| All over the
Great Lakes, wooden schooners were colliding, breaking away and
sinking. Others were destroyed by fire. Actually, it wasn't usually
the dark, stormy nights, but the inexperienced crews that caused
most of the shipping accidents in the late 1800s.
and terrific rescues occurred throughout the shipping season
across Lake Superior. Wrecks were most numerous off the Keweenaw
Peninsula in Upper Michigan, at ports, and in the waters surrounding
Isle Royale. Much of the shipping traffic along the North Shore
included passengers as well as cargo, since no roadways existed
northeast out of Duluth.
The Lake Superior
Maritime Center, Split Rock Historical Center and the North Shore
Fishing Museum in Tofte offer displays, exhibits and videos on
Lake Superior's shipping activity. The quintessential shipwreck
reference is Dr. Julius Wolff's The Shipwrecks of Lake Superior.
A half mile off the piers, the Hadley was directed by the tug Annie L. Smith
to enter the Superior harbor. The Hadley captain changed course
to the left without blowing the required whistle signals or noticing the Wilson coming down the canal. The Wilson captain attempted a starboard (right) turn, since a port turn would have stranded the ship. Neither captain was able to turn sharply enough. Hadley's wooden prow drove hard into the whaleback's steel side. Within three minutes, the Wilson rolled, tipped bow (front) down and dove to Superior's bottom, taking nine men with
her. The Hadley rescued the remaining
Wilson crew before staggering off to the sandy beach south of the canal where she sank. The Hadley crew and Wilson survivors made it
to shore safely. Any remnants of the Hadley and Wilson remain today on the
The Wreck of the Hadley & Wilson
7, 1902 - Duluth
Major shipwrecks and numerous fires, collisions and sinkings took place in the vicinity of the Duluth harbor. One of the two worst wrecks in Duluth history happened on June 7, 1902. The morning was calm and clear as the 288-foot wooden ship George G. Hadley steamed inbound toward the Duluth Ship Canal. Meanwhile the 308-foot steel whaleback Thomas Wilson steamed out of the harbor into the canal(Remember only the canal existed; no bridge had been erected yet.)
The towline either broke or was cast off too soon, and the 200-foot Ely was rammed first into
a docked scow, then the western breakwall. As the tug Ella
approached, the Ely began breaking up. The tug was
able to retrieve the crew and two men from the scow. The Ely settled to the harbor
bottom and eventually became part of the new western breakwater.
In 1962 divers found the Ely in about 30 feet of
water. Since she was well preserved, they started a diving service
that took folks to the wreck and allowed divers to keep one set
of dishes. A skeptical journalist made the dive, collected his
set of dishes and exposed the service for planting dishes from
Goodwill onboard the Ely. The diving service quickly
folded, but the Ely remains one of the most-visited
wrecks, safe within the harbor refuge.
||The Wreck of the Ely (& Hesper)
30, 1896 - Two Harbors
The port of Two Harbors has had its share of beachings and accidents, too. The most famous incident took place October 30, 1896. A Duluth cargo freighter, the Hesper, was towing a converted three-masted schooner, the Samuel P. Ely to Two Harbors. Both vessels withstood the roaring squall and entered the harbor.
The Hesper's luck held for the
next eight an a half years. Then the 250-foot wooden steamer
was driven off course during a spring nor'easter on May 3, 1905.
Waves from the 60-mile-an-hour winds hurled the Hesper onto a reef southwest
of present-day Silver Bay. Another wave hoisted the steamer over
the reef, dropped her and smashed her to bits in 42 feet of water.
The crew was able to save themselves on lifeboats.
About 3:00 A.M. the towline parted. The unpowered Madeira floundered and crashed
into the craggy rock shores of Gold Island, near modern day Split
Rock Lighthouse. As the barge broke in two, nine of the ten crew
made it safely to shore. One man died. At about the same time,
the Edenborn was whipped into the
mouth of the Split Rock River. With her bow driven into the wooded
shoreline, her stern in the lake, and the waves pounding, the
Edenborn split in two. One
crew member perished. The Edna G. provided life saving
services to both crews.
||The Wreck of the Madeira &
Edenborn and the Lafayette & Manila
28, 1905 - Near modern day Split Rock Lighthouse & Lafayette
One blizzard cost the Pittsburgh Steamship Company two men and four ships. On November 28, 1905, the 478-foot iron ore carrier William Edenborn was towing the 436-foot barge Madeira in the early-morning hours of the storm.
Twenty miles to the southwest, two sister ships were experiencing
similar fates. The steel steamer Lafayette was towing the 436-foot
barge Manila. Darkness and ceaseless
sheets of snow combined for zero visibility. The captain had
no idea where they were until he heard breakers hitting shore
on the starboard side. A few moments after this realization,
waves smashed the 454-foot Lafayette into massive rocks
fifty feet offshore. With no time to react, the Manila drove into the Lafayette's stern, busting her
in two in minutes. Both crews made it safely to shore. The cliff
the ships rammed into has been named Lafayette Bluff, (the site
of the northeastern tunnel on Highway 61). The casualties and
wrecks of this storm precipitated the building of the lighthouse
at Split Rock.
||Modern Day Wrecks
Emperor aJune 4, 1947
Steinbrenner a May 11, 1953
Edmund Fitzgerald a November 10, 1975
Mesquite - December 4, 1989
Since 1930, only seventeen major ships have been lost. The loss of the iron ore carrier Emperor on the dawn of June 4, 1947 was a shock.
Rounding the northwest end of Isle Royale in near zero visibility, the 525-foot, 4,641 ton-steamer smashed into Canoe Rocks with such terrific impact that she split at Hatch No. 4. A Coast Guard cutter four miles away responded to the first SOS, saving twenty one sailors. Twelve men drowned and the Emperor sunk to depths of 140 to 180 feet.
Seventeen more lives were lost when 427-foot Henry Steinbrenner went down May 11, 1953. The iron ore carrier had left Duluth on Saturday, May 9 under sunny 78 F skies. Sunday temps rose to 65 F, but by evening incredible gales gusting up to 72 miles per hour created 19-foot high waves. During the night, temperatures dropped, blinding snow came up and gale winds ripped off three sternward hatch covers. At 6:30 A.M., she foundered. Distress signals brought in other ships, which rescued fourteen crew members aboard three life vessels.
The Steinbrenner was the last of the North Shore wrecks. On November 10, 1975 the world was astonished by the loss of the Fitz. Seventeen miles from Whitefish Point, Michigan, the 729-foot Edmund Fitzgerald vanished at sea amidst hurricane winds and a magnificent storm. All twenty nine crew members and the eight-million-dollar ship were lost. Superior's latest claim was the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Mesquite on December 4, 1989 off Keweenaw Point, Michigan. Shipwrecks are not a thing of the past.
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