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Other name: USAT Buford
Builder: Harland & Wolff, Belfast, yard number 231
Launched August 29, 1890; delivered October 18, 1890; scrapped in Japan, 1929
Hull: length 370' 9"; beam 44' 3"; 3,732 tons gross, 3,473 tons under deck and 2,388 net; steel; 4 masts; schooner-rigged
2 decks; 3 tiers of beams; 7 cemented bulkheads; fitted with electric light; cellular double bottom 312,' 718 tons; forward peak tank 44 tons; aft peak tank 50 tons
Holds 26' 7" deep; poop 78'; bridge 116'; forecastle 40'
Power: single screw; triple expansion engine by the builders, with 3 cylinders of 25 ½", 42", and 70" diameter, stroke 51"; 375 n.h.p.
2 double-ended boilers; 12 ribbed furnaces; grate surface 192 sq. ft.; heating surface 6,162 sq. ft.; coal consumption 35 tons of coal per day; 11 knots
Registered in London; official number 98173
The Mississippi was built for the Atlantic Transport Line as passenger cargo vessel with four masts. She entered service early in 1891 and in September of that year was reportedly one of the four vessels "most likely to be placed on the new line" then being organized from New York. She is recorded in the Morton Allan Directory of European Passenger Steamship Arrivals making 44 voyages to New York for passenger service between August 1892 and December 1897. Her master was listed by Lloyd's Register in 1894 as Thomas F. Gates. The port of registry for the Mississippi is given by Lloyds Register as London, with the Atlantic Transport Line her owners and Williams, Torrey & Feild Ltd. her managers. An article in the New York Times records that her consumption of coal was 35 tons per day.
Under the command of Captain McNeally in September 1894 the Mississippi rescued the nine man crew of the sinking Norwegian bark Hakon Jarl and on May 27, 1897, she collided with, and damaged, the Thingvalla Line ship Hekla in fog off the Newfoundland Banks. In September 1897 Mississippi, under the command of E. G. Cannons, was briefly stranded. Reporting the incident, the New York Times noted that "to avoid collision with a small coal schooner, the Atlantic Transport Line steamship Mississippi, bound in from London, ran her nose into the mud south of Fort Wadsworth." With half of her length in the mud, efforts to haul her off proved unsuccessful, and with ten feet of water in her hold part of her cargo had to be lightered. Mississippi was by this time the smallest vessel in the Atlantic Transport Line fleet, and the only one remaining with a single screw. The first officer of Mississippi at this time was Llewelyn Crouch, who lost his life as chief officer of the Mohegan in 1898. A group of items belonging to Crouch was auctioned in Plymouth, England, in 1990. Chief among them was a painting of the Mississippi by the celebrated marine artist Antonio Jacobsen.
The Mississippi was transferred in 1898 to the subsidiary National Line, but continued on the London to New York service. In the summer of 1898 she was one of the Atlantic Transport Line ships purchased by the U.S. government for use as a transport in the war with Spain, but she was not converted in time to serve in the conflict. After the war however she was one of the ships retained to form the new permanent Army transport service. She was refitted for this permanent role at Newport News in 1899 and emerged with two tall masts replacing her four steel pole masts. She was also renamed as the U.S. Army Transport Buford (ID # 3818). She served principally on the San Francisco to Manila line and was one of three transports used in the harbor as temporary storehouses for the supplies coming into San Francisco by sea in the weeks following the devastating earthquake and fire in 1906.
In April 1912 she was sent to the West Coast of Mexico to bring away Americans who might desire to leave on account of unsettled conditions there and sent Buford south. In early May the Buford was ordered to take on board also any British or Spanish refugees she might encounter. But according to the New York Times, Buford was sent "more for the moral effect than for any actual necessity now existing," and another report noted that she failed "to find any willing to leave." January 1919 saw her transferred to the Navy as USS Buford (ID # 3818) and in that service she made four trips to France and brought home more than 4,700 troops. Buford shipped personnel and cargo between the U.S. and the Panama Canal in August 1919 before being decommissioned early in September and returned to the Army. Buford participated in the forced deportation of potential subversives during the first Red Scare of 1919-20. Dubbed "the Soviet Ark," she carried 249 "undesirable aliens" to Hango in Finland, from where they were taken by sealed train to the Russian frontier.
The Buford was sold in 1923 to John C. Ogden and Fred Linderman of San Francisco, proprietors of the Alaskan Siberian Navigation Company. When Buster Keaton's Technical Director Fred Gabourie was in the area scouting for ships which could be converted into Elizabethan galleons for another project (The Sea Hawk) he spotted retired Buford and sensed an opportunity. On his own initiative Keaton leased the old ship from the Alaskan Siberian Navigation Company for $25,000 and engaged a team of writers to create a screenplay around her. The resulting movie, The Navigator, was released in 1924 and proved to be Keaton's most successful project in financial terms and one of his personal favorites. It was shot in Avalon Bay off the coast of Catalina Island in the space of just ten weeks. The Buford was finally scrapped in Japan in 1929.
Sources: The Atlantic Transport Line, 1881-1931; The Ships List; Gilbert Provost's Register of Ships; Passenger Ships of the World Past and Present, Eugene W. Smith, Massachusetts, 1977; www.history.navy.mil; Merchant Fleets in Profile 2; the Ships of the Cunard, American, Red Star, Inman, Leyland, Dominion, Atlantic Transport and White Star Lines, Duncan Haws, 1979; The New York Times, September 4, 1891; September 18, 1894; November 25, 1895; June 2, 1897; September 15, 1897, June 25, 1898; May 31, 1902; December 1, 1905; January 18, 1908; April 27, 1912; May 9, 1912; January 18, 1920; May 3, 1921; February 25, 1929
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