top of page

Remember when that dude tried to sink the Belle of Louisville?

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

...No, because it happened in 1997 when I was 3 years old.

I was perusing the 'louisville's past' Facebook group where I came across some unbelievable photos of the Belle of Louisville almost halfway submerged in the river. For a moment I was afraid this was happening in present time; I couldn't believe the steamboat could be recovered after that point!

It happened on August 24, 1997 when crowds of onlookers gathered to watch as the Belle of Louisville began to become submerged below the surface of the Ohio River. After the Coast Guard was summoned to the scene, it was determined that an open valve was to blame for flooding the interior of the vessel's engine room at a rate of more than sixty gallons of water a second. The Belle was successfully repaired and restored fairly quickly, and was back to her old self in no time.

The rest of the story revolves around a man named Brennan James Callan. At the time, Brennen was a student at the University of Louisville working as a seasonal employee in the engine room of the Belle of Louisville. Investigators claim that Callan became disgruntled when he was not rehired at the beginning of the next season in 1994. It was alleged that Callan had slipped onto the boat on an August 1997 night, intentionally opening the engine room valve. He could be seen the following day outside the sinking ship conversing with fellow onlookers and even appearing on camera for interviews. He was charged by investigators in April 1998.

Although Brennan Callan was officially convicted in 1999 and sentenced to two and a half years jail time, he still claims his innocence to this day. The majority of evidence in his case was circumstantial; no hard evidence such as fingerprints, DNA, or eyewitness accounts were presented against him, although he did refuse to take the stand to reveal his whereabouts that night.

Callan admittedly denies these accusations to this day. He suggested a child or even another crew member may have opened the valve during the previous night's tour.

"I had no motive, no ambition, I had not reasons to harm the vessel."

He later attempted to appeal the conviction but was unsuccessful.

Brennan Callan has been all over the place for the last twenty years. Nowadays, he can be found working in the film industry with a surprisingly fleshed out IMDb page. He also recently filed a lawsuit against Louisville Metro government in an attempt to prevent a Confederate monument statue in Louisville to be relocated to Brandenburg, Kentucky, but was unsuccessful. He is head of the Kentuckiana Cinematography Club and is also apparently a certified underwater archaeologist! There's all kinds of interesting information listed on his early 2000's-era relic of a website.

Whether or not Brennan Callan attempted to sink the Belle of Louisville, I have to give him credit for his ambition. At the very least, we can all agree that it's for the best the historic steamboat survived so it can continue being the gem of Louisville's waterfront for years to come.


Man Convicted in Steamboat Sinking - AP News - Feb 18, 1999

The day the Belle of Louisville sank - WHAS 11 - Aug 7, 2017

20 years ago today, the Belle of Louisville sankCourier Journal - Aug 24, 2017

Brennan James Callan Biography - IMBd


If you value Louisville & Kentucky-centric content such as this, please consider taking a moment to support Beargrass Thunder. You can do so by supporting us on Patreon, subscribing to our YouTube channel, 'liking' our Facebook page, and most importantly, sharing this article or video with friends and family. Your support means we can continue creating content and advocating for our environment.

1,670 views0 comments

Related Posts

See All
bottom of page