CHRIST, Antonio

From Islapedia

Christ, “Tony the Greek” ( -1908), Avalon, Santa Catalina Island fisherman who disappeared off the Zeus on May 27, 1908 with a camping party who had chartered his boat. It is said Christ had lived on the island for over twenty years ~ since the 1880s.

In the News~

May 28, 1908 [LAH]: “Captain Antonio Christ, or “Tony, the Greek”, as he is familiarly referred to by the tourists and natives of Santa Catalina Island, was one of the most popular boatmen of that famous resort and was known and liked by some of the most prominent persons in the world, who have spent summer months there camping and fishing and who Tony has taken out on various expeditions. Senators, millionaires and wealthy and titled tourists from Europe and the east frequently carried away with them, as a memento of their sojourn on the magic isle, a postcard photo of the able seaman, who had been for over twenty years on the island, and who knew every fishing ground in the vicinity. He was considered one of the most reliable seaman there. He was brave, fearless and trustworthy, and did not know the meaning of the word fear, although he always avoided danger as far as possible when leading an island cruise or expedition as a matter of earnest consideration for his passengers. Tony has had more exciting experiences than almost any boatman on the island, and time and again has experienced narrow escapes from death. is own fishing experiences and those he has witnesses while taking anglers out would fill many interesting volumes. Tony was unmarried. He loved the life of the sea and never seemed natural except when out in one of his small craft beside the Zeus, the ill-fated launch of what is believed was his last voyage. The missing man ad hundreds of friends all over the country and on the island, especially he was loved by all who knew him. He was generous, whole-souled and tried always to make his word good when he gave it. His death, if he was drowned as it now seems, will be mourned by all who knew him.”

May 28, 1908 [LAH]: “Avalon, Santa Catalina, May 27 — Capt. Antonio Christ of the launch Zeus mysteriously missing and believed to be dead. This is but one of the many thrilling incidents and misfortunes characterizing the last voyage of the Zeus, from which Mr. and Mrs. Edward E. Easton, their two children and a maid were rescued at 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon, after one of the most terrible experiences in local history. The fate of Capt. Christ, who was one of the oldest and most able boatmen in Avalon, familiarly known as 'Tony the Greek', may never be known. Dozens of launches and the cruiser Buffalo have been scouring the sea in search of him, but all efforts so far to find him have brought to light only one of the oars of the little skiff in which it now seems certain he has met death. If not drowned he undoubtedly is adrift in the skiff or lying badly injured, perhaps with a broken leg, in some lonely canyon on the southeast end of the island, from where in the darkness of the night, after seeing that he could not reach the Zeus, he may have attempted desperately to walk to Avalon to get aid and thus have fallen from some rocky precipice, perhaps to his death, as frequently has been done here on different parts of the island by men who have journeyed among the mountains after nightfall.

Terrible Hours Adrift

After hourly facing death for two days without water and with only enough food for their 18-months-old baby, to which its mother prayerfully clung through one of the most hazardous adventures on record, and for their little 9-year-old daughter, who sat crying and trembling pitifully during the long days and nights of fog, wind, high swells and impenetrable darkness, as the unpiloted launch drifted and lunged hither and thither among the fearful, foam-capped swells until it seemed at times they would all be capsized or swept from the wave-washed deck into the grim waters of the ocean, Mr. and Mrs. Easton, their two children and maid were rescued at 3:30 o'clock yesterday afternoon by the heroic sailors of the cruiser Buffalo, after one of the bluejackets had met death in the effort to rescue them and another sailor who had jumped in to save him was almost dragged to his death beneath the hull of the Buffalo. Mr. and Mrs. Easton were brought to Avalon and taken to the Hotel Metropole, where, more dead than alive, Mr. Easton was unable to be interviewed, and left word that they should not be disturbed until they had somewhat recovered from their nervous prostration.

Would Sail at Daybreak

Mr. Easton, who is a well known journalist and author, as well as a mining engineer, with offices in the Bradbury building, Los Angeles, left Avalon May 17 with his wife, two children, a negro maid and Capt. Antonio Christ on a camping expedition to San Clemente Island, a semi-barren, mountainous island in the Pacific, forty miles from mainland and about thirty miles southward from Catalina. The party broke camp at San Clemente about 3 o'clock Friday afternoon, May 22, and returned to Catalina Island, where they camped again in Silver Canyon, on the southwest side of the island Friday evening. Sunday, again at 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon, they broke camp in Silver Canyon and boarded the launch Zeus, held in waiting for them by Capt. Christ at the beach near the mouth of the canyon. THe party retired to sleep in the cabin about 9:30 o'clock that night, notifying Capt. Christ to start back to Avalon via Jewfish Point, on the southwest end of the island, at 2 o'clock the next (Monday) morning, and not to disturb them. The sea was unusually rough, and Mr. Easton reasoned that it would be calmer by this hour, and that in starting then they would reach Avalon at a convenient hour in the morning. He asked that the party be awakened just before reaching port.

