The heartbreaking story of the Evening Sun's Newsboys' Band
It should have been the end of a wonderful day. The Baltimore Evening Sun Newsboys' Band members were returning from a performance at the Chesapeake Championship Workboat Races in Chestertown, Maryland aboard the bay steamer, Three Rivers.
Newspaper boys delivered the morning and evening newspapers to subscribers' homes and collected each week for the cost of the paper. The band, sponsored by the Evening Sun, served as advertising and goodwill to the community and provided a wonderful experience for the young band members as they traveled throughout the region, performing for large crowds. John Philip Sousa had once been an honored guest conductor.
The Three Rivers was one of the many steam boats that moved passengers and freight, with regular routes on the bay and tributaries. As the Three Rivers neared Baltimore, a fire that was thought to begin in a stateroom spread rapidly through the ship. The fire was so severe that the boat burned to the water line.
As the fire raced through the ship, it was reported that many of the newsboys took heroic action to help evacuate those on board. Desperate passengers and crew had to jump over the side of the boat to escape the flames. Fortunately, boats in the vicinity were able to assist in their rescue. Ten people burned to death, including five members of the Newsboys' Band.
The boys who lost their lives were: Walter C. Millikin and Thomas A. Pilker, age 13; Vernon E. Jefferson and Alfred L. Seigman, age 15; and Nelson A. Miles age 17. The news of the fire was devastating. Families, friends, neighbors, and the entire Baltimore community grieved over the tragic loss of the young band members.
Funeral services were held at the boys' homes and churches, followed by their burial at Loudon Park Cemetery on July 8th. It was a sad and somber day as hundreds of mourners gathered at the graveside service, including representatives of the Three Rivers owners and the Baltimore Sun. Prayers were offered and hymns sung. Finally, soldiers and Marines played Taps from different locations in the cemetery.
The Baltimore Sun commissioned the famed Baltimore sculptor J. Maxwell Miller to create the memorial that stands watch over the graves of the young musicians.