Largest Marine Catastrophe on the Great Lakes
Much attention has been paid to the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald on November 10, 1975. The loss of the largest ships in the Laker fleet and 29 lives was a horrific event. However, the most savage storm in the history of the Great Lakes swept the inland waters on November 7-12, 1913 resulting in much greater loss of life. Combined of the forces of two storm fronts colliding with hurricane force bringing monstrous waves and driving snow and ice that doomed anyone caught out on the big lake. The greatest losses in lives and ships occurred on Lake Huron where 24 vessels were lost or severely damaged. 10 ships went to the bottom of the lake.
On November 8, 1913, the Weather Bureau reported a severe storm centered over the entire lake region. The forecast was that “the wind will shift to the northwest on Huron sometime this afternoon or early tonight, and will attain about 50-mile speed on the open lake, especially on the northern half.”
Massive Storm Hits Michigan’s Thumb
The storm swept down and fastened its grip on the Thumb area on Sunday afternoon, November 9. Towards evening the wind grew in velocity and streetcars in Port Huron were stopped in their tracks by huge snow drifts. The lightship, believed to be so securely moored as to be proof against all storms, was torn away from its fastenings and lifted over to the Canadian side, where it was stranded.
First Freighters Hit By Storm
On Lake Huron, big freighters were tossed about by winds blowing from seventy-five to eighty miles an hour. One of these steamers was the Charles S. Price which received more space on the front pages of newspapers than any other ship. On Saturday morning, the Price, laden with soft coal, left Ashtabula, Ohio. When the freighter passed the town of St. Clair before dawn on Sunday morning, November 9, Second Mate Howard Mackley gave a short blast of the whistle as a signal to his young bride that he was passing and in reply, she turned on an upstairs light in their home. By dawn, the Price was making its way up to Lake Huron. About noon Sunday the Price was seen north of Harbor Beach by Capt. A. C. May of the Steamer H. B. Hawgood. On Monday afternoon a big steel freighter was seen floating upside down in the lake about eight miles north and east of the mouth of Lake Huron. Many people were anxious to learn the name of the steamer, although it was generally believed to be
the Regina. On Wednesday morning an attempt was made to find out the identity of the vessel, however, owing to the high sea the diver did not make his descent. Lake Huron kept its awful secret for almost a week. It was not until Saturday morning, November 15, that William H. Baker, a diver from Detroit, solved the mystery. When he went down he read the name of the steamer twice and the letters spelled out Charles S. Price. The forward part of the bottom of the ship was buoyed up by air that was held in her when she turned turtle, but two streams of bubbles were coming out of the bow which meant that she would settle gradually. On Monday morning, November 17, the Price disappeared from view.
The Charles S Price was built in 1910 at Lorain, Ohio. A steel bulk freighter, measuring 524 x 54 by Mahoning Steamship Co. 6,322 tons gross. Officially the Price was listed as lost in Lake Huron, approximately 8 miles north of Port Huron, with all hands, 27 men and 1 woman. Capt. W. M Black, Chief Eng. John Groundwader. Its cargo was listed as coal. (2)
The Wexford Grounds in Canada
Retrieving the Dead in Canada
Three years later salvage operations were attempted on the Price by two companies. Both abandoned the attempt. While the mystery of the identity of the ship floating upside down was solved, another mystery remains unsolved to this day. How did it happen that several bodies found along the Canadian shore were identified as from the crew of the Price, but they were wearing lifebelts bearing the name Regina?
Other ships that went down in Lake Huron during the massive storm were
John A. McGean
Isaac M. Scott
Eight ships and One-hundred-and-ninety- nine lives were lost on Lake Huron. For days after the storm relatives of the men who lost their lives patrolled the shore in the hope of finding their bodies.(3)
Sources of the 1913 Great Storm
- Information taken from Telescope Magazine, November 1963, pages 247-253.
- Based on a thesis written by Robert A. Dongler, Michigan State University, East Lansing.
- The New History of Michigan’s Thumb by Gerald Schultz, 1969 pp 105-107
- Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse and Museum