Discover Boat Adrift

About 4 o'clock in the morning, Mr. Easton was awakened by the terrific laboring of the boat, and emerged from the cabin to inquire of the captain if all was well. Calling out through the darkness he received no answer. The boat was going at a lively clip, and the engine was chugging naturally, but investigation revealed that the captain and a small skiff were missing. The launch, without a guiding hand, was running at full speed through the darkness. What followed the discovery of this startling fact can be better imagined than described. Easton knew absolutely nothing about the engine or mechanical construction of the boat and could not shut off the power. He aroused his wife frantically and all hands dressed and went on deck. Every effort was made to stop the boat, but, not knowing what might result from ignorant manipulation of the engine, Mr. Easton was afraid to bother with it to too great an extent, and was forced to let the launch steam on till fuel was exhausted. The night was impenetrably dark, and there was a heavy fog. None of the party was able to see ten feet ahead, and, not knowing in what direction the boat was steered, their terrible predicament can be imagined. They expected at any moment, until daylight broke, to plunge to their death against some black, perpendicular rock wall or jagged porphyry shoal, such as characterize the shore line of the desolate island; and even after daybreak, which soon followed the discovery of their predicament, the fog was so impenetrable they could see but a few feet ahead of them. It was impossible to know one moment what the next would bring forth, but so far as they could determine they were far out at sea.

Theory of Runaway Launch

What became of the boat's captain is a mystery that may never be solved. Everything was found in perfect order on the deck, the anchor having been drawn up and the rope left uncoiled, indicating that the captain had prepared to start from Silver Canyon as scheduled, while the party was all asleep, and that at last moment he had jumped into the skiff to remove some kelp from the propeller, or to fix something about the rudder of the boat. The theory is that he left the engine running, with the propeller clutch thrown out of gear, and that in some manner, perhaps within a second or two after he had got off, the jar of the engine or the heavy rolling of the sea had thrown the clutch forward into gear and started the launch before the captain could get back aboard. In a few moments it was plunging out to sea so fast that the captain in a skiff could never hope to overtake it. Luckily the launch was so headed that there was no collision with the rocks or shoals, and its passengers lay sleeping, unconscious of their danger, in the darkness of the little cabin. It is believed, however, that Captain Christ made a desperate effort to catch up with the boat and that he met death in his attempts to save the launch from the terrible fate which he must have known threatened the craft and its occupants. Tony, as he was known at the island, was noted as a brave seaman and would not have stood idly by and have watched the boat get away from him into the foggy night and heavy swells. Rowing as rapidly as he could, he followed after it, his friends believe, and was capsized or lost an oar in the terrible race which followed, going to his death like a true hero in the huge swells which were breaking in ominous combers against the black walls of the island. Otherwise he would have returned to Avalon, to where he easily could have walked in a day.

Launch Battles with Sea

All day Monday the passengers of the ill-starred launch strained their eyes unceasingly for land, but without catching a glimpse of so much as a distant sailing vessel or other craft. They hoisted a distress signal to the little mast and sat powerless in the boat, without water and with but enough food for the two crying children, watching the unguided battle of the little craft against the huge swells which momentarily threatened to overwhelm it. The great whitecaps broke over the deck of the vessel until for several hours it seemed that it was liable to be filled and sent to the bottom. The rough swells made every joint and timber in the launch crack and creak continuously. Escaping the great billows which threatened to fill the hold of the vessel, the party were constantly in dread of capsizing, as the frail craft was tossed up and down so violently that during the first day and night it seemed half of the time to be lunching and rocking on end, now up, now down, and leaping about as the cold, heavy winds bore down tempestuously upon it. It was a day and a night the little party will never forget, for the weather could not have crowded more unfavorable conditions into a similar period of time than it did during that hopeless Monday and Tuesday. The wind was terrific after the fog cleared, and during the long night and until late in the morning of both days the fog itself was almost like rain — so wet, chilly and impenetrable that all on board suffered terribly from its effects.

At Mercy of the Sea

What of their clothing was not wet by the fog was fairly drenched by the heavy breakers which dashed about the vessel and continuously washed into every crack and crevice. At night, on account of the heavy fog and clouds, there was no light. Going without food and water to save the lives of their little ones, and not knowing how many days they might be left to drift and starve on the barren ocean desert or what moment they might be drowned, the party experienced every mental and physical torture conceivable, and when rescued were suffering from the cold and exposure. A few hours after Mr. Easton discovered his captain was missing the gasoline in the tank gave out and the boat drifted aimlessly. In this manner, at the mercy of the waves, for almost two days, the Zeus and its party continued drifting.

Seaman is Drowned

Tuesday afternoon at 3 o'clock the lookout on the cruiser Buffalo sighted the drifting craft eight miles southeast San Clemente Island — and, discerning her distress signal — the officer of the deck ordered the ship about and steamed toward her. When close upon the Zeus one of the ship's lifeboats was lowered and several sailors were sent down to effect the rescue. In lowering the boat Seaman C. Hooline, who enlisted at Panama, jumped for a thwart and missed it. He went down, beside the cruiser, into the wind-whipped waters and came up but once, struggling frantically and evidently almost drowned. A comrade jumped overboard and succeeded against great odds in swimming to his side, but the drowning man fought and grappled with him so frantically that his would-be rescuer saw he was in imminent danger of being dragged down under the hull of the cruiser if he did not desist in his efforts to pull him from the water. In the excitement that followed the second sailor had a narrow escape from death and barely managed to get back and crawl into the boat while the others revived him. Other boats were lowered in the effort to save Hooline, but after he had gone down the second time he was not seen again.

