Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lake Erie's 'Flying Dutchman'

December 7th has been etched into the American consciousness as one of the deadliest days in its maritime history. On December 7th 1941 the Japanese struck the American Naval fleet in Pearl Harbor, an attack that sent both nations headlong into a bloody and culturally changing conflict.

However there was another maritime tragedy that took place on the same date some 32 years earlier.

On December 7th 1909 the at 11 a.m., the Marquette & Bessemer No. 2, a 350-foot-long steel-hulled car ferry, left the port of Conneaut, Ohio with a cargo of rail cars filled to the brim with coal. The heavy laden ship headed north, bound for Port Stanley, Ontario. A notable passanger onboard the Marquette & Bessemer No. 2 was Albert Weis of Erie, the treasurer of the Keystone Fish Company. Weis carried $32,000 in a leather briefcase in order to purchase a Port Stanley fishery for his employers at the Fish Company.

Lake Erie has a long history of being one of the most trecherous of the Great Lake, with powerful storms seemingly to appear out of nowhere.

And as the Marquette & Bessemer No.2 made it way north away from the shores of Ohio, there was a great storm brewing on the horizon.

The blistery winter storm suddenly blew out of the west and slammed mightily onto the Great Lakes with winds that were estimated to have reached at least 90 miles per hour. The storm’s might was so furious that it actually dropped the temperature 45 degrees within a 24 hour time period.

Battered to and fro the Marquette & Bessemer No 2 tried in vain to criss cross the Lake in a doomed attempt to ride out the storm. The frigid assault of the storm and an unfortunate streak of bad luck sealed the fate of the ship and its 31 passangers and crew. The ship, its cargo and crew went to their watery grave in the deep depths of Lake Erie on the evening of December 9th 1909.

Last reported accounts tell that they saw the ship struggle in the waves off Port Stanley, and it seemed to have turned west. It was never seen again. Legend has it that about the time the ship went down the Captain’s wife who was on the Southern Coast of lake Erie at Conneaut that night heard the mournful pathetic blow of the ship’s whistle as it sank beneath the waves.

Three days later on December 12th a lone lifeboat was found washed ashore 15 miles from the city of Erie, Pennyslvania. It contained the frozen bodies of 9 of the crew and one ice encrusted set of clothing from a 10th in a position that that seemed to show whoever had donned the clothing had simply disappeared. The belt was tied, the shirt was in the pants, a coat covered it all in perfect order. To complete the hallow façade of frozen terror, the shoes still had their socks stuck to the inside as if the wearer had filled them when they froze.

Despite the great length of the ship and the shallow depths where it was supposed to have sank, the wreck of the Marquette & Bessemer No 2 has never been found. At more than a hundred meters the ship was as long as a Football field. Few such large ships have eluded devout hunters of sunken ships along the Great Lakes. Despite thousands of dollars by private entrepreneurs and scientists, and hour upon hours of diving expeditions, the site of the ship’s resting place has never been found.

But it seems that since it sank below the icy waves of Lake Erie on that dark December night almost 100 years ago the Marquette & Bessemer No 2 has been seen and heard on multiple occasions.

Many times since its untimely demise sailors have heard the ghostly moaning whistle of the ship when they are the only vessel for miles around. An old fashioned whistle that seems to struggle in a mournful wail that bemoans its fate. Much as the same sound the Captains wife had reportedly heard that December night as the ship gave into the struggle with the pounding waves.

It also seems to be a common occurrence all across the beachfront of Lake Erie in both Pennsylvania and Ohio for a phantom ship to appear on the horizon just for a few minutes before it fades away into a haze. Now ore carriers are still a common site on most of Lake Erie, and it is not unusual to see them slowly crawl across the horizon as you relax on a Lake Erie beach during a hot summer day. But no ore carrier of today has that old configuration and belches dark smoke from two forward smoke stacks. And none of them just fade away into the horizon. The usual beachgoer may be too caught up to take much notice, but I have heard on more than one occasion where someone was taking in the panorama of Lake Erie to simply see a distant ship in the shape of the Marquette & Bessemer No 2 just blink out of existence.

Now these of course could just be visual tricks or hallucinations, but James Donahue in his article “Ghost Ship Marquette & Bessemer No. 2”, relates that “Adding to the mystery is that the wreck has reportedly been seen from the air on clear days. It has been sighted about eight miles northeast of Conneaut, in about 10 fathoms of water. Yet no one has located it by boat.” (

To this day divers of the Great Lakes covet to find the mystery wreck of the Marquette & Bessemer No 2. It has often been hailed as “The Mount Everest of Great Lake shipwrecks”.

But perhaps all these divers and researchers have to do to find the old ship is to sail out in a lonely dark night and wait to hear the mournful wail of the whistle to echo across the Lake’s surface. And if they hear it, perhaps they can track it down to its source. To find the old No2? Or their own chilling fate?

Until Next Time,

Pastor Swope


Jeff said...

Very cool story.

By the way, the temperature here dropped 40 degrees in a bout 12 hours yesterday, without much of a storm at all. It was 71 when I left work yesterday, 31 when I arrived at work today.

cryptid_hunter said...

Cool article, very interesting ghost ship tale. It's astonishing too that the ship has yet to be found in the lake despite numerous attempts and the technology we have today.

What was kind of weird though, about the story, was the mention of the life boat passenger that was missing from his clothig as though he just spontaneously evaporated but no elaboration about that mysterious occurence. Seems the story is missing something, more should have be said about the phenomenon and mystery surrounding that.

cryptidsrus said...

Also second that notion, Swope. Interesting tale, as always. Hopefully this "Flying Dutchman" will give up its secrets.

talthar said...

Love any ghost ship tale. That it took place here in the States makes it more intriguing. And I have to agree that the empty clothes on the lifeboat was the creepiest part. I can't imagine anyone loading the empty clothes like that, so someone had to be wearing them. Did they strip down and jump overboard? We'll never know, but it's just one more piece in a fascinating mystery. Thanks for sharing this one, Swope.

Oh, and am I the only one who hears "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" in the background?

cryptid_hunter said...

There was a show on last night, either History or Discovery channel, about shipwrecks of Lake Eerie. The description I read about the show mentioned what a huge graveyard for ships that the lake it. I didn't get to watch the show as other shows that I watch were on at that time, but did anyone get to see the show and was there mention of ole No. 2?

cryptid_hunter said...

Last night while flipping through the preview guide I noticed a show on eitherHistory or Discovery channel or something that there was a show about "Shipwrecks of Lake Eerie". It came on the same time as one of my favorite shows so I didn't watch it, but did anyone here happen to catch it and see if there was a mention of Ole No. 2??

Church secretary said...

Ok. This is TRULY creepy! Not so much the sinking ship - but the fact that they found the frozen crew members and the "missing" one...spoooooky!

Anonymous said...

What an eerie story - but feasible being on Lake Erie. There's a Memorial Service in Port Stanley for the sailors lost - on Dec. 5/09. Some of the family members will be in attendance.

Anonymous said...

My Great Uncles, Robert and John McLeod were the captain and first mate on this ship. It is interesting to note that there was no mention of money being on the ship until the 1920's (to help sell books?).

Robert McLeod
Darien, IL