Accidents involving vessels are not new to the oceans and seas across the planet. Storms, icebergs, and many other reasons have left thousandsof shipwrecks lying on the seabed. However, it’s just not the oceans and seas where the vessels meet with accidents. Some of the fresh-water bodies around the world have also witnessed a significant number of vessels sinking and resting under the water for years. The Great Lakes of North America is one of such prominent fresh-water bodies.
The Great Lakes, located in North America on the border of Canada–US, form an important internal navigable channel in the Central North American region. Connecting the Atlantic Ocean through the Saint Lawrence River, the Great Lake consists of five water bodies including Lakes Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, and Ontario. Being the largest group of freshwater lakes in the world by total area, the Great Lakes have a history of marine transportation since the 17th century. However, traversing through these water areas isn’t easy and many ships in the past have succumbed and irrevocably lost in their swirling depths.Having the sea-like features such as rolling waves, strong currents and great depths, these water bodies, also known as inland seas, offers a difficult time for sailors when traversing through the region.
Innumerable shipwrecks of such hapless vessels have been discovered in the Great Lakes, which has given rise to the connotation – Shipwrecks of the Great Lakes, with even notable museums established as an educational memorial to these Great Lakes shipwrecks. According to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, the lakes have caused the sinking of around 6,000 ships and the death of 30,000 people. However, historian Mark Thompson, the author of Graveyard of the Lakes has estimated that there are over 25000 shipwrecks on the bottom of the Great Lakes.
With the fascinating stories behind their sinking, some of the shipwrecks in the Great Lakes are now popular diving destinations. Here a list of ten such noteworthy shipwrecks of the Great Lakes.
1. Le Griffon
Le Griffon, a 17th-centurybarque, is one of the greatest mysteries of the Great Lakes. Went missing in Lake Michigan in 1679, Le Griffon is believed to be the first full-sized sailing ship traversed on the upper Great Lakes of North America. However, there have been over twenty claims made of its discovery in the past and most of the claims have been proven wrong. Built by French explorer René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, Le Griffon had reached on an island in Lake Michigan in 1679 after crossing Lake Erie and Lake Huron. During its return trip from the island to Nigeria, the vessel went missing in an area which now known as Green Bay. In 2001, a famous Great Lakes shipwreck hunter Steve Libert claimed the discovery of its wreck in Northern Lake Michigan near Poverty Island. Similarly, in 2014, treasure hunters Kevin Dykstra and Frederick J. Monroe claimed the discovery of the wreck near Frankfort, Michigan.
2. Edmund Fitzgerald
The saga of the vessel Edmund Fitzgerald is one of the most popular recounted Great Lake shipwreckanecdotes. Launched in 1958, Fitzgerald was the largest ship on the Great Lakes, for thirteen years to come, until 1971.The American Great Lakes freighter was fatally wrecked during the winter month of November in the year 1975 on the Lake Superior with all its crew losing their lives.The vessel caught in a severe storm while travelling from Superior, Wisconsin to a steel mill near Detroit and sank in Canadian waters. The wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald was discovered by a U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3 Orion aircraft on November 1975 as laying around 15 miles west of Deadman’s Cove, Ontario. A noteworthy find from the wreckage remains the vessel’s gong, now proudly exhibited in the Shipwreck Museum dedicated especially to such Great Lakes’ casualties and wrecks.
3. Carl D. Bradley
SS Carl D. Bradley, a Great Lakes freighter, was built in 1927 and was known as the “Queen of the Lakes” for next 22 years since it was the longest and largest freighter on the waters of the Great Lakes during the period. This self-unloading freighter which was used as both an icebreaker and a freighter had collided with another vessel, the MV White Rose, in 1957, making damage to its hull. In the next year, the vessel caught in a storm and sank in a Lake Michigan, killing 33 crew members. The sinking of the vessel was caused by the structural damage.The wreck of Carl D. Bradley, laying 360 feet under the water, was discovered in 1959 by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The 282-foot long bulk carrier Fedora was one of the larger class of freighters during that period. The vessel met with a fire accident in 1901 when it was en route to Ashland from Duluth to bring iron ore. One of the stoutest vessels built at its time, the Fedora met its unprecedented fate because of a fire outbreak in its engine cabin right at the start of the 20th century. Though none of the crew aboard the vessel lost their lives, the Fedora soon became a lost cause as it completely drowned into the waters of the Creek Chicago in the Buffalo Bay. The Great Lake shipwreck of the vessel Fedora lies in the depths of the Lake Superior.
