This is “Our Past Is Present” from the Geary County Historical Society.
Robert Chew was a native of Junction City and in the spring of 1872 he related to his friends at the “Union” newspaper the story of his miraculous escape from an explosion at sea. He was sleeping in his bunk aboard a steamship, which he boarded at Shreveport, Louisiana. At about twenty minutes to five in the morning the explosion threw him from his bunk and he landed on the floor amidst boiling water and glass. Within twenty minutes the flames increased and had driven everyone from the vessel overboard. Robert spent about two hours in the water before help arrived. Also on board had been the circus troupe of which Robert was one of the proprietors. Unfortunately, none of the animals could be saved. They were all in cages and could not be reached through the flames. Once in the water, Robert and another man were able to cling to a float and drifted for about five miles before they were able to get to a shoreline where they stayed until the “Belle of St. Louis” arrived to pick them up. Robert suffered scalds to his feet and his hands were cut with glass, but he told his friends in Junction City that he was thankful to be alive.