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William Henry Essig

William Henry Essig
William Henry Essig

We have not been able to locate an identifiable photo of William Essig. The image at left was taken aboard the USS Pike (Submarine No. 6) in 1911. Essig was one of three Chief Petty Officers aboard Pike in 1911. We can only hope and assume that William Essig is one of these three men.

He was born in Brooklyn, New York to German emigrant parents. His father, John Jacob Essig 1836 – 1908, and his mother, Henrietta Trauel 1839 – 1909. His birthday is in some confusion. His birth date ranges from March 23, 1882 to June 23, 1884 to March 23, 1886. The 1900 U.S. Census says he was born in 1883. Which was his true date isn't known but what has been placed on his tombstone is March 23, 1886.

He had three older siblings. Mary, born in 1872, Emila born in 1876, Kathrine born in 1879.

Bill Essig proved to be a colorful personality. He was also a known selfless risk taker that saved lives and was nominated for a Carnegie Medal

He claims he began his Navy career at age 15, which would make him born 1885/1886 but the 1900 census says he was 17. He joined the Navy on October 17, 1900. After basic training he was assigned to the brand-new USS Illinois (Battleship No. 7). He claimed that his parents were against his joining the Navy and he faced a possible court martial due to this dispute. At home he claimed that he was a "next door to good-for-nothing" as a youth.

The Illinois, from February 15–28, 1902, served as flagship for Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans during the reception for Prince Albert Wilhelm Heinrich of Prussia. The Illinois departed New York City on April 30, 1902 and arrived at Naples on May 18, where she joined the European Squadron and sailed from the Mediterranean to Norway to the South Atlantic. In May 1907 Bill joined the Submarine Service where he... "took his life in his hands with every dip of the boat and enjoyed the excitement of it."

He became an Electrician's Mate and joined the crew of the Pike. He loved the sea and the life of a submariner. Essig was attached to the Pike when she was involved in the big gasoline fire at Mare Island and the Pike and Grampus (Submarine No. 4) were damaged. In 1909 both submarines were repaired and ready for testing. The Pike was commanded by Lieutenant Kirby B. Crittenden and manned by Chief Machinist Mate F. J. Wilson, Chief Electrician's Mate W. H. Essig, Chief Gunner's Mate R. J. Ryan, and six of the crew.

In August 1911 he was involved in passenger rescue efforts when the liner SS Santa Rosa ran aground at Point Conception and began to break apart. There are conflicting newspaper accounts as to whether he was a crew member of the Santa Rosa or attached to the Pike which had gone to the assistance of the liner. The accounts say that he volunteered to test the makeshift breeches buoy made from a barrel to get passengers ashore. This device saved many lives. He also helped man a raft bringing passengers ashore. He is credited with personally saving 16 lives. He was submitted for the Carnegie Medal Hero Fund for putting his life above others, though this medal is for civilians and not military personnel. So, he may have left the service, at his wife's insistence and later came back to the service.

He became engaged to Miss Margaret Tessie Gill, called Tessie, in April 1911 and they married later that year. If he had left the Navy when he married that soon ended and he returned to active service. Within a year of returning he was assigned to shore duty. He was assigned to recruiting duty in Topeka, Kansas where he shortly makes quite a name for himself. Almost from the start he is written up in the local papers and he and his wife enter into the social life of the city.

On March 27, 1913 he was in charge of a military funeral for a local Topeka man, a former Navy sailor, Earl Sweet, who died of appendicitis. Essig provided a full contingent of sailors for the funeral to act as pallbearers and render a gun salute.

On April 14, 1913 the city of Topeka administered the Oath of Office to William H. Essig, as special police officer of Topeka, Kansas. He was presented to and the appointment confirmed by the city commissioners, Bone, Newland, Porter, Tandy, and Mayor Cofran. This notice was printed in the newspaper's Legal Notices for the city on that date. How he was able to legally do this while still enlisted in the Navy is not known and is highly unusual.

The newspaper's report on May 6, 1913 that Essig had been invited to assist in the launching of the USS H-1 (Submarine No. 28) at Union Iron Works in San Francisco and rode the new submarine on its first dives in the bay.

In June of 1913 Essig is busy gathering and promoting “deep sea" films at the city's Empress Theater in efforts to make the advantages of the U.S. Navy to the youth of the city by displaying films that show the Navy and its ships in a good light.

