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                                                       Taps for Hero on Thursday

 Otto Schmidt Funeral Will Be at Norfolk

  Norfolk, Neb. (AP)—Funeral will be in Norfolk Thursday afternoon for Otto D. Schmidt, 78, Blair, retired Norfolk letter carrier and a Congressional Medal of Honor winner of more than a half-century ago.
   Mr. Schmidt died Sunday at Blair where he had lived since retirement at Crowell Memor­ial Home.  
   His wife Maud preceded him in death. 
   He received the Congres­sional Medal for heroic acts aboard the Navy gunboat Bennington after a boiler ex­plosion July 21, 1905.
                                                          Through Porthole
   He was trapped in a below-deck shower room and escaped through a porthole.
Sixty of the crew died and many others were seriously wounded.  Mr. Schmidt suffered only a scratch on his arm.
  Born on a farm just outside Blair, he joined the Navy at 16 and had only nine days to serve until his twenty-first birthday aboard the Benning­ton anchored in San Diego Harbor.  
   He asked to stay aboard the Bennington for an extra cruise because he knew he would have to give up his tailor-made uniforms if he went to Mare Island to await discharge, he once said.
                                                          Rescued Wounded
   The Bennington had been coaled and was ready to sail for Pearl Harbor when the blast occurred.  After escaping from the porthole, Mr. Schmidt ran to the deck and helped rescue wounded and later went into the blast-wrecked boiler room and pulled out injured men. 
   After returning from the Navy, Mr. Schmidt was in the monument stone business for several years. He was ap­pointed a mail carrier in Nor­folk in 1922 and retired in 1948.

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Nebraska Boy a Hero of the Bennington Disaster

February 22, 2013
  THE announcement of the awarding of a medal and $100 in cash un­der general orders from Secretary Bonaparte to each of eleven mem­bers of the crew of the United States ship Bennington, for extraordinary heroism displayed at the time of the ter­rible disaster to that ship in San Diego bay, California, came as a surprise to Otto D. Schmidt, whose home is at Blair and who is one of the eleven mentioned in the list. An interview with Mr. Schmidt, who has been at Blair since he was mus­tered out last August, drew from him only a few remarks in regard to the award­ing of the rewards to himself and comrades. The only merit that he could think of over others of the crew was that when the officer of the deck called for volun­teers to go below for their comrades, eleven responded to the call. He has his hon­orable discharge with the words, "Sur­vivor of the Bennington" printed across the face of it.

  Mr. Schmidt is the only one of the eleven that belongs to Nebraska. He was born and raised in Blair. He was in the bathm at the time of the explosion and crawled out through a small window, and without clothes made his way to the deck and blew the danger whistle, remaining with his ship, helping to care for the in­jured and to bury the dead, and received his discharge papers when his ship reached San Francisco, after a term of service of four and one-half years. He was one of the five boys who made the start from Blair to join Uncle Sam's navy, enlisting with the Omaha draft May 11, ]901, and was assigned to duty on the Pensacola training ship at Goat island, San Fran­cisco. He was with his ship at the scene of the Panama trouble, which was the nearest he came to being in actual naval warfare. He has only good words for the navy and his papers show that he can enter the navy at any time.

Of the four companions who enlisted with him from Blair, Donald Kelly and Charles Evans are serving on the battleship Wis­consin at Manila, P. I.; Parker Otterman received his discharge from the Philadel­phia navy yard and Fred J. Taylor from the Adams at Samoan islands October 2 and 28, 1905, and are at present at Blair.    (Omaha paper 1906?)