Left to the Waves

While the almost crazed passengers of the little Zeus were watching this tragedy another boat was lowered and went to get them. They were taken aboard the cruiser more dead than alive, and there were given every attention in the way of food, clothing and medical attention. The search for the body of Seaman Hooline was continued for some time, but without avail, and finally, leaving him to his grave in the waves, the cruiser returned to Avalon, where they arrived at 5 p.m. with the members of the rescued party and their launch. At Avalon the party was taken to the hotel and there given further medical attention, which the condition of the women and children especially demanded. The launch Zeus was reprovisioned and after being thoroughly examined, having her tanks refilled, left Avalon, almost immediately, in charge of Messrs. Brodie, Trevilla and Witly, to look for Captain Christ. About 5 p.m. today the Zeus returned, after a long and unsuccessful search, and brought with it one of the oars from the skiff in which — as this silent evidence seems to proclaim — brace “Tony the Greek” undoubtedly lost his life trying to save his launch.”

June 1, 1908 [LAH]: “Avalon, May 31. Every hour adds to the mystery of the disappearance and probably death of Antonio Christ, known as ‘Tony the Greek,’ who dropped from sight somewhere in the sea between Santa Catalina Island and San Clemente a week ago. At 5 o’clock tonight the launch Nevada returned to Avalon, bringing the skiff which belonged to the ill-fated boatman and which was picked up in the channel at a point about twelve miles north of Avalon by the tug Redondo Saturday morning. When the boat was picked up the painter was beside the small craft. This is taken to indicate that the boat did not break loose, as has been believed. In the boat when found were some stones, which might have been used as light anchors. This shows the boat had not been capsized. On board the Nevada were Al Shade, John Robarts, Tommy Whitley, Charles Parker and another Avalon man. They have been searching for the boatman several days, but until they put into San Pedro today and learned that the boat had been picked up at Redondo they had no trace of the missing man or any of his belongings. At 2 o’clock last Tuesday afternoon the United States cruiser Buffalo, from Panama to Mare Island, twelve days out, picked up the launch Zeus, drifting helplessly at a point nineteen miles southeast of San Clemente Island. The launch contained Edward E. Easton, his wife, two children and a negress nurse of the little ones. The story told by Mr. Easton was one of great hardship to himself and family, as they had been buffeted by the sea nearly forty-eight hours after the engine stopped. Mr. Easton said they had all retired on the Zeus about 9:30 Sunday evening with the understanding that the boatman was to raise anchor and proceed to Avalon early the next morning. Avalon is about an hour and a half run from Silver Canyon, where the boat was anchored for the night. He said that some time before daylight he was awakened by the heavy pitching of the boat. He shouted to Tony, but received no response. The engine was running and the launch was plunging along in the darkness with no guiding hand at the wheel. Mr. Easton made a search for the boatman and was horrified to find the man was not on board. The anchor had been raised, but the anchor rope had not been coiled. About thirty feet of heavy chain lay on the forward deck of the little craft. The launch's tender was also missing and Mr. Easton frequently expressed the fervent hope that the man might be picked up at sea. Mr. Easton went to the wheel and steered, he says, steadily for the east. They ran for hours without sighting land. Finally the engine stopped and all Mr. Easton's efforts to start it again were of no avail. He believed the fuel was exhausted. This was not the case, however, according to the statement of the Avalon boatmen who went on board the Zeus when the launch was moored after the Buffalo had towed her in. The real cause of the engine stopping, these boatmen say, was that the lubricating oil was exhausted and Mr. Easton did not know how to replenish it or did not know it was essential. Without lubrication the engine ran hot and finally stopped. With the boat adrift Mr. Easton attempted to rig a kedge anchor or to make a float to keep the boat's nose to the weather. In this he practically succeeded and doubtless saved his family from much suffering by the launch falling into the trough of the sea and rolling on her beam ends with every swell. What was placed in this drag is not known beyond the use of a tent which the party had used in camping. This tent was thrown overboard and abandoned when the seamen of the Buffalo sought to lighten the Zeus while under tow. The Buffalo's speed threatened to swamp the launch. An Avalon boatman said today there was half a cord of wood in the Zeus. He could not understand why this was not used in the drag or why the sailors had not jettisoned this when they feared being towed under. In speaking of the tragic fate of Antonio Crist, an Avalon man who is familiar with launches and the ways of the sea said: "We have discussed the affair at great length here, and we are unable to reach any tenable theory of how Tony met his death, for it seems certain he is dead. One thing is certain: if Tony fell overboard while his engine was running and the clutch was in — that is to say, the propeller working — the boat would have come back to him.”