1899 : Schooner Nelson Sinks In Lake Superior

May 13, 2023 all-day

On Aug. 26, 2014, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society found the lost schooner Nelson, a shipwreck which has lain undisturbed on the bottom of Lake Superior since May 13, 1899, when the ship’s captain watched his family and entire crew perish.

The Nelson was carrying a load of coal when it foundered on May 13, 1899. It, along with the steamer Mary B. Mitchell, was being towed west by Captain White’s steamer when a northwest gale with freezing rain and 50-mph winds forced the trio to reverse course and make for shelter in Whitefish Bay.

At some point, the Nelson’s towline snapped and the ice-laden ship began to sink.

Based on research conducted by Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary historian C. Patrick Labadie, the theory is that coal shifted as the ship was tossed about by angry waves. When the bow dipped, the weight of the coal drove the vessel straight down. Newspaper accounts describe the stern rising abruptly as it sank.

The Nelson tragedy is particularly poignant because its skipper, Captain Andrew Haganey, stayed aboard to lower the lifeboat containing his wife, infant child and the crew of seven. But the sinking ship pulled the still-attached lifeboat down with it.

Haganey drifted ashore on floating wreckage and was nursed back to health at the Deer Park Life-Saving Station, an outpost of the U.S. Coast Guard precursor.

For the full article, see Garret Ellison, “Sunk in a flash: Tragic 1899 shipwreck discovered in Lake Superior”, MLive, September 9, 2014.

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