Lake Michigan Shipwrecks

Lake Michigan Shipwrecks - Chicago


To say Lake Michigan is a large body of water is an understatement… it is HUGE!!  While many of us know the Lake for its blue waters and sandy beaches, the lake has a dark side.  Like an ocean, Lake Michigan is unpredictable, dangerous, and unforgiving.  It is estimated that the lake is home to ~1,500 shipwrecks (holy smokes, that is a lot).  Below are 4 of the more famous shipwrecks on Lake Michigan.  Do NOT underestimate the power of our beautiful lake.


The sinking of Lady Elgin in 1860 resulted in the most open water deaths in the history of the Great Lakes.  During a strong storm, the 252-foot steamship was rammed by a smaller vessel, the 129-foot Augusta.  

Shortly after the collision the crew tried to lighten the load aboard Lady Elgin by pushing 50 cows off the ship in addition to heavy appliances.  The ship had a lifeboat but it was not secured after being lowered into the water and it floated away from the ship with no passengers aboard.  

As a result of this tragedy, over 300 people lost their lives.  A law was passed shortly thereafter mandating that all ships crossing the Great Lakes must have running lights.  The remains for the shipwreck were discovered in 1989 a few miles off the coast of Illinois.  

2) SS Carl D. Bradley

Ok, this story is pretty wild.  The SS Carl D. Bradley was this huge ship, 639 feet to be exact.  In fact, it was so big that between 1927 and 1949, it was the largest ship on the great lakes.  Then, in 1957, the SS Carl D. Bradley collided with another ship while maneuvering on the St. Clair River. It was this collision in 1957 that is believed to have led to the downfall of the ship in 1958.

In 1958, the SS Carl D. Bradley gets stuck in a gale-force storm, with winds hitting 65 mph and waves 20 feet tall!  The previous damage from 1957 is exposed and the hull of the ship ends up splitting in 2.  There were only 2 survivors of the 35 person crew.

3) Alpena

No story speaks better to the unpredictability of Lake Michigan than the Alpena.  The Alpena was a steamboat that often carried passengers and supplies in and out of Chicago.  In 1880, the ship left Grand Haven, MI with passengers and cargo destined for Chicago.  

When the ship left Michigan, the weather was calm with temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s.  Then a storm hit that would come to be called “The Big Blow”.  A few hours into the trip, the temperature dropped below 0 and gale-force winds with ice and snow began pounding the lake.  

The Alpena did not stand a chance.  Over 90 ships went down during this storm.  The remains from the Alpena have never been found.

4) Rouse Simmons

This story starts pretty normal.  In 1912, Rouse Simmons was an older ship in need of repairs.  Then, it gets caught in a nasty storm that sinks the ship to the bottom of Lake Michigan.  What makes this story unique is the cargo that was on board.

The Rouse Simmons was best known for selling Christmas trees off of its deck in Chicago.  On the day it got caught in a nasty storm, it was on its way to Chicago with a load of fresh Christmas trees recently harvested from Northern Michigan.  In the weeks following the shipwreck, Christmas trees continued to wash up on shore in various locations - that must have been an interesting sight.


Learn more about Lake Michigan shipwrecks


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