What happened: The steamship St. Paul, a luxury ocean liner intended for transatlantic travel, was launched.


When: April 10, 1895.


Why it mattered: The ship was supposed to have been launched weeks earlier. Over 70 notables — captains of industry, society swells — had lined up in Philadelphia to watch the huge vessel be christened. The Champagne bottle swung on its rope and smashed into the prow. The glass shattered and cheers rose from onlookers as the ship … didn’t move. It didn’t budge an inch.

The St. Paul was launched (with less fanfare) on April 10 to run from New York to Southampton, England. But perhaps the initial botched launch was a bad omen. If you were a superstitious sailor, you might have even thought the St. Paul was cursed.

In 1900, it hit a submerged wreck while crossing the Atlantic. The collision sheared off the propeller and burned out the engine, requiring major repairs. In 1908, the St. Paul smacked into the British cruiser Gladiator during a snowstorm off the Isle of Wight. The St. Paul stayed afloat, but its rattled passengers ended up in lifeboats. The Gladiator was not as lucky. It foundered, and 27 souls were lost.

Lumbering on: After the Gladiator incident, the St. Paul’s best days were behind it. It took only second-class and steerage passengers. In 1918, it was converted to a troop transport, but during its retrofit it rolled over between berths, and was thought lost. The ship was eventually righted, and returned to civilian duty, an elderly, unglamorous workhorse plowing the furrow between England and Manhattan until being scrapped in 1920.


True twin cities: But there was one other episode that deserves mention. In 1898, after three years as a first-class ship, it was turned into a cruiser for the Spanish-American War, and saw action at the Second Battle of San Juan. For a while it cruised the open seas looking for the fleet of Spanish Adm. Pascual Cervera y Topete, accompanied by none other than the USS Minneapolis.

Currently, no warships bear the name of a Minnesota city. The Duluth was the last, decommissioned in 2005. But there’s one under construction now, a littoral combat ship due to be launched in the near future: The Minneapolis-St.Paul.

If it has any sailors from rural Minnesota on board, they’ll probably call it “The Cities.”

James Lileks