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  • Writer's picturePatti Callahan Henry

SS Pulaski, 'Savannah’s Titanic,' explored in new exhibit from Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum

For Do Savannah

On the night of June 14, 1838, more than 120 people lost their lives in one of the greatest disasters to befall Savannahians. The true story has rarely been told. A new exhibit from the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum hopes to change that.

“Rising to the Surface: A Summoning of Savannah’s Titanic” explores the tragedy of the SS Pulaski explosion off the coast of North Carolina.

The ship was enroute to Baltimore, MD from Savannah and lost nearly two thirds of its passengers after its starboard boiler exploded around 11 p.m. The disaster killed wealthy businessmen and families from Savannah and Charleston, along with enslaved people, seamen, and a former U.S. Congressman.

Though it had a major impact at the time, the maritime disaster is rarely explored in the retelling of area history. That is until the wreckage was discovered by divers in 2018, bringing the legend of the disaster to the surface once more.

“Discovering untold stories is like having a great secret whispered in your ear,” shared best-selling author and story-teller Patti Callahan. “And this story is one of those secrets.”

"Rising to the Surface” will open at Ships of the Sea on Friday with a special reception and lecture series at 6 p.m., during which Callahan will recount the story of what is known about that fateful night.

She'll be joined by shipwreck hunter Micah Eldred, who will reveal the real-life story of how his team discovered the wreckage, and have worked to solve one of the country’s most enduring maritime mysteries.

“Patti and Micah’s input has been integral to the ‘Rising to the Surface’ exhibition,” shared Wendy Melton, Interim Executive Director and Curator of Exhibits and Education at the museum.

Patti Callahan Photo credit: Bud Johnson Photography

"Since the Titanic sank in 1912, the Pulaski has been known as the ‘Titanic of the South’ in maritime circles. Incorporating some of Patti’s research and Micah’s artifacts helped us create a richly-layered exhibit that brings the tragic story back to life," Melton added.

Upon first hearing of the SS Pulaski, Callahan undertook intense research and utilized materials from Ships of the Sea and the Georgia Historical Society which inspired her latest historical novel, “Surviving Savannah.”

The novel tells the story of a real family who was aboard the steamship that tragic night. Just three weeks into writing the novel, Callahan got word that Eldred and his team discovered the actual ship 30 miles off the coast of North Carolina.

Since then, Callahan and Eldred have spoken about their experiences numerous times, and together, offer a full picture of the SS Pulaski, past and present, organizers shared.

Thanks to their work and research, the new exhibit will shine a light on a forgotten corner of Savannah history, one that lay just below the surface for nearly two centuries.

Discover more at


WHAT: Rising to the Surface: A Summoning of Savannah’s Titanic

WHEN: Opening reception lecture series; Friday at 6 p.m.

WHERE: Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum

COST: $25

About Surviving Savannah

SUMMARY It was called "The Titanic of the South." The luxury steamship sank in 1838 with Savannah's elite on board; through time, their fates were forgotten--until the wreck was found, and now their story is finally being told in this breathtaking novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Becoming Mrs. Lewis. When Savannah history professor Everly Winthrop is asked to guest-curate a new museum collection focusing on artifacts recovered from the steamship Pulaski, she's shocked. The ship sank after a boiler explosion in 1838, and the wreckage was just discovered, 180 years later. Everly can't resist the opportunity to try to solve some of the mysteries and myths surrounding the devastating night of its sinking.

Everly's research leads her to the astounding history of a family of eleven who boarded the Pulaski together, and the extraordinary stories of two women from this family: a known survivor, Augusta Longstreet, and her niece, Lilly Forsyth, who was never found, along with her child. These aristocratic women were part of Savannah's society, but when the ship exploded, each was faced with difficult and heartbreaking decisions. This is a moving and powerful exploration of what women will do to endure in the face of tragedy, the role fate plays, and the myriad ways we survive the surviving.

Book Club Kit Paperback: 432 pages Publisher: Berkley Pub Date: April 5, 2022 ISBN-10: 1984803751 ISBN-13: 978-1984803757 Formats: Paperback, Hardcover, e-book, Audiobook

Check out the wealth of information and resources for your next book club:

  • Letter from the Author

  • A Conversation with Patti

  • The Long Street Family Tree

  • Map of Ship's Course

  • Artifacts

  • Who Perished & Survived

  • Timeline

  • Loss of Pulaski

  • Discussion Questions

  • Recipe

Check out more of Patti's Events & Appearances for the summer and fall, HERE!

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Dec 13, 2022

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Unknown member
Jul 11, 2022

On that tragic night, a real family was on phrazle board the steamship, and the novel tells their story. A mere 30 miles off the coast of North Carolina, Eldred and his team discovered the actual ship just three weeks after Callahan began writing his novel.

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