When World War I broke out, the luxury German liner Kronprinzessin Cecilie sought refuge in Bar Harbor and remained at anchor for many weeks. PHOTO COURTESY OF BH HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Historical records: Kronprinzessin Cecilie seized by marshals



By Deborah Dyer, director, Bar Harbor Historical Society

From a February 1917 issue of The Bar Harbor Times

BOSTON, Mass. — The great German refugee liner Kronprinzessin Cecilie, the largest craft that has ever entered Boston harbor, and which has been tied up since October 1914, was seized by United States Marshal John J. Mitchell with a force of 150 deputies, including 120 Boston police officers and six members of the district police, who were sworn in as special deputy marshals.

The seizure was made without the slightest warning to those on the big vessel and the first intimation its officers had that the United States authorities were to take possession of the vessel was when Marshal Mitchell, followed by 150 deputies, marched up the long gangplank of the vessel at her wharf, at the foot of Clyde Street, East Boston.

Customs guards, police officers and special watchmen, guarded the seven other German and Austrian liners in the inner harbor, but no attempt was made to seize them as the United States has no claim against them. What action, if any, will be taken against these vessels will be determined by the government at Washington.

Meantime, the guards have been tripled about the piers where the big liners are berthed and a sharp lookout has been kept regarding movements aboard ship. These ships are regarded as German and Austrian territory and no official of the U.S. government is allowed aboard without permission of the German Consul.

U.S. District Attorney George W. Anderson stated to a reporter that the seizure of the Cecilie was made under the authority of the U.S. courts.

The Cecilie was libeled in the U.S. District Court at Boston in October, 1914 by the National City Bank and the Guarantee Trust Co., both of New York, for damages alleged to have been incurred by the failure of her commander to deliver two consignments of gold to the European correspondents of the bank and the trust company on the eve of the war.

The Cecilie had $8,000,000 in gold aboard and turned back in mid ocean while on her way to England when the news that war had been declared between Germany and Russia was wirelessed to Captain Pollack, her commander.

She put into Bar Harbor and while there she was seized by order of the court and conveyed to Boston under convoy of U.S. destroyers. Since then the marshal at Boston has had the custody of the vessel and was responsible personally for her safety.

The U.S. district attorney further explained that the owners of the vessel, the German Lloyd, had an opportunity to take the vessel out of the marshal’s custody at the time she was first seized by filing with the court a bond sufficient to indemnify the bank and trust company in case the court decided in their favor.

No bond has ever been filed.

Following the break in relations between this country and Germany, Attorney Edward Blodgett, of Boston counsel for the bank and trust company, served notice on Marshal Mitchell that his clients would hold him legally responsible for any loss that might accrue to them through failure of the marshal properly to protect the vessel from loss or damage.

The marshal is under bonds of $30,000 and the claims against the vessel aggregate more than $1,500,000. As a result the marshal was compelled to safeguard the steamer against risk of destruction.

It is understood that the U.S. marshal had information regarding plans of all the captains of German self interred steamers in the event of war between the U.S. and Germany, and under the circumstances decided to take complete charge of the giant liner.

The officers were quickly spread about the vessel. One officer was assigned to guard each 113 remaining members of the Cecilie’s crew of 700. Those in the crew who were on shore leave were refused admission when they returned to the ship and at midnight every German in the crew was ordered off the vessel.

An added detail of 50 officers were sent to the pier at 10 to aid in evicting the Germans. All those on board the vessel were taken to the detention pen of the immigrant inspectors.

A minute inspection of the steamer was made by the marshal and his deputies, state inspector, Frank Wright and Charles Ferguson, experts on engine room machinery and boilers, were placed in charge of those departments on the vessel.

After examining the machinery and boilers, they stated that everything was found to be in perfect working order with the exception of one stop valve, which was dismantled and in process of repair.

