, Minter, WA|
The job of burning lasted over several months and as Alva’s home was about 8 miles away on shore, he could watch the burning. The ships only burned to the waterline, leaving the bottoms to float away. “The sea plugs were pulled. The result was obvious. Some ships drifted for miles and disappeared. About five to seven craft hit where they were aimed and went under. To this day at low tide you can see the skeletons if you are near the spot at low or near low tide.” All the iron used in the construction of the ships was picked up and taken back to Seattle.
|Still tethered but burning, Minter, WA|
Alva McKinley was born in Ringgold County, Iowa in 1880, moved to Tacoma in 1903 and then to Henderson Bay where he lived until his death in 1968. He is buried in the Rosedale Cemetery.