Thursday, July 23, 2015

Nicholas Skansi (14 April 1890 - 1 October 1939)

Hopefully this will answer the question that some many people utter when they come into the Skansie Netshed to learn about its history.  To answer the football question that so many people ask when entering the Skansie Netshed: Paul Skansi (formerly of the Seattle Seahawks and San Diego Chargers) is related. He is a descendant of one of the cousins. Now, let's talk about the history of his Skansi family.

Fishermen's News, July 2004

Nick, and his brother, John Skansi, were cousins of the four brothers, Peter, Mitchell, Andrew and Antone.  Of the four brothers, only Peter wrote his name without the final “e”, similar to the cousins.

John Skansi and Nick were born in St. Martin, Yugoslavia (part of the Austria Hapsburg Empire) to Anton and Vie Kuzmanich.  The two brothers emigrated to the United States arriving in 1910.  Nick was naturalized in Tacoma District Court on September 9, 1915, and John on July 1, 1916.  
John Skansi Naturalization & WWI and WWII Draft documents

Nick married Mattie Dorotich  on January 13, 1916 in St. Leo’s Catholic Church in Tacoma and their daughter Winifred M. was born August 4, 1916.  Nick and Mattie are buried in the Calvery Cemetery in Tacoma while Winifred is buried in the Artondale Cemetery.
Nicholas Skansi's Naturalization & WWI Draft documents
Nick's first boat, Hioma

Like many of his fellow countrymen, Nick earned his living on the water.  His first boat, Hioma, was a 52’ packer which he purchased from the original owner, H. O. Benedict.  Nick operated this boat until 1919 when he and his brother, John, became partners in the Companion, a 62’ purse seiner and one of the last of the classic wooden vessels built by their cousins at the Skansie Shipyard in Gig Harbor.  The Companion was powered by a 60 h.p. Enterprise gas engine.  But, even though the Companion was constructed and designed as a purse seiner, it was never used to catch a single fish.  
Companion from Fishermen's News, July 2004

John and Nick decided to use it as a freight vessel carrying everything from fruit, vegetables, chickens and other commodities to the markets.  They also transported merchandise and various supplies on their return. Their territory covered Olalla Washington and several other small communities in the lower Puget Sound to Tacoma and Seattle. 

By 1921 the brothers decided to expanded their operations and added a second cabin near the stern.  The cabin would add seating inside and out, and so, on April 30, 1921, they were issued a license to carry passengers.  The business was growing and Nick was quite satisfied with their results so far.  

But on December 30, 1925 everything changed.  And Nick almost lost his life.  Nick and one of the crewmen were the only ones aboard the Companion as it drifted in Colvos Passage near Olalla.  It is thought that they were waiting on the tide so that they could pull alongside the dock and load freight aboard the boat.

It was cold and sick decided he would light the oil stove in the gallery below the bow deck.  He went into the engine room and got a container that he thought was filled with kerosene or stove oil because just a little in the fire box would get the fire burning faster.  (You know, like all those BBQers that put matchless lighter fuel on the charcoal briskets to get the them burning.)  Unfortunately for Nick, he picked up the wrong can.  The one he got was filled with gasoline for the Enterprise engine.

Well, you can imagine what happened with Nick poured some in the stove - first there was the brilliant flash of light as the gas ignited, and suddenly Nick was engulfed in flames.  Somehow he managed to escape and get up on deck.  His clothes were still smoldering no longer on fire.  But Nick was seriously burned.

Fortunately Egil Peterson was nearby on the St. John fishing and he saw the explosion and immediately rushed over to help.  The fire had completely consumed the boat, it is believed an anchor was thrown overboard to hold the boat in position offshore.  Peterson and his crew got both Nick and his crewman off and aboard St John and headed immediately to Point Defiance Pavilion in Tacoma.  He thought they could get the fastest medical help there and it would be easier to transport Nick to hospital.  

Unfortunately, that was the same evening that the massive trolley accident occurred injuring many and also resulting in a few fatalities.  As Tacoma Public Library Northwest Room described the incident: “At 7:55 p.m. a municiple streetcar crashed through the steel gate that closed off 11th Street when the bridge was raised. The wooden streetcar broke apart as it plunged toward the water, spilling passengers as it fell. The crew of the Virginia V, docked near the bridge, sped to the rescue, pulling survivors to safety. An undetermined number of passengers were pulled from the water, including four who were injured. The death toll reached five.”

However Egil Peterson was not a man who gave up easily, he left his boat and was finally able to flag down and convince one cab driver of the seriousness of Nick Skansi.  The men got Nick into the cab and he was rushed to the hospital where there was utter chaos.  But despite all the confusion, Nick was attended to by the doctors and nurses rather quickly, with the diagnosis he would live with proper care.  Nick’s daughter, Bernice Crosby recalled that “When my dad got home from the hospital his face was still blackened from the exposure to the fire.  I remember him saying that because the explosion had occurred on a blustery winter day, he had decided to wear long underwear under his outer clothing.  And that may very well have saved his life.  My dad also wore eyeglasses and he felt quite certain that because of the glasses his eyesight was not harmed in any way.

John and Nick ended their commercial vessel partnership and Nick stayed in the maritime industry on his own.nIck purchased the Genius from the Babich family in 1926.  It too was built in and by the Skansie Shipyard in 1920 and powered by a Frisco Standard 50 h.p. gasoline engine.  Nick was back in business, hauling freight as before - berries, chickens, miscellaneous goods but no passengers.  He also became involved in fish packing and tendering on Puget Sound.  This lead to buying fish for the Friday Harbor Canning Company during the summer seasons and, in the fall, buying salmon for several fresh fish markets in Seattle.  

Nick continued his involvement with the Friday Harbor Canning Company for the rest of his career.  Everyone on Puget Sound knew who Nick was and Genius was one of the most familiar sights around San Juan Islands.  He loaded fish every evening in Griffin Bay, off Eagle Point at the Salmon Banks.  

Nick died in 1939, but his boat, Genius, did not retire; it continued under the operation of Nick’s son-in-law, Gerald  Crosby as a tender.  Eventually it was converted from a tender into a power block purse seiner and still be seen in 2004 going strong with Gerald’s son, Gary as captain.   

And once again we owe tremendous thanks to the late Lee Makovich for his story “The Nick Skansi Legacy, The End of an Era” in the July 2004 Fishermen’s News.
* Note:  John Skansi (20/1/1885-5/3/19570); Neda J. Skansi (24/9/1899-20/11/20000; Anton J. (1927-?)
* Note: Nicholas Skansi (4/14/1890-10/1/1939); Mattie Dorotich Skansi (12/16/1895-11/1/1986); Winifred J. Skansi (8/4/1916-
*Note:  Gerald James Crosby (4/25/1912-11/24/1996); Beatice Adeline Crosby (11/12/1917-4/24/2003); Gary Lee Crosby (6/8/1952-6/2/2004) 

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.


  1. Good story, but I don't see the football connection. Paul Skansie was a cousin but not a descendant? It's hard to understand. Was he related to Crosby?

  2. Crosby married Nick's daughter Nick died in 1939, but his boat, Genius, did not retire; it continued under the operation of Nick’s son-in-law, Gerald Crosby as a tender. Eventually it was converted from a tender into a power block purse seiner and still be seen in 2004 going strong with Gerald’s son, Gary as captain. Paul Skansie is a different branch of the Skansie family

  3. Gary had his own purse seiner, the Hyak and fished Alaska while his Dad ran the Genius.