For a time, tragedy brought us all together

July 21, 2015


Tony D. Tracy
Zenith News

O, I have suffered with those that I saw suffer. A brave vessel, who had no doubt some noble creatures in her, dashed all to pieces. O, the cry did knock against my very heart! Poor souls, they perished!
~William Shakespeare, The Tempest

On July 21, 1906, four adventure-seekers—John and Jessie McArthur of Superior, and Jessie’s siblings, Florence and Leslie Tostevin—rented a rowboat from Louis Lenroot to cross the bay to Minnesota Point and the White City Amusement Park.

As the day was winding down, they returned to their boat, but, in the meantime, a storm had begun. They decided the waters close to shore were not that bad, although it was 10:30 p.m. and already dark, with only the lights from White City and Superior.

The rowboat was no match for the waves, which tossed them up and down until finally the boat capsized. According to the only survivor’s recollection, all four managed to grab the overturned boat, but, in an instant, both John and Jessie disappeared beneath the water.

Leslie and his sister, Florence, were holding onto both ends of the boat, but when Leslie looked back again, Florence went under the waves as well. Leslie’s watch stopped at 10:40 p.m., the closest estimated time of death for the three missing young people.

When the storm died down, Louis Lenroot went out to search and came upon Leslie Tostevin, fighting for his life on the overturned boat. He was taken to the boathouse where Emmett Galvin took him home.  

Stiff and numb, Leslie rambled incoherently about the accident. Lenroot rushed back to the scene, trying to find other survivors. The next day, Leslie went along to show searchers the exact spot of the tragedy, but they were unable to find other survivors or bodies.

Private citizens as well as the police and fire departments of both Superior and Duluth took part in the search. A professor of waves and tidal action came down to the shore and told authorities that, if the bodies were not found, they would surface again in seven to ten days. Boats with grappling hooks filled the harbor, trying desperately to locate the bodies. When that didn’t work, they tried dynamite to force them to the surface.  

Jessie and Florence were the daughters of J. F. Tostevin, Jr., a member of the William Penn Company and prominently identified with the Grand Army posts. Formerly of Milwaukee, they now lived in the Central Park neighborhood of Superior.

John was a fine swimmer. Lenroot thought he had once seen John swim the bay from the railroad tracks. Jessie and John left two little girls, three and five years of age. Florence was a well-liked student at Blaine High School and a star player on the basketball team.

Three days after the storm, the missing young people were found and their remains prepared for a “triple funeral” that would surpass anything the Twin Ports had seen up to this time. The service took place July 26, 1906, with the Reverend F.W. Court presiding. Not a single flower was left in any florist’s shop in either Duluth or Superior.

As the Evening Telegram described it, “A float, draped in white and bearing the three caskets covered with flowers, moved slowly along the streets of the city, bearing the departed to their triple grave in Greenwood Cemetery.”

Hundreds of people who did not even know Jessie, John, and Florence attended their funeral and burial, just as everyone had come together to try and find them three days prior. For a week, the citizens of Duluth and Superior were simply one community taking care of its own.

Teddie Meronek of the Superior Public Library contributed to this story.

Tony Tracy is Executive Director of the Douglas County Historical Society. He has a degree in American Studies and Heritage Preservation from St. Cloud State.

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