Lake Superior, The Great Lake of Maritime Mysteries

Graveyard of the Great LakesGraveyard of the Great Lakes PC: Deb Nystrom, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Shipwrecks to ghost ships, Lake Superior tells a story of its own. There are an estimated 550 wrecks in Lake Superior, many of which are still undiscovered. According to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, at least 200 lie along Lake Superior’s Shipwreck Coast, a treacherous 80-Mile stretch of shoreline between Munising and Whitefish Point which has no safe harbor. It is known as the graveyard of the Great Lakes. These Shipwrecks provide a reminder of the lake’s wrath and the lives perished.

Lake Superior Shipwrecks

One of the most famous shipwrecks on Lake Superior is the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald. The ship was lost with her entire crew of 29 men on Lake Superior November 10, 1975, 17 miles north-northwest of Whitefish Point, Michigan. Whitefish Point is the site of the Whitefish Point Light Station and Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. A November storm entered the Great Lakes causing the ship to try to reach the shelter of Whitefish Point. Conflicting theories about the cause of the tragedy remain active today with no conclusive evidence determining the cause of sinking. Expeditions to the wreck revealed that it is likely she submarined bow first into an enormous sea, as forward damage is indicative of a powerful, quick force to the superstructure. It cannot be determined what caused the ship to take on water and dive to the bottom so quickly, without a single cry for help. The bell of the ship is now on display in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum as a memorial to her lost crew.

The Bermuda, a 150-foot wooden schooner, foundered and sank in the spring of 1870 in Murray Bay between Munising and Grand Island. Her top deck is just 12 feet below the water’s surface where she has remained for 128 years. The wreck is in remarkable condition for a shallow water wreck and is a favorite for divers.

Divers on the Smith MooreDivers on the Smith Moore PC: Andy Moore

You can hear some of the history of two other Munising area shipwrecks during the Pictured Rocks Cruises tour. The Smith Moore was a 230-foot wooden steam barge that sank July 13, 1889, while being towed following a collision with another ship. The most dramatic and well-known wreck in the Alger County Preserve, the Smith Moore rests just off Sand Point in about 95 feet of water with her deck at the 85-foot level. She is the most intact wreck in the area, offering experienced divers many hours of underwater exploration. The Superior suffered a tragic loss of over 40 lives when the wooden sidewheeler crashed into the rocky shore of the Pictured Rocks near Spray Falls. It lies only 20 feet below water but very little remains other than the boilers which divers can still explore.

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Shipwrecks and Ghost Ships

An eerie tale follows The Flying Dutchman of Lake Superior—The SS Bannockburn which sank in 1902 while sailing in Lake Superior. There are conflicting theories with some saying she ran a ground and others reported she was stranded on Caribou Island. Legends say Bannockburn – nicknamed as the Flying Dutchman of Lake Superior – can still be seen today, sailing back and forth between Port Austin on the top of Michigan’s Thumb and the Soo Locks of Lake Superior. Within 7 years of her vanishing, the SS Bannockburn picked up a legend: That she was the phantom ship seen cruising along Lake Superior during storms and heavy fog. The Bannockburn has yet to be found.

History of Pictured Rocks in Photos

The Western Reserve shipwreck is about a nightmare that came true. In August of 1892, Benjamin Truedell, a ship’s captain, awoke from a terrible nightmare that their sister ship had sunk in Lake Superior. It was true! The Western Reserve sank sailing across Lake Superior when its mast collapsed onto its deck. It fell beneath the dark Lake Superior seas about 60 miles offshore, taking with it 26 of its 27 occupants. Some say they still see the Reserve sailing the seas of Lake Superior. Voices and laughter are said to be heard during these sightings.

Shipwrecks and Mysteries of Lake Superior

Lake Superior shipwreck debris near a Pictured Rocks beachLake Superior shipwreck debris near a Pictured Rocks beach

Tales of Ghost Ships remain unsolved; what happened to these great ships and their crews; are they still searching for a safe harbor? The maritime history of Lake Superior draws nearly 100,000 visitors each season. The fascinating story of these great ships and their lost crews demonstrates the vastness and fury of Lake Superior.

Explore Lake Superior on a Pictured Rocks Cruise

Pictured Rocks boat tour on Lake SuperiorPictured Rocks boat tour on Lake Superior

If you have the chance to visit Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a Pictured Rocks Cruise out of Munising shouldn’t be missed. These tours offer the only way to experience the full majesty of the lakeshore’s colorful cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and hidden sea caves. You’ll witness the power of Lake Superior and the artistry of nature, creating memories to last a lifetime.