German ship brought WWI to Hancock County

The arrival of a German steamship in August of 1914 provided plenty of excitement for Hancock County residents.

ELLSWORTH — The United States did not enter World War I until April of 1917, but Hancock County “felt a genuine touch of war excitement” almost three years earlier when a big German ship made an unplanned stop in Bar Harbor.

The ship was the Kronprinzessin Cecilie, named after Germany’s crown princess. The ship arrived in Bar Harbor on Aug. 4, 1914, because war had officially broken out in Europe.

Her captain had been told by the German government to seek shelter in a neutral, American port.

The ship had left New York on Aug. 1 bound for England and was “little more than a day’s run from the English coast when the captain received news by wireless that war had been declared,” according to a front-page article in the Aug. 5 edition of The Ellsworth American.

Under orders “to return to America with all haste,” the ship’s captain complied and drove the ship at almost 24 knots.

Passengers, no doubt fearful of meeting the same fate the Titanic did in the same waters only two years earlier, begged the captain to slow down. He opted not to.

In that same edition on its editorial page, the American noted that “the long-predicted catastrophe — a general European war — is a fact.”

The paper labeled the war as a “Titanic struggle,” and noted that while the United States was neutral it would “undoubtedly figure large in the ultimate peace negotiations.”

With war under way in Europe, it was the Kronprinzessin Cecilie that proved most interesting for locals. The ship was carrying some 20 tons of gold bullion (valued at $10.6 million in 1914) and about 26 tons of silver (valued at about $3 million).

Those cargoes prompted the American to label the Cecilie “probably the finest sea prize open to capture,” and it explained the captain’s haste to find a neutral port. The gold and silver was taken off the ship and sent via train to New York, which meant it passed through Hancock County’s shiretown.

“It is safe to say that there was more real money in Ellsworth for a few minutes last Sunday than ever before in the history of the town,” the American reported in its Aug. 12 edition, noting that 40 armed guards accompanied the special train.

“No one here attempted to stop the train,” the paper dryly reported.

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Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

Reporter at The Ellsworth American,
Steve Fuller worked at The Ellsworth American from 2012 to early 2018. He covered the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. A native of Waldo County, he served as editor of Belfast's Republican Journal prior to joining the American. He lives in Orland.
Steve Fuller

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