The Wreck of the SS Central America
On August 20, 1857, several hundred passengers boarded a Pacific Mail steamship and left San Francisco headed south toward Panama City. Aboard was over $1.6 million in gold—including raw gold nuggets still in their original saddlebags that carried them from the gold fields into San Francisco.
Since the Panama Canal had yet to be built, the passengers and gold were then hauled overland to the next leg of their trip aboard the sidewheel steamer SS Central America.
As the ship rounded the Florida peninsula and headed north, the Atlantic grew dark and angry and a huge gale-force storm moved in. The ship took a pounding and she was swallowing thousands of gallons of water. Most of the passengers knew they were sinking and were emptying their pockets, including gold dust, to alleviate their weight so they could swim. Efforts to keep her afloat were futile (although women and children managed to transfer to another ship.) Finally, a huge wave hit the SS Central America and sent her 8,000 feet down to the ocean floor about 160 miles offshore from Charleston, South Carolina. At the time of the sinking, the amount of gold carried on board had a value in today’s dollars of $300,000,000.
She would remain lost for the next 130 years…