Great Lakes Region

 “No lake master can recall in all his experience a storm of such unprecedented violence … it may be centuries before such a combination of forces may be experienced again.”

– Lake Carriers’ Association Report 1913

 

1913 was a year of extremes for Great Lakes Mariners. That year saw more ore, coal, and grain shipped than ever before. But prosperity came with a price. When the November storm season arrived two major storm fronts collided over the Great Lakes producing blinding snow, 35 foot-high-waves and 90 mile-per-hour winds. 12 ships were lost completely and an estimated 31 were driven ashore by wind and waves. Before it ended, the “White Hurricane” had claimed more than 250 lives. The most losses occurred in Lake Huron where 8 ships sank and 200 sailors died.

Map of the Shipwrecks of the Great 1913 Storm Source: David G. Brown, White Hurricane, 2007

 

  Leafield

The 269-foot, 1,454-ton Leafield was one of several steel freighters built in Sunderland, England as saltwater tramps, then brought to the Great Lakes for the ore and grain trade. The other vessels, Wexford, Scottish Hero, andTurret Chief, would ultimately share a similar fate to the Leafield. While carrying a load of steel railroad rails and equipment across Lake Superior from Sault Ste. Marie to Port Arthur, Leafield grounded on Angus Island near Thunder Cape at the height of the storm. Eventually the monstrous wave of November pulled the ship free of the rocks and out into the lake where it foundered with Captain Charles Baker and 17 of his crew, all from Collingwood, Ontario. Almost at the same time the Leafield was lost, the Scottish Hero was taking a beating on Lake Superior and the Turret Chief grounded on the Keweenaw. Later in the storm the Wexford was lost in lower Lake Huron with all hands.

 

 

Henry B. Smith

The Henry B. Smith was a steel freighter built in 1906 by the American Ship Building Company of Lorain, Ohio. The ship was 525 feet in length and 6,631 tons. The Smith arrived at Marquette on November 6th to take on iron ore but cold weather caused the ore to freeze inside the hopper cars which resulted in a loading delay. On November 9ththe Smith backed away from the dock and witnesses on shore watched the deckhands frantically trying to close the Smith’s hatches. After about 20 minutes, the full force of the gale hit the Smith as huge waves crashed over its deck. Instead of turning to starboard on the usual course for Sault Ste. Marie, the Smith headed north into Lake Superior and into oblivion. Captain James L. Owen and 25 of his crew never returned home. The shipwreck was finally located in May 2013 in 535 feet of water off Marquette.

 

 

 Plymouth

In 1854 noted shipwrights Stephenson & Lafrinier of Ohio City, Ohio launched the 225-foot, 776-ton steamerPlymouth. Three decades later the aging vessel was converted to a 213-foot long, 3 mast schooner barge used primarily in the lumber trade. In 1912 the ship made history by carrying 100,000 seven foot long cedar posts on the Menominee River. A year later Plymouth was being towed by the tug James H. Martin from Menominee bound for Lake Huron. The tug and barge could not make headway against the building storm so the Plymouth anchored in the lee of St. Martins Island at the mouth of Green Bay. When the Martin returned the Plymouth and its crew of seven were nowhere to be found.

 

 

 Argus

The 436-foot long, 4,707-ton steel bulk freighter Lewis Woodruff was launched on August 5, 1905. Built by the American Shipbuilding Company in Lorain, Ohio, for Gilchrist Transportation Company of Cleveland, Woodruff was renamed Argus and sold to the Interlake Steamship Company in 1913. Under the command of Captain Paul Gutch,Argus headed north into Lake Huron during the storm with a load of coal. A little over 13 miles north of Point Aux Barques, Argus succumbed to the waves and went down with all of its 24 crewmen. Argus was discovered by diver Dick Race in 1972 upside down on the lake bottom in 250 feet of water.

