How do you lose a humongous paddle steamer? I first presented this post in 2020.
The SS Iron Mountain, a stern-wheel paddle steamer, proudly sailed the waters of the mighty Mississippi River following its launch in 1872. Its owners foresaw a long and prosperous run for the vessel. How could they know that its run would end in barely a decade under mysterious circumstances, to become the stuff of legend?
THE “REAL” STORY?
On March 25th, 1882 the Iron Mountain sailed out of Vicksburg, Mississippi on a routine run. Passing near one of the river’s many islands it hit an obstruction and began to sink. Its crewmen managed to save themselves by clambering aboard one of the barges that it towed. Unfortunately, a chambermaid named Ellen Anderson was trapped below decks and drowned.
The following day a rescue team recovered the woman’s body, along with some wreckage. But the Iron Mountain was nowhere to be found. More debris kept turning up over the next few months, all of it miles from where the vessel went down.
Eventually, the wreck of the Iron Mountain turned up—in a cotton field near Tallulah, Louisiana, far from the river, and over twenty miles from where it sank.
The official explanation was that the stern-wheeler, after being refloated by flood waters, sailed through a break in a levee and wound up in the field. But many people weren’t buying it.
For well over a century now a legend persists that the Iron Mountain simply disappeared, and its reappearance in the cotton field many miles away had more to do with the supernatural than the explainable. In pop culture the legend turns up in Reader’s Digest’s Mysteries of the Unexplained, Charles Berlitz’s World of Strange Phenomena, even in Louis L’Amour’s novel, The Haunted Mesa, among other publications. And just about all of them treat the legend as fact.
Last week I wrote about the 2011 sci-fi/western film, Cowboys & Aliens. At one point the posse, in pursuit of alien invaders, come across an overturned riverboat in the New Mexico desert, and one of the characters comments that the nearest body of water that could hold a vessel of that size is over 500 miles away. The riverboat is presumed to be the Iron Mountain, and the supposition is that the aliens somehow lifted it off the water and deposited it there. Could that be what really happened?
More than likely the official explanation was spot on. But who knows for sure? The mystery of the SS Iron Mountain will likely continue for all time.