During the first five hours that the government officers were in charge of the steamer, a uniformed Boston police officer was assigned to accompany every one of the officers and crew of the vessel. The policemen adhered to their charges with persistency, followed them about the ship, supervised the packing of trunks and even sat down and ate supper with the German sailors.

Captain Pollack, although he is admiral of the great German Lloyd Fleet and has the rank of commander in the German naval reserve, was treated as the rest of his crew and Patrolman John Magennis of the court square station, the first policeman to board the liner, was detailed to accompany the liners commanding officer.

At 10 o’clock the evicted German sailors began to leave the liner, which has been their home in this country since the war broke out in Europe. They came off in groups of twos and threes. Tears were streaming down their cheeks as they left the liner and went forth into the night. They carried all their luggage in hand satchels and bundles. In their pockets was the scanty savings of two years, bound tightly in chamois bags.

When the members of the crew of the Cecilie had left the vessel it was after midnight. A crew of 30 bluejackets from the Battleship Rhode Island, under Lieutenant H.G. Fuller, landed at the Cecilie’s pier at 10:30 and will be used to replace the evicted Germans on the boat. They will care for the engineering work on the vessel. Captain Pollack treated the federal officers with great courtesy and smiled continually while he was preparing to leave his ship. His attitude toward the newspapermen was altogether different. He refused to talk to reporters and when accosted, the commander asked, “Who are you?” When one of the officers answered him by saying the questioner was a reporter, the captain hurried up the companionway and shouted back over his shoulder, “You can go to blazes.” That was his only comment during the night.

After the men had left the ship the police detail was decided in squads and posted all over the magnificent liner. On the deck the officers suffered from the cold and wind, while in the stokeholes, brother officers endured a terrific heat. Some of the more fortunate ones were assigned to the gorgeous gilded saloons and lounging rooms on the vessel and others had a happy detail in the steward’s department. One officer was assigned to a stateroom turned over for the use of newspapermen and enjoyed solid comfort in the apartment which cost its former occupants, when the Cecilie was in commission $1,200 a week in use.

Berths will be provided for the use of the police officers and deputies while they are on board of the steamer. How long they will remain Marshal Mitchell could not say.

Later in Boston

The refugee German steamer Kronprinzessin Cecilie, built at a cost of $4,500,000, has been rendered useless for months by mutilation of her engines, it was discovered by Capt. John B. Coyle, and engineer of the U.S. Coast Guard service. He reported that his examination of the vessel indicated a deliberate attempt to cripple the liner.

The cylinders of the two high pressure engines, according to information, were found to have been destroyed, in each case, a piece of steel about 3 feet long was cut out of the cylinder, rendering the entire engine inoperative. Because the engines were made in Germany, it was said the mutilated parts could not be duplicated here and only the installation of new engines would make operation of the steamer possible.

A decision was reached to attempt criminal prosecution of those who may be found responsible for the mutilation. The Cecilie through civil suits against her owners which are pending in the Federal courts, was in normal custody of the U.S. Marshal from November 1914, when she came to Boston from Bar Harbor, Maine when Marshal John Mitchell took physical possession of the vessel on the demand of New York banking institutions, which were the libel ants. Federal officials are understood to have agreed that the damage to the steamship constituted an offense against the U.S. under the circumstances of her custody, and the matter was placed in the hands of U.S. District Attorney George Anderson for prosecution.

Captain Coyle’s examination, which was made with great secrecy, did not end the investigation aboard the Cecilie as expert electricians are still at work endeavoring to discover whether any contrivance had been set up that might be used to cause further damage to the vessel. The Cecilie is manned by agents of the federal marshal, her crew having left the ship.

It was learned Capt. Coyle found the gaps in the cylinders, which were hidden by heavy coverings after a mysterious break in a water pipe which flooded the after compartment of the hold and threatened extensive damage to the ship. One of the machinists, a member of the crew, after his removal was said to have remarked that the water piped would give the marshal’s men a lot of trouble.

To find out more about Bar Harbor history, visit www.barharborhistorical.org.

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