5. John B. Cowle
Comes under the Great Lakes bulk freighters known as “tin pans,” the 7-year old John B. Cowlestarted her voyage in 1909 to a disaster. John B. Cowlewas fatally wrecked when another ship collided with it, killing 14 of her 24 crew members abroad. Thick sheets of fog prevented clear visibility which led to the vessels’ collision, though the colliding vessel was instrumental in saving the lives of many of the surviving members from the wrecked Cowle ship. The wreck of the vessel was discovered in 1972 and it is one of the remarkably well-preserved wrecks in the Lake Superior. Immediately after the sinking of John B. Cowle, a second John B. Cowle was put into service in 1910. The second vessel was successfully operated till 1978.
Lost forever to the waters of the Lake Superior, the steamship Vienna went down fatally in September 1892 after jarring against another steamship accidentally coming at her from the opposite direction. Built in 1873, Vienna had witnessed series of accidents during her 19-year career, including a sinking after three years of launching. During the final accident, both the vessels, Vienna and Nipigon, were heavy with a cargo of iron ore. Through the other vessel did try to tug the Vienna to safety, the shoals prevented a successful rescuing operation. The wreck of the vessel was discovered in 1975, laying 120 to 148 feet under the water.
7. Lady Elgin
Lady Elgin, a wooden-hulled steamship, was 1851 built ship and was serving on the Great Lakes as a passenger ship. On September 6, 1860, while returning from Chicago with the members of Milwaukee’s Union Guard after attending campaign speech by Stephen A. Douglas, the 252-foot Lady Elgin faced a strong gale and was rammed by the schooner Augusta of Oswego. Due to the damages caused by the collision, the vessel sank sometime later, resulting in the death of more than 300 people. In 1989, the wreck of the Lady Elgin was discovered off Highwood, Illinois by Harry Zych. The wreck site of Lady Elgin, wherein four main debris of the vessel lying in 50-60 feet of water, has been catalogued by the Underwater Archaeological Society of Chicago.
8. Samuel Mather
The Samuel Mather is yet another example of two vessels colliding against each other in the perilous waters of the Whitefish Bay. While shipping wheat from the port of Duluth, Samuel Mather collided with steamer Brazil on November 1981 early morning due to thick fog in Whitefish Bay, Lake Superior. The entire crew of the Samuel Mather was safely rescued by the steamer Brazil. Currently, the wreck of the Mather lies in 180 feet of water, 18 miles from the harbour of refuge at Whitefish Point. Samuel Mather is one of the most important exploratory and diving subjects for enthusiasts especially on account of its positioning in the water.
9. Prins Willem V
The 258-foot freighter Prins Willem V sank in Lake Michigan on October 1964 after sailing between Europe and the United States for the Orange Line years since 1949. The Dutch freighter capsized three miles off Milwaukee harbour after colliding with Sinclair Oil Company Barge. All crew members abroad the vessel was rescued. Following the accident, there were many attempts to raise the vessel in 1958, 1961 and some after 1965, but all failed. Resting intact on its starboard side at about 80ft, the wreck of Prins Willem V, known as the “Willie” is one of the most popular wrecks in Milwaukee.
10. John M. Osborn
The final vessel in this list of Great Lakes Shipwrecks is the wooden steam barge John M. Osborn, which was wrecked in the Whitefish Point in 1884. Like many of the aforementioned vessels, hazy and misty conditions prevented the know-how about an approaching vessel, causing both John M. Osborn steel-hulled Alberta to collide with the Osborn being wrecked fatally. A few crew members lost their lives in the accident which took place right towards the end of the 19th century. The wreck of the John M. Osborn was discovered 100 years after the accident, in 1984, laying in 165 feet of water in Whitefish Bay of Lake Superior.
A shipwreck museum along with a foundation society to allow enthusiasts to understand more about these wreckages has been established. Through such tangible organisations, a greater widespread reach about the details and the findings of these shipwrecks is hoped to be achieved.