Great Lakes researchers identify 3 1800s-era Lake Superior shipwrecks

October 29, 2021
The remains of Dot, a schooner, were discovered by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society this summer.

Researchers at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society in Michigan this summer discovered and identified three shipwrecks that had been underwater for more than 100 years.

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“We have never located so many new wrecks in one season,” said Bruce Lynn, executive director of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. “Each shipwreck has its own story. … These are fantastic, true stories that we can tell in the museum someday.” 

The Whitefish Point-based team of historians, sonar technicians and divers found all three shipwrecks around the vicinity of Grand Marais, located on the south shore of Lake Superior at the eastern entryway to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Aboard the organization’s 50-foot research vessel, David Boyd, the team searched the area where the ships were reported lost, searching 100 miles a day at 9 mph, according to a news release this week.

Here are the stories of the three shipwrecks found by researchers using marine sonic technology to scan the bottom of the lake:

Dot, a schooner

The steamship M.M. Drake was towing the Dot downbound from Marquette with a load of iron ore when the schooner started taking on water. The captain hailed the M.M. Drake, which came alongside his sinking ship and rescued his crew off before it dived for the bottom on Aug. 25, 1883.

The Dot, formerly the Canadian schooner Mary Merritt, was built in St. Catharines, Ontario, in 1865. Her remains rest in more than 350 feet of water. 

Frank W. Wheeler, a schooner-barge

The schooner-barge, Frank W. Wheeler, was being towed by the steamer Kittie M. Forbes on Sept. 29, 1885, when a gale swept across the lake. The ships struggled in worsening conditions for hours and, soon, the Wheeler’s crew realized its ship was sinking.

Capt. William Forbes, owner and captain of the Frank W. Wheeler, signaled his predicament to the Kittie M. Forbes, and the pair of vessels then tried to reach the safety of Grand Island, near present-day Munising.

Forbes soon ordered his men into the lifeboat, and 15 minutes later, his ship sank, bow first. A number of explosions were heard as the ship slipped beneath the waves. The Frank W. Wheeler was built at the West Bay City Shipbuilding Co. and, today, her wreckage lies in more than 600 feet of water. 

Michigan, a schooner-barge

The steamer M.M. Drake – the same vessel which towed the Dot years earlier – was towing the schooner-barge Michigan in the vicinity of Vermilion Point, near Whitefish Point. Both vessels were struggling in rough weather, when the Michigan’s hold began filling with water. 

Within minutes, a massive wave smashed the two vessels together, destroying the M.M. Drake’s smokestack, leaving the ship without steam pressure.

Without power, the Drake soon lost headway and waves swept over her decks. Two nearby steel steamers, the Crescent City and Northern Wave, moved in to rescue the crews of both vessels.

Harry Brown, the Michigan’s cook, was the only casualty in this unusual double sinking on Oct. 2, 1901. The remains of the M.M. Drake were discovered in 1978 by the Shipwreck Society, and her rudder is on exhibit at Whitefish Point. The Michigan’s hull is in 650 feet of water.  

Contact Miriam Marini: [email protected]

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