In 1857, the U.S. mail ship SS Central America left California for the East Coast. Aboard were 477 passengers, many of them newly rich from the California Gold Rush. They were returning home with their gold, over $2 million worth (hundreds of millions in today's money). But on the last leg of the trip, between Cuba and New York, the ship encountered a hurricane.
The Central America sprang leaks, the water putting the fire out in the boiler, and the paddlewheel and pumps stopped working. Alarmed, the passengers and crew formed a bucket brigade to bail out the sinking ship, while Captain Herndon ordered the flag flown upside down – a universal distress signal.
By Saturday, September 12, the ship was doomed. That afternoon another ship was spotted, the Marine out of Boston, and Captain Herndon ordered the women and children into the Central America’s lifeboats to make the hazardous transfer to the Marine. Around 150 women and children made it before the weather forced the Marine to leave. The male passengers and crew could not make the transfer. Most of them were still on board when the Central America sank around 8 o’clock that night, settling on the sea floor about 8,000 feet below the surface, 160 miles offshore.
Only 49 men survived, and the loss of the gold to the bottom of the Atlantic caused several banks to collapse. Read the whole story of the sinking of the SS Central America and its aftermath. -via Strange Company