 

 

 

 

 James Carruthers

The 550-foot long, 7,862-ton steel bulk freighter James Carruthers was built at Collingwood, Ontario by the Collingwood Shipbuilding Company in 1913. On November 6, 1913, the James Carruthers was loaded with 375,000 bushels of wheat at Fort William, Ontario on Lake Superior. Destined for Midland, Ontario in Georgian Bay,Carruthers was heading through the locks at Sault Ste. Marie when the storm hit. The ship refueled at DeTour on November 9th and entered Lake Huron. A few hours later the ship encountered the full fury of the storm and went down with Captain William H. Wright and his crew of 21 sailors. On Monday, November 10, wreckage from theJames Carruthers began coming ashore near Kincardine and Point Clark. Several bodies of the crew washed ashore as well. Most of the bodies wore life jackets and heavy coats, indicating that they had time to prepare for the disaster. The wreck of the James Carruthers has not yet been located.

 

 

 Hydrus

Sister vessel to the Lewis Woodruff (later renamed Argus), the 436-foot long, 4,737 ton steel bulk freighter R.E. Schuck was built by the the American Shipbuilding Company in Lorain, Ohio in 1903. Schuck was later renamedHydrus. On November 9, 1913 while carrying a load of iron ore through the locks at Sault Ste. Marie immediately behind the James CarruthersHydrus encountered the start of the great storm. Heading southbound towards the St. Clair River and not far into Lake Huron, the ship foundered and sank with Captain John H. Lowe and a crew of 27 on board. The ship has not yet been found.

 

 

 

John A. McGean

The John A. McGean sailed out of Lake Erie with a load of coal bound for Lake Superior. At 2:10 Sunday morning the ship cleared Port Huron and headed into Lake Huron with fresh northwest winds on its bow. A few minutes behind the McGean was the steamer Isaac M. Scott, also headed north. The two vessels hugged the western lakeshore to take advantage of the protective effect of the landmass, but after reaching the Thumb were forced to head straight north into Lake Huron. The steel freighter was only five years old, having been built by the A.M. Shipbuilders Company of Lorain, Ohio, in 1908. It was 432 feet in length and 5,100 tons. Ten miles off Port Hope, the McGean suddenly went to pieces and quickly sank with Captain Chauncey R. Ney and 23 of his crew. The shipwreck was discovered in 1985 in 175 feet of water, upside down on the lake bottom like the Isaac M. Scott and several other storm victims.

 

 

Charles S. Price

 

The 504-foot, 6,322-ton steel bulk freighter Charles S. Price was built in 1910 by the American Shipbuilding Company of Lorain, Ohio. It was hauling coal northbound into Lake Huron when it disappeared somewhere off the Thumb with Captain William A. Black and 27 of his crew. The day following the storm a huge steel freighter was discovered floating belly up, completely coated with ice and without any identifying marks in view. Originally, people assumed the vessel was the Regina, and when Price bodies washed ashore, including one wearing a Regina lifebelt, word spread of a possible collision between the two ships. A hardhat diver inspecting the hulk on November 15th, however, identified it as the Charles S. Price. The shipwreck is located 11 miles southeast of Lexington in 72 feet of water and is still inverted on the lake floor.

 

Regina

Built in Dumbarton, Scotland by A. McMillian & Son, the Regina was a steel package freighter built for the Canada Steamship Lines and home ported in Montreal. Named after Regina, Saskatchewan, the ship was 269 feet long and registered 1,956 tons. On November 9th the Regina was heading north of Sombra, Ontario on Lake Huron when the storm hit. The ship made it to Point Aux Barques but strong head winds forced the ship to turn south. At Harbor Beach the Regina hit a shoal and the crew anchored the distressed vessel east of Lexington. A half hour later the ship capsized and sank, taking Captain Edward H. McConkey and 19 of his crew to the bottom of Lake Huron. NearPort Franks, Ontario, two bodies were found with a capsized lifeboat from Regina and another 10 bodies were found on the beach a short distance away. Sailors initially theorized that the Regina collided with the Charles S. Price, another ship sunk in the storm, as some of the bodies from the Price were apparently wearing lifebelts from the Regina.

 

 

Isaac M. Scott

The 504-foot steel bulk freighter Isaac M. Scott, named after the president of the La Belle Iron Works, was built in 1909 by American Shipbuilding of Lorain, Ohio for the Virginia Steam Ship Company of Cleveland. Commanded by Capt. A. McArthur, the Scott was up bound from Cleveland to Milwaukee carrying coal valued at $22,000. The ship was last seen during the morning of November 9th off Tawas, Michigan south of Thunder Bay just a few hours before the brunt of the storm. The Scott disappeared with 28 lives. One of its lifeboats was found 23 miles north of the Chantrey Island lighthouse, off Southampton, Ontario but no other trace of the vessel was located. The giant steel shipwreck today sits intact though inverted on the lake bottom northeast of Thunder Bay Island.

