The waters of the Great Lakes have been crossed by ships since the 17th century. Thousands of ships sank and many of them have mysteriously disappeared into the depths of the water and have never been found. That is why the exact number of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes is unknown. It is estimated, however, that around 6000 ships sank into their waters, but their total number could be over 25,000.
Lake Michigan had many shipwrecks. Arguably the most famous recorded disaster was the sinking of Westmoreland, on December 7, 1854. The wreck was found only in 2010, 155 years after the sinking episode; it is preserved in excellent condition.
Prior to the invention of the radar, the Straits of Mackinac used to be a particularly dangerous navigation road. Ships were at the mercy of the nature that often used to send unpredictable storms, currents, fog, shallow areas and rocky meadows. A number of ships have met their resignation, trying to get through this poor canal – so many, in fact, that there has been created an underwater reservation, known as Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve, which contains 12 marked shipwrecks, including the three below.
Sandusky is the name of the oldest known ship in the Straits of Mackinac Preserve. It headed from Chicago to Buffalo with a cereal cargo, in September 1856, but it was hit by a violent storm, it sunk and everybody on board died. In June 1871, Maitland carried a cargo of corn from Chicago to Buffalo, but it collided with two other ships and the impact made it sunk. The crew managed to jump into their boat and no life was lost. In 1909, Eber Ward, a 213-foot wooden cart, came out of Chicago, took a corn cargo in Milwaukee and headed for Huron Harbor, but a collision with ice made it sink in 10 minutes, killing five crew members.
Today, crossing the Straits of Mackinac is not a problem anymore, thanks to the advanced radar technology we have and the glaciers-ships designed to pass through the ice breaking it, so that other boats can pass safely.
Over the time, more than 800 boats have been eaten by the huge and unusual waves of this capricious lake. It is estimated that Lake Erie hides the most shipwrecks in the Great Lakes.
The waters of this lake shelter the Sweepstakes, considered to be one of the world’s finest and best preserved shipwrecks. The ship sank in 1885 and is in perfect condition today. It is only 6 meters under water and is often visited by tourists in boat tours, diving sessions or snorkeling.
The British ship known as “The Manasoo” sank 90 years ago because it is said to have been cursed. After decades, its wreck was located in Lake Huron, and it would seem that many of the precious goods with which it was loaded are still on board.
For 100 years, Henry B. Smith was considered a ghost ship. It sank during a violent storm in 1913 with a crew of 25 people on board, nobody survived and the ship was not found despite the efforts. Only recently, after 100 years, a group of wreck hunting divers found the vessel in the waters of Lake Superior, adding its name to the number of known shipwrecks in the Great Lakes.
Some artists have captured the history of these famous ships by producing maritime art that is beautiful and reflects the details of these vessels.