February 22, 2013


From The Omaha Daily Bee, July 21, 1905


Boiler on Bennington Explodes
in Harbor of San Diego

Thirty-Nine Bodies are Recovered
Seventy-Six Men are Injured,
Many of Whom Will Die
 Twelve Members of the Crew Missing
They were Probably Blown Overboard and
Drowned in Bay

Horrible Sight Meets Eyes of Boatmen

Mangled Bodies of Dead and Wounded

Thrown from Ship as Cloud

of Steam Pours from Vessel


San Diego, Cal., July 21 — Broken and blackened, with its flag flying at half-mast, its hold filled with fifteen feet of water, the U.S.S. Benning­ton lies beached on the shores of San Diego harbor.  Thirty-nine of its crew lie dead at city morgues, the fate of a dozen more is as yet undetermined and three score are stretched upon beds of pain in various hospitals. This is the result of the explosion which wrecked the trim little naval craft and wrought such terrible havoc among its crew at 10:30 o'clock this morning.

 The following is an official revised list of the casualties.  The total number known to be dead so far is thirty-nine:


The list of injured, as nearly as can be ascertained at 4:30 p.m. is as follows:  (lost)


Bennington at the time of the accident was lying in the stream just off Commercial wharf, at the foot of H Street.  The warship had received orders from the Navy department at Washington to sail this morning for Port Harford, where it was to meet the monitor Wyoming and convoy the vessel to Mare Island Navy Yard.  Steam was up and everything was in readi­ness for sailing, when suddenly, and without any warning whatever, the starboard forward boiler exploded with a deafening roar. The explosion was terrific.  People standing on the shore saw a huge cloud of white steam rise above the Bennington. Columns of water were hurled into the air and for a distance of nearly twice the height of the spars of the vessel.

It was immediately apparent that an awful disaster of some kind had happened on board the warship.  The ferryboat Ramona was coming across the bay at the time of the accident.  Captain Bertelsen of the Ramona immediately gave orders to change the course of the boat and, instead of continuing his trip to the San Diego side of the bay, hurried to the aid of the stricken warship.  The tug Santa Fe, which was tied up at the Commercial wharf, the launch McKinley, the government launch General De Russey, and a large number of other launches and water craft which were near the scene at the time also rushed to the assistance of the Bennington and endeavored to lend every assistance possible.

At the time of the accident Commander Lucien Young and Surgeon A.E. Peck were on shore.  The two officers, as soon as they learned of the disaster hurried to the waterfront, where Commander Young immediately took charge.

 On board the Bennington were presented terrible scenes.  The force of the explosion had torn a great hole in the starboard side of the ship and the vessel was already commencing to list.  A section of the upper deck was carried away from stem to stern.  Blood and wreckage was distributed over the entire ship, the after cabin and the vicinity of the ship adjacent to the exploded boiler resembling a charnel house.

A dozen or fifteen were blown overboard by the force of the terrific shock. Captain Wentworth, who was looking at the Bennington when the disaster occurred, says he saw human bodies hurled over 100 feet upward.  The air was black with smoke which enveloped the ship.  When it cleared away only a few men could be seen on the decks, while a number were floundering in the water. A boat was lowered from the vessel's side and most of them were picked up and taken on board.

The bodies of many of the men taken from the wrecked interior of the ship were mutilated almost beyond recognition. The faces of many were covered with blood and ashes.

 Commander Young, as soon as he reached the ship, gave orders that the air-tight compartments be closed to prevent the listing ship sinking and that the magazine be flooded to avert further explosions.

Temporary quarters ashore were arranged for the wounded and sixty citizens volunteered and hurried, in launches to the relief of those on the ill-fated ship.  Some of the volunteers were unable to stand the sickening sight which met their gaze on the Bennington,  As fast as the wounded could be removed they were hurried in ambulances, carriages, wagons and automobiles to the hospitals,  For a long time the hot steam prevented access to the space between the decks where most of the dead bodies lay, and it was not until late in the afternoon, that the last were removed from the boiler room. Several bodies were so tightly wedged in by a bulkhead that the woodwork had to be hewn away to free them. Most of the bodies yet unidentified have been mangled almost beyond hope of recognition.

