Evening Sun Newsboys Band: Century-old Tragedy Reminds Reporter of the Fragility of Life

BALTIMORE — There are a lot of important things a young fellow never thinks about during his formative years. Little milestones, like learning a musical instrument, or landing his first steady job.

I was 11, when I started cornet lessons at Dickey Hill Elementary. I wasn’t very good on the horn, I’ll admit, but at least I played as best I could. Luckily, band practice didn’t stop me from taking an after school job as a newsboy for The Evening Sun. That didn’t pay much, and to be honest, it wasn’t as fun as playing the horn. But I became increasingly intrigued by the daily output in the papers I delivered.

My horn days aren’t completely over (I’m occasionally asked to blow the shofar for the Jewish High Holidays.) But my fascination with print media has been a lifelong obsession, and it’s one of the reasons I am a journalist today.

I reflected on the above yesterday morning, as I – along with nearly 40 other Baltimore Sunpapers Alumni and friends – gathered at Loudon Park Cemetery in southwest Baltimore, to remember a century-old tragedy.

For those unfamiliar with what happened that dark Independence Day in 1924, former Evening Sun copy desk chief Dave Cohn offered this overview:

The Evening Sun started its Newsboys Band in 1922, when 60 young musicians performed at Baltimore’s Fourth Regiment Armory, under the baton of Frank Morse. Two years later, after giving a concert in Crisfield on the Fourth of July, the Newsboys Band boarded the bay steamer Three Rivers to return home to Baltimore.

“Shortly before midnight, with most of its passengers asleep, the sidewheeler was nearing Cove Point in Calvert County, when a fire broke out.

“Ten people lost their lives that night, including five newsboy musicians. They were:

Walter Millikin, 13, clarinet

Lester Seligman, 15, French horn

Thomas Pilker Jr., 13, piccolo

Nelson Miles, 17, trombone

Vernon Jefferson, 15, saxophone

“All were Baltimoreans, and most lived in working-class southwestern neighborhoods, not far from Loudon Park.

“They are buried under simple stones, in a semi-circle facing a tall granite monument with a bas-relief of a boy playing a flute. The inscription borrows from Longfellow:

‘They have moved a little closer to the Master of all music.’

Evening Sun Newsboys Band memorial credit Jim Burger
The Evening Sun Newsboys Band memorial in Loudon Park Cemetery. (credit Jim Burger)

Dave Cohn later told me the monument — which was erected by The Evening Sun — was unveiled on Memorial Day, May 30, 1925. The paper also placed flowers at the base of the stone for many years. Eventually, time somewhat dimmed the memory of the tragedy, and the wreath layings came to an end. It wasn’t until 30 years ago, that late Evening Sun editor, Ernie Imhoff, began hosting this present July 4th gathering, after discovering the long-forgotten monument.

Of course, no one in attendance knew the deceased band members, or for that matter, ever heard the Newsboys Band perform. I’m no exception, though I suppose in a strange way, I’m something of an heir to their legacy. Still, the gathering offered us a chance to honor the long-passed musicians, along with remembering other lost colleagues, and the five adults who perished on the ship. It also afforded us a chance to share some lighthearted stories, and recall better days in the newspaper business.

Former Sun reporter Joel McCord – a lifelong musician – played taps on his trumpet to conclude the remembrance. Then, after some parting pleasantries, Joel packed up his instrument and headed downtown for a holiday gig. Perhaps not unlike the way the surviving members of the Evening Sun Newsboys Band mourned their five lost friends in 1924, and got back to the business of making music and selling newspapers.

Needing a respite from the heat, I opted for a post-gathering breakfast at the Double-T Diner with former Sun city desk editor David Ettlin. Some of our conversation touched upon our various health concerns. Some centered on the hole left in Ettlin’s life with the passing of his beloved wife: Bonnie Schupp.

After breakfast with Ettlin, I headed to Lorraine Park Cemetery in Woodlawn, for some quiet time with my Dad and Mom. I usually pack a poem with me whenever I visit their graves. Yesterday, we just enjoyed a few moments of silence together.

There are a lot of important things a young fellow never thinks about during his formative years. Little milestones, like learning a musical instrument and landing his first steady job. But, if I’ve only learned one thing since my first horn lesson – and this is most important – it’s that life is ephemeral, and we should all play our instruments as best we can, for as long as we are given.

Evening Sun Newsboys Band. Conductor Frank Morse may be seen on the left. (courtesy Dave Cohn)



Ernie Imhoff

Bob Grover

Jon Franklin

Peter Jay

Karen Hosler

Nancy Ancrum

Bob Benjamin

Frank Somerville

Walter McCardell

Mike Farabaugh


Gerald Fischman, editorial page editor

Rob Hiaasen, assistant editor, columnist and former Baltimore Sun writer

John McNamara, sports editor and copy editor

Rebecca Smith, sales assistant

Wendi Winters, features writer and special publications editor

And lastly, from Dave Cohn:

“The other victims of the fire were James Mack, Evelyn Parker, and Lawrence Truitt, who were passengers, and Elijah Brodgen and Robert Vanmore, who were members of the Three Rivers crew. Most were Baltimoreans. All but Truitt were African-Americans, but more information about them is scarce or non-existent.

“An investigation found that the fire had started in a stateroom occupied by unknown members of the band but could not determine the cause; a cigarette was suspected. The steel hull of the Three Rivers was converted into a barge for the Richmond Cedar Works.

“The Newsboys Band resumed performing in September of 1924. Their last concert was in 1932.”

Evening Sun Newsboys Band memorial. (credit Anthony C. Hayes)
In Memory Of… (credit Anthony C. Hayes)

Copyright 2024 Baltimore Post-Examiner. All Rights Reserved

One thought on “Evening Sun Newsboys Band: Century-old Tragedy Reminds Reporter of the Fragility of Life

  • July 6, 2024 at 9:23 AM

    “…life is ephemeral, and we should all play our instruments as best we can, for as long as we are given.” That resonates with me, as an aging musician trying to retain some degree of competence. And also, in regard to my life in general.

    Thanks for writing this article. The newsboys of the Three Rivers shipwreck deserve to be remembered, especially on a holiday that is otherwise marked by noisy celebration.

    I agree with John Adams’ characterization of the holiday as “the Day of Deliverance [which] ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

    Still, any moment of quiet reflection, in these noisy times, is welcome.


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