John McArthur

Sad Story of Lost Lives on Lake Superior


1906 Tragedy Brings Twin Ports Together

By Tony D. Tracy

In the early years of the Twentieth Century the elements completely controlled man’s endeavors.  As the millions of people that live next to the mighty oceans can attest, when the sea comes to shore or raises it’s waves against our feeble ships of the times we are always defeated.

With this in mind, we have a story of two young and vibrant soles, John and Jessie McArthur of Superior, Wisconsin and her two siblings Florence and Leslie Tostevin the children of J.F. Tostevin a member of the William Penn Company and prominently identified with the Grand Army posts of the city.

The four adventure seekers on July 21, 1906 had rented a rowboat from Louis Lenroot to maneuver themselves across the bay to Minnesota Point and the exhilarating White City Amusement Park that drew hundreds of people from Minnesota and Wisconsin.   As the day was winding down, the four returned to their boat for the trip back across the bay however in the meantime a storm had began to churn the waters of the bay making travel difficult.

Although the storm had begun, the travelers decided that the waters close to shore were not that bad although it was 10:30 pm and it was already dark only lights from White City and Superior lighting their way.

John and Jessie McArthur

John and Jessie McArthur

As they began their trip, the row boat was no match for the waves as they tossed the boat and it’s inhabitants up and down until finally the boat took on water and capsized.   According to the only survivor’s recollection, all four had managed to grab the overturned boat but in an instant both John and Jessie had disappeared under the water.

Leslie stated that it was just himself and he sister Florence which were holding onto both ends of the boat however when Leslie looked back again for his sister, she had gone under the waves as well.   The watch that he was wearing stopped at 10:40 pm which would have been a very close time of death for the three missing people.

Rental boat owner Lenroot, set out to see the status of some logs belonging to the Murray-McCarm Mill and by the time the storm had died down he went further to see if there was any other damage.  It was during this search that Lenroot came upon the young Tostevin fighting for his life clinging to the overturned boat.

Once inside the boat, he was taken to the boat house where Emmett Galvin was and took him to the Tostevin home.  Stiff and numb, Leslie rambled on incoherently about the accident.  Telephone calls to the police department notified them of the incident and Lenroot and others rushed back to the scene trying to find other survivors.  The next day the surviving brother went out in a boat trying to show searchers the exact spot of the tragedy however they were unable to find any other survivors or bodies.

Private Citizens as well as the police and fire departments of both Superior and Duluth took part in the search for the bodies of these young people.  A Professor Merrill came down to the shore and told authorities that he was a student of wave and tide actions and stated that if the bodies are not found through methods being used, they would again surface in 7-10 days from the time of the accident.

Grappling hooks were used by boats that filled the harbor trying desperately to locate the bodies.  When this didn’t work, dynamite was exploded in the bay in an attempt to force them to the surface.

Mrs. McArthur and Miss Tostevin where the daughters of Mr. and Mrs. J. F. Tostevin Jr. of the Central Park area of Superior and had formerly lived in the Milwaukee area.  John McArthur was remembered as a fine swimmer and Mr. Lenroot thought he had seen him once swim the bay from the railroad tracks before and at any rate was a powerful man.

Funeral Procession for John & Jessi McArthur and Florence Tostevin 1906

Funeral Procession for John & Jessi McArthur and Florence Tostevin 1906 (source Superior Public Library)

Unfortunately Jesse and John left two little girls, 3 and 5 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.  Undertaker Down’s collected the remains and prepared for a funeral that would surpass anything see in the Twin Ports up to this date.

The “Triple Funeral” would take place on July 26th, 1906 with the Rev. F.W. Court presiding over the service.  The funeral was impressive and there was not a single flower that was left in any Florist Shop in either Duluth or Superior.

“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 these young people attended the funeral and burial just as they had come together to try and find them just three days prior.  For a week’s time, the citizens of Duluth and Superior were simply one community taking care of its own.

***Research assistance for this article was from Teddie Meronek at the Superior Library along with articles from the Superior Telegram and the Duluth Tribune.

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