PEORIA — Call it Peoria's version of the sinking of the Titanic. The accident that doomed the Columbia riverboat and 86 passengers in 1918 remains the worst maritime accident ever on the Illinois River.
Most area residents know the story by now: the excursion boat with 500 people on board was returning to Pekin on the night of July 5 when it sank in shallow water near Creve Coeur.
"The Sinking of the Columbia" is told in detail in a special half-hour program that will air on WTVP-TV Channel 47, Peoria's public television outlet, at 7 p.m. on Sunday, June 3.
Peoria storyteller Brian "Fox" Ellis takes viewers through the riverboat saga from start to finish. Ken Zurski, local broadcaster and author of "The Wreck of the Columbia," shares anecdotes and insight about the people and events involved in the tragedy.
Other local views on the Columbia story are provided by Bob Anton, a former riverboat captain, himself, who played Mark Twain for many years on Spirit of Peoria riverboat cruises, local historian Monica Vest Wheeler and outdoorsman Harry Canterbury.
The show brings up little-known elements of the disaster, such as the fact that those who took the moonlight cruise to and from the Al Fresco amusement park that night only got to spend about a half-hour at the park before the bell rang for the return trip to Pekin, according to Wheeler.