Just after Christmas the Topeka news reported that Essig was being transferred to Kansas City for recruiting manager there. The newspapers are still calling him the hero of the SS Santa Rosa sinking and hailing his saving of 16 lives. Calling him by a nickname he acquired in California, "the life saving kid". He was to take up his new position on January 1, 1914.

Essig it seems was also a Mason and on March 11, 1914 he took his exams in the Scottish Rite degrees and he is mentioned in the papers as passing. In November of 1914 Bill Essig is back in Topeka for a Masonic reunion before heading back to San Francisco for sea duty. The vessel isn't mentioned but after being shore bound for two years he is probably excited. His wife and son, Robert George Essig who was three years old, left early in October to set up housekeeping.

In one of his newspaper interviews he makes mention of having served aboard the USS F-1 (Submarine No. 20) and the D-2 (Submarine No. 18) and having made record deep dives on both well over 200 feet.

In 1918 Essig is still involved in the Masons and his Topeka Lodge No. 17 A.F. & A.M. presented a banner at a public political rally where the flag was presented. Essig was one of 30 men to support this.

We have no mention of what he did or went during WW I. In 1918 he shows up in a San Francisco city registry as living with his wife Tessie at 3011 Laguna St. About six blocks from today's Moscone Center. He is listed as being an Electrician. They show as living at this same address in 1919. No listing can be found for 1920 but that year would have had him at 20 years active service and eligible to retire if he wanted.

In 1921 they are living at 3276 Buchanan Street right on the corner with Lombard Street, three blocks from today’s Moscone Center. He is still listed as an Electrician.

1922 he is listed in the same residence in San Francisco but in 1923 they are living in Oakland, California at 2252 Rosedale Ave. near the intersection with Santa Rita Street about 2 miles east from the south end of Alameda Island. He is now listed in the city directory as an Electrical Engineer. It seems that he has perhaps retired from Navy life and some place along the line he has picked up an Engineering Degree. In 1924 and 1925 they are still living at this address. We can find no directory for 1926.

1927 finds them living at 2263 41st Ave, Oakland, just around the corner from where they have been living for the past few years. Here he is listed as an Electrician, a fluke maybe that they mis-classified him. The 1928 directory has him listed the same at the same address.

The 1929 city listing now have them back in San Francisco living at 604 Montgomery St. where it intersects with Clay St., right where the Trans America Tower sits today. He is no longer listed as an electrician but working in real estate. Perhaps a stopgap job after maybe having lost his job as an electrician.

By 1930 things begin to look up. He is still working real estate but by April 1930 he has a job working as an engineer at the steam plant at the U.S. Post Office. We can also see the extent of his family. There is son Robert who is 17, daughter Helen K. aged 15, daughter Mary E. age 13, daughter Virginia C. age 7, and son William H. Junior age 7. They have moved from San Francisco back to Oakland.

We lose him now until 1933 when he is in charge on August 17 in organizing the Annual Fleet Reserve Assoc. of Oakland's annual Watermelon Fest and was working on the 2nd Annual "naval picnic" at the La Honda Bowl. We do not pick him up again until 1938. He is living at 4622 Meldon Ave in Oakland, about 14 blocks from his Rosedale Street residence. He is listed as USN but what that means is unclear. Did he get back into the Navy or does it just mean he is a retired vet? His children, Robert, Mary and Helen are living with him.

In 1941 the family are still living at the Meldon Ave address but only daughters Virginia and Mary are there and are working. Bill and Tessie seem to be retired.

In 1943 the Meldon Ave address is still the family home. Son Robert is a Major in the U.S. Army. Daughters Mary and Ellen are all living at home with the parents. William Jr. has also been noted to have been in the Navy also.

Daughter Mary marries on January 19, 1946 to Joseph F Hendrickson. They are married by by the bride's brother Maj. Robert G Essig who is an Army Chaplin.

By 1951 Essig and wife have moved again to 2320 55th Ave in Oakland, between Foothills Blvd. and Bancroft Ave. He is 65 years old and Tessie is 62 years old.

In 1956 they are living in San Leandro, Ca at 1435 McArthur Blvd. That street now parallels the I-580 freeway and is about two miles from the south end of the Oakland airport. On December 1, 1956, William Henry "Bill" Essig passes away. He is buried at the San Francisco National Cemetery, Section Naws Site 889-B. Strangely enough, in 1962, Tessie also passes away on December 1st. She is buried with her husband at the San Francisco National Cemetery.

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