 

 

 

Wexford

The 250-foot, 2,104-ton Wexford was one of several steel package freighters built in Sunderland, England by William Doxford & Sons. The other vessels, Leafield, Scottish Hero, and Turret Chief, would ultimately share a similar fate to the Wexford in the great storm of 1913. While carrying a load of 96,000 bushels of wheat from Lake Superior, Wexford entered Lake Huron and was nearly to Goderich when it succumbed to the storm. Wexford went down with Captain Bruce Cameron and the entire crew of 20 men. The wreck was discovered on August 25, 2000 sitting intact and upright in 75 feet of water on the lake bottom.

Light Vessel 82

The 95 foot long steel lightship was built in Muskegon, MI, and delivered to Buffalo for lighthouse service during the summer of 1912 at a cost of nearly $50,000.  LV 82 was to temporarily mark the approaches to Buffalo Harbor, which was one of the busiest ports in the world during this era.  While most of the shipping in Buffalo heeded the storm warning issued by the fledgling Weather Bureau, LV 82 was anchored well offshore between Buffalo Harbor and Point Abino when it went missing during the height of the storm, on Monday, Nov 10.  The lightship was the only vessel lost on Lake Erie. Captain Hugh Williams and his crew of five were lost with the ship. The following May, after the ice had broke up and flowed down the Niagara River, LV 82 was found.  The search ship Surveyor came across the wreckage in 62 feet of water, two miles off station.   The ship was raised and salvaged with the hull being re-floated and towed to Detroit where the ship was re-built and fitted as a relief lightship.  Lightships outside Buffalo harbor were later replaced by the building of Canada’s Point Abino Lighthouse in 1918.

 Louisiana

The 267-foot long bulk freighter Louisiana was constructed by Morley and Hill of Marine City, Michigan in 1887. After delivering a load of coal to Milwaukee, the Louisiana sailed for Escanaba, Michigan to pick up a load of iron ore. In the early morning hours of November 8th the ship entered the storm and attempted to take refuge at Washington Island in Green Bay but the heavy seas and howling wind proved too strong for the ship’s anchors. Louisiana ran aground and fire broke out in the cargo forcing the crew to abandon ship. The wreck is now on the National Register of Historic Places and is a popular site for divers.

Experience the Relics and Shipwrecks of 1913

Underwater view of the propeller of the Isaac M. Scott one of the many wrecks found at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Many of the ships lost in 1913 have remained preserved deep below the surface of the Great Lakes. NOAA plays a major role in protecting these relics of the past. The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is a 48-square-mile area of protected territory with one of America’s best-preserved and nationally-significant collections of shipwrecks. Located in northwestern Lake Huron, Thunder Bay is adjacent to one of the most treacherous stretches of water within the Great Lakes system. Unpredictable weather, murky fog banks, sudden gales, and rocky shoals earned the area the name “Shipwreck Alley.” To date, more than 50 shipwrecks have been discovered within the sanctuary including the Issac M. Scott, a 175 foot steel freighter lost in the storm of 1913.

Ship bell recovered from the wreckage of the Regina.

Cold, fresh water is the special ingredient that keeps Thunder Bay’s shipwrecks and their artifacts in a near magical state of preservation. Once removed from this protective environment, however, they immediately begin to decay. Experts in the conservation lab work to slow or stop that process. Rusty metal objects must go through electrolysis, a process that reverses corrosion. To prevent waterlogged wood from falling apart, artifacts are soaked for long periods in a special wax that stops decay and strengthens the piece at the cellular level. Other methods conserve leather, glass, cloth, and even paper. Once artifacts are conserved, they are stored or displayed in environmentally controlled spaces to prevent further deterioration. At the sanctuary, many of these artifacts become part of our exhibits or are loaned to other museums for everyone’s enjoyment.

 

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