One of the victims of the â??Freshwater Furyâ?? storm of November 1913 was apparently discovered by some Minnesota divers off Marquette recently. This famous storm became a whirling monster of a system that lashed the entire Great Lakes for four days 100 years ago this fall.
The system was a western low that moved just south of Upper Michigan. It then redeveloped over the Southeastern States and drove north-northwestward back into the Lower Great Lakes. As the system redeveloped off to the southeast, the winds died down temporarily over Lake Superior led to one the great tragedies of this famous storm. Hereâ??s the story of the Smithâ??s sinking:
Jimmy Owen, captain of the 565-foot ore carrier Henry B. Smith, was in a hurry. This seasoned Great Lakes master usually proved easy to work with; this time was different. Rumors were flying that Owen was in the doghouse with the Smithâ??s owners. Through circumstances out of his control, he had been running behind all season. He was reported to have been given the ultimatumâ??deliver the last load of the season on time or stay on shore next season.
So despite the stormy, cold weather, he demanded his steamer be loaded at the Lower Harbor ore dock in Marquette. The freezing, damp air caused the ore pellets to stick together and forced dock workers to crawl on hands and knees into the chute to loosen the frozen clumps. The dangerous work of loading the sleek, seven-year-old steamer with 10,000 tons of ore was finally completed late on Sunday the 9th. Owen, his confidence bolstered by the easing of the gale, decided to run for the Sault. Sailors on other boats at anchor noticed the crew members frantically rushing to finish battening down the hatches as the Smith pulled out of the harbor. Just as the boat left the safety of the breakwater, the second installment of the storm hit as the southern low moved due north toward Georgian Bay.
Observers on shore watched as the Smith heaved before the building seas. Captain Cleary, commander of the Lifesaving Station at Marquette, predicted the carrier would be back in Marquette Harbor within a few hours. Another lake captain swore that he saw the boat turn around less than a half hour after leaving the harbor. Surely Captain Owen decided to head for the relative shelter of the east side of the Keweenaw. That change in course was never confirmed; observers on shore lost sight of the Smith in a blinding snow squall.
The Henry B. Smith and her crew were at the north-northwest galeâ??s mercy once they pulled out of the breakwater. Back in Marquette, an uneasy feeling of apprehension settled over the marine community. Captain Clearyâ??s prediction that the Smith would return to port did not come to pass. The storm reached its peak of violence just after the ship left. It seemed that no vessel could survive the near hurricane-force gusts that built mountainous waves and rendered the lake an awesome, frightening site.
The sailors in harbor held onto a shred of hope that the Smith had somehow pulled through. Cleary, interviewed by the local paper, said the Smith may have â??forced her way much farther to the north than Keweenaw pointâ?? and sustained damage in fighting the waves. Just maybe Jimmy Owen brought his ship into some port for repairs and eventually the vessel and crew would turn up safe. He admitted there was only an outside chance this happened; most likely the Henry B. Smith foundered during the violent storm and went to the bottom.
Communications on land finally returned to normal a couple of days later as telephone and telegraph wires brought down by the storm were repaired. The Mining Journal immediately received a telegram from Escanaba; a family of one of the crew members wanted to know the fate of the Smith. In Cleveland, the owners of the vessel sent messages asking for evidence of her demise after authorities at Sault Ste. Marie reported she had not passed through the locks.
Fears that the Smith was lost turned to certainty after a landlooker returned to Marquette from a nine-mile walk down the beach to the east of the city. He brought back an oar marked Henry B. Smith, â??mute testimonyâ?? to her fate. Other wreckage, including a pike pole and pieces of the deck house, was also strewn along the deserted beach. The next spring, the body of the second engineer was found encased in a chunk of ice on Michipicoten Island, over 100 miles from where the Smith was presumed to have gone down.
The apparent discovery of her remains off Marquette may bring closure to one of the enduring mysteries of Great Lakes Shipwreck lore.