The boiler which exploded, it is said, was regarded as unsafe. Commander Young stated that during a recent return from Honolulu the steam pressure was kept reduced in that particular one.  When the explosion occurred Engineer Nelson was inspecting it prior to the vessel's leaving port. He was not seriously injured.  Officers and men who were able to assist in rescue acted in a brave and collected manner. Pumps were manned to keep the water, from the upper compartments, the magazine flooded and men fought their way through, the steam into the darkened, hold to search for their comrades.  In the worst danger and when it was feared the ship would sink before it could be beached, the young officers and men stuck manfully to their posts. 

Albert H. Ryan of this city, who was rowing near the ship at the time of the accident, plunged into the water and rescued several sailors.

The ships inner works are a tangled mass of machinery and it probably will have to be dismantled in order to examine its internal injuries. 

Description of Vessel

San Francisco, July 21 -- The Bennington is a sister ship of the Yorktown and Concord, having the same dimensions, tonnage, speed and armament. It has a length of 230 feet, breadth 36 feet, mean draft 14 feet, dis­placement 1,710 tons, speed 16.5 knots, derived from engines of 3,436  (line missing)

guns of smaller caliber.  The Bennington takes rank among the efficient little cruisers designed for special duty in shallow water.  The vessel's keel was laid in 1888 and it cost $490,000.  Its complement is sixteen officers and 181 men.

The Bennington left this port about three months ago and went to Honolulu as station ship at that port.  On July 7 it sailed from the Hawaiian port and went to San Diego, arriving there on Wednesday last. When it sailed from Honolulu it was under orders to go to San Diego and there fill its bunkers with coal, then proceed to Panama, calling at numerous ports along the Central American coast.  It was to take the place of the monitor Wyoming as station ship there.

The Wyoming had been at the port of Panama for several months and it sailed from San Diego only the day before the Bennington arrived at that port on its way to San Francisco.  The monitor, when near Port Harford, dropped one of its propellers and became almost unmanageable.  It made its way to a sheltered cove at Port Harford and the Bennington then at San Diego, was ordered to go to the aid of the disabled monitor and tow it to this port.  It was expected that the gunboat would sail from the southern port on its errand today.

The Bennington had four cylindrical straight-way boilers, commonly called locomotive gunboat boilers.  Each boiler was 17 feet 9 inches long and 9 feet 9 inches in diameter.  They were originally designed to carry 160 pounds of steam, but the last log shows that the safety valves were set for 145 pounds and that it carried from 135 to 140 pounds of steam in cruising. The boilers were fifteen years old, according to records in the department, but were retubed in 1903-04.  The admiral of the Pacific fleet in October, 1904, reported to the Navy department that the boilers were in need of repairs, but that the repairs were not urgent. A report from the engineer officer of the ship received at the department about the same time was that the boilers, generally were in poor condition, but the internal conditions of the boilers were good. A detailed report on the condition of the boilers was received by the department last March. In May last the Bennington was sent to Mare island yard, when temporary repairs were made on its boilers to put it in cruising condition.  It is stated at the bureau of steam engineering that there has been nothing in the reports coming to the department to show that the boilers were in an unsafe condition.

News at Washington

Washington, July 21 — Officials of the Navy department and naval officers on duty in Washington were appalled today when the news came from San Diego, telling of the disaster which overcame the gunboat Bennington. Their first information was received from press dispatches, and later a telegram came from Commander Lucien Young, captain of the Bennington, announcing the explosion and stating that nearly everybody was killed or wounded.

Lieutenant Commander H.B. Wilson of the bureau of navigation, who has charge of the assignment of enlisted men, upon learning of the explosion immediately set about to prepare a list of the ship's crew, which sub­sequently was made public. 

The Bennington was under orders for Panama, where it was being sent to relieve the Princeton, and was to have sailed direct from San Diego for the isthmus, but a report was received, at the department announcing that the Wyoming had disabled a propeller and orders were sent for the Bennington to proceed to Port Harford and convoy the Wyoming from that port to San Francisco. Just as a press bulletin was taken into the bureau of naviga­tion today announcing the explosion, a telegram was received from Commander Young that he was about to sail northward as directed.

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