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The Mystery Wreck of the SS Rio de Jeneiro

Welcome to Curbed's ongoing series titled Hidden History, where Curbed highlights a Bay Area location with a secret past. Maybe it's no longer there, maybe it's been converted into something else, but each spot holds a place in Bay Area history - even if not many people know it. Have a suggestion or know a place with a secret history? The tipline's always open or you can leave a comment after the jump.


San Francisco used to flourish as a major sea port, and trans-pacific ships frequently had to navigate the gnarly Golden Gate through treacherous conditions. Sometimes they didn't make it, like the iron hulled steam powered passenger ship SS City of Rio de Janeiro which sank near Fort Point - except no one can find it.

The SS City of Rio de Janeiro first launched in 1878 as a passenger ship between San Francisco and various Asian Pacific ports. It was later refitted to serve as an ocean liner for the Pacific Mail Steamship Company and scheduled for San Francisco to Hawaii, Japan and Hong Kong. 23 years later, the ship struck rocks while trying to re-enter through the Golden Gate on a particularly foggy day. The underside of the ship sustained major damage, with the engine room and cargo holds flooding quickly and sinking 320 feet in only eight minutes. The fog was so bad the lifesaving station at Fort Point a few hundred yards away didn't even know the crash happened until they saw lifeboats emerging from the fog two hours later.


Sadly many lifeboats were held up due to language barriers between the mostly Chinese crew and American officers. Some nearby Italian fishermen were able to rescue survivors clinging to the wreckage. Of the 210 people aboard, 82 were rescued and approximately 130 people died.


When the ship sank, the boilers exploded below and luggage, sofas, and clothes was strewn around the water. Divers immediately began searching for the ship wreckage, but couldn't find anything because of the depth of the water and their limited gear. Over time bits and pieces had washed up near Fort Point, and as far away as Suisun Bay. The wreck itself has never been found - theories range from materials being carried out to sea by strong Baker Beach currents to it being buried beneath other ships that have since crashed.

· Shipwreck of SS City of Rio de Janeiro Mail Steamer [Noehill]
· SS City of Rio De Janeiro [Wrecksite]
· SS City of Rio de Jeneiro [Maritime Heritage]