The Great Lakes are known for big storms and an estimated 10,000 shipwrecks.
The Storm of 1913 claimed more than a dozen ships and about 250 sailors. Among those were all 25 hands aboard the 525-foot freighter Henry B. Smith, which disappeared on Lake Superior Nov. 10 when the captain underestimated the storm’s ferocity and headed out with a full load of iron ore.
Just a few months shy of the 100th anniversary of the sinking, it appears that one of the most sought-after wrecks of Lake Superior has been found.
“It’s the most satisfying find of my shipwreck-hunting career,” Jerry Eliason, one of a team of local wreck hunters that has located a number of ships, told the Duluth News Tribune.
The group is coy about details, but they say they found a previously undiscovered wreck in May sitting largely intact amid a spilled load of iron ore in about 535 feet of water off Marquette, Mich. All evidence points to it being the Smith.
“It’s a fantastic find,” maritime historian Frederick Stonehouse, who has written about the ship, told the News Tribune. “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.”
Click play for a news report and photos on the finding.
Launched in 1906, the Henry B. Smith “had the reputation of being one of the staunchest steel ships on the lakes, and relatively new,” Stonehouse said.
However, that November brought one of the biggest storms ever recorded on the Great Lakes — by far the most destructive in terms of ships and lives lost, he said.
“No lake master can recall in all his experience a storm of such unprecedented violence with such rapid changes in the direction of the wind and its gusts of such fearful speed,” reads an excerpt from a Lake Carriers' Association report of 1913. “It was unusual and unprecedented, and it may be centuries before such a combination of forces may be experienced again.”
On the evening of Nov. 9, with loading complete, Capt. James Owen decided to leave Marquette, bound for Cleveland.
Sailors on other boats reported seeing deckhands on the Smith as it headed out onto open waters, Stonehouse recounts in his book “Went Missing.” Other witnesses watched the ship make a turn to port, as if Owen had found the storm too strong and decided to head for the lee of the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Then the Smith and its crew of 25 vanished in the maelstrom.