In 1890 the S.S. Mississippi was built in Belfast as an private Atlantic Transport ship. In 1898 she was purchased by the U.S. Army for use in the Spanish American War. Renamed the S.S. Buford (after General John Buford, union cavalry hero of Gettysburg) she saw use as a troop transport ship to the Philippines, as a supply vessel in San Francisco following the great quake in 1906, famine relief missions to China, refugee and troop carrier during the Mexican Revolution and as communication hub for Galveston during the great hurricane there in 1915. In World War One she helped evacuate Americans from Europe and then transported troops. Following the war she brought home 4700 soldiers from Europe.
In 1919 she was dubbed the “Red Ark” and transported 249 “undesirables” back to Russia.
In 1921 she rescued 65 passengers and crew from the burning Tokuyo Maru near Tillamook, Oregon.
In 1923, the Buford was sold to John C. Ogden and Fred Linderman of the San Francisco-based Alaskan Siberian Navigation Company. From July 20 to September 8, 1923 the S.S. Buford sailed up from San Francisco to the Arctic. Here is a list of the ports that this aging vessel visited:
Nome, Juneau, Seward, Wrangell Island, Unalaska, Teller, Ketchikan, Pribiloff Island, Skagway, Duncan’s Bay, Swanson’s Bay, Auk Lake, Cordova, Copper River, Akutan whaling station, Dutch Harbor, Salmon Creek, Taku Glacier, Mendenhall Glacier, Spencer Glacier, Miles Glacier and Muir Glacier.
The Buford was actually commanded by Capt. Louis Lane and went 185 miles north of the Arctic Circle. At that time it was the largest ship to enter the Arctic Ocean. The Buford then went on another trip to the South Seas in early 1924.
It was then that the Buford was chartered for three months by silent movie comedian Buster Keaton for use as the principal set of his film “The Mariner” later renamed “The Navigator.” The Buford had been “discovered” by Keaton’s Technical Director Fred Gabourie while scouting for ships for another, outside project, The Sea Hawk.
Released on October 13, 1924, “The Navigator” proved to be Keaton’s most financially successful film and one of his personal favorites. An aging Captain Johnny “Dynamite” O’Brien (seen above with Keaton) partook in the filming of the movie.
After so many adventures and heroic trips, the S.S. Buford sailed on May 11, 1929 from Los Angeles to Yokaham Japan to be scrapped. If she had been a military person, she would have been decorated, but on her final voyage her only decoration was the American flag which fluttered proudly off her stern.
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