When you think of historic Lake Superior Shipwrecks, most think of The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald. It's no doubt the most recent and deadly shipwreck on Lake Superior. But did you know there have been hundreds of shipwrecks? Some of them even took place right outside of the Aerial Lift Bridge!
The Henry B. Smith made way from Marquette Michigan on November 9th, 1913 with a load of iron ore. Plagued by delays all year, the captain was under pressure to make the delivery on time. He left the harbor in the lull of a gale. Shortly after leaving, the storm picked up again, and the ship was never seen again. The storm became known as the Great lakes Storm of 1913, where over a dozen ships sank and 250 sailors lost their lives on the Great Lakes.
No, we're not talking about the Pilgram's boat. This was schooner carrying sandstone for the construction of Duluth's High School. The ship lowered it's sails in a storm, broached and capsized just outside of Duluth. Three crew members were saved, but the Captain drowned.
In 1914, The Benjamin Noble was grossly overloaded with a cargo of railrod rails, but the young captain didn't want to complain and lose his commission. The ship was so low in the water, that they couldn't raise the anchors all the way on their way out of port. The captain hugged the shore on the way to Duluth, but after crossing Devil's Island, Lake Superior's winds took the best of her. Eyewitness reports vary on what happened next. A lighthouse keeper in Two Harbors reported waving off an unidentified ship trying to enter port twice. Pieces of wreckage from the Benjamin Noble were soon after found washed up on the shore of Park Point.
One of the more recent shipwrecks was the Henry Steinbrenner, which sank in 1953. The ship left Superior, Wisconsin on the way to Lake Eerie steel mills. The weather in the morning was favorable, but storms were predicted later in the day. Around 8pm, one of the leaves of a hatch worked loose and allowed water in. Crews were able to repair it, but soon the weather turned even worse with 80 MPH winds causing it to be unsafe for crew to work on the deck. Hatches blew open and water began pouring in. Soon it was apparent that the ship would sink. Confusion led to some men unable to make their way into lifeboats and falling overboard. Few survivors were rescued by nearby ships, but 17 men lost their lives. This incident led to new regulations on how hatches were built and refitted on other ships.
This is probably the most significant shipwreck that happened near Duluth. In fact it happened right outside of the Ariel Lift Bridge in 1902. The Thomas Wilson was a whaleback freighter that collided with another ship, the George Hadley. The Hadley was coming into port, and the Thomas Wilson was leaving the port. The inbound ship (George Hadley) was directed to the Superior Entry and turned to port. The Thomas Wilson was worried about running aground and unsure of the intentions of the other ship. They turned to starboard in a fatal mistake. The George Hadley collided with the Thomas Wilson striking it just forward of the aft hatch. The Thomas Wilson sank in under 3 minutes! 9 crew members drowned in the accident.
This tragedy led to new rules that are still in use today:
Ships cannot leave the harbor with open hatches.
Ships may not pull out from another ship following a collision.
Pilots may not carry out any order given by the captain when another vessel is sighted without first calling the captain's attention to the other vessel.
All ships must be equipped with signal systems to all parts of the vessel to warn of danger
When I first began researching this, I thought I would only find a handful of fascinating shipwreck stories. I was wrong. There are many more on Lake Superior alone, and if you expand to the other Great Lakes there are dozens more. I hope in the future to highlight some of the other historic wrecks.