November of 1913 saw one of the biggest storms ever recorded on the Great Lakes, a storm so destructive it sank more than a dozen ships and left some 250 sailors dead.
After the storm appeared to wane, Capt. James Owen of the SS Henry B. Smith, which had been safe in the Lake Superior harbor at Marquette, Mich., decided to head to Cleveland to deliver the ship's load of iron ore.
The ship never made it to its destination.
“The lake was still rolling, but there seemed to be a lull in the wind, the velocity having dropped to 32 mph,” shipwreck expert and University of Minnesota Duluth professor Julius Wolff wrote in “Lake Superior Shipwrecks.” “The gale already had hit the Soo [Locks] with winds more than 50 mph for 36 hours and should have blown itself out. But this was no conventional storm. In taking his vessel out of the safety of Marquette Harbor, Captain James Owen sailed into eternity.”
The fate of the ghost ship and its crew of 25 has remained a mystery to Great Lakes historians and the shipwreck set. Until now, that is, reports the Duluth News Tribune.
Almost 100 years later, a group of shipwreck hunters has found a sunken vessel in 535 feet of water offshore from Marquette; all indications suggest that it’s the Smith.
“It’s the most satisfying find of my shipwreck-hunting career,” said Jerry Eliason, part of the group that found the ship.
“It’s a fantastic find,” said maritime historian Frederick Stonehouse, who has written about the Smith. “I’m excited at the opportunity to look at the video and see if we can learn the cause of the wreck, to write the final chapter of the ship.”
Eliason has been vague about the precise methodology used to find the wreck, but says that they pinpointed a specific area to search and located the Smith just 20 minutes after dropping the sonar unit into the water — an astonishing feat, given the expansiveness of the lake.
But that 20 minutes was preceded by years of research and a tremendous amount of raw data that was processed through specialized software. (Eliason’s wife, Karen, is a software engineer and helped with the efforts.)
“A number of wrecks we’ve found have been over the span of 20 years searching, multiple times a year,” said Kraig Smith, who is also on the team. “Going and finding a wreck 20-some miles offshore in the span of a couple hours is extraordinary.”
“This was a gift from the lake gods,” Eliason said.
Related shipwreck stories on MNN:
- 7 infamous shipwrecks
- Unknown 19th-century shipwreck found in Lake Michigan
- Scientists crack open beer from 1800s shipwreck