What comes to mind when you imagine a lake? A calm, placid body of water? A few ducks floating blithely on a glassy surface? Maybe a small sailboat or two peacefully drifting by, propelled by the gentle breeze on the air? This fictional lake certainly exists, but it isn’t Lake Superior.
On the contrary, Lake Superior isn’t to be taken lightly. The “biggest and baddest” of lakes, Lake Superior has claimed thousands of lives and pulled hundreds of well-crafted ships to the depths of its black and treacherous waters. The lake is so tumultuous and difficult to traverse that many shipwrecks have never been found. As they say, after all, Lake Superior never gives up her dead.
That being the case, it’s nothing short of miraculous that a shipwreck from 1891 was discovered off Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The Atlanta was carrying a load of coal when it sailed into one of Lake Superior’s infamous storms. It and all but two of its crew succumbed to the icy waters of Lake Superior 35 miles off the coast of Michigan. The ship and its perished crew now rest about 650 feet below the surface, well beyond the reach of sunlight.
Thanks to the Great Lakes‘ frigid temperatures, the 172-foot-long Atlanta remains in pristine condition to this day. Using sonar technology, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society discovered the ship and was astounded by its beauty. Bruce Lynn, executive director of the shipwreck society, says, “It is rare that we find a shipwreck that so clearly announces what it is, and the name-board of the Atlanta really stands out. It is truly ornate and still beautiful after 130 years on the bottom of Lake Superior.”
The Most Famous Shipwreck in Lake Superior History
Tragic as it is, The Atlanta is merely the most recent discovery of a shipwreck in Lake Superior. The history of Lake Superior and the impact of its deadly storms on tenacious sailors stretches back hundreds of years. Countless scores of ships and crewmen remain frozen in time under the lake’s surface. Arguably the most famous and tragic of them all, however, is the wreckage of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, or the Fitz.
In its 1975 voyage across Lake Superior, The Fitz was struck by a lethal storm, battering the ship and the 29 crewmen within with 80-mile-per-hour winds and 25-foot waves. Though no distress signals were sent before The Fitz was pulled beneath the surface, the Captain’s last message was, “I am taking heavy seas over the deck. One of the worst seas I’ve ever been in. We are holding our own.”
The exact cause of the disaster remains unknown. However, we do know that all 29 crew members perished in the wreck and that when The SS Edmund Fitzgerald came to rest on the bottom of Lake Superior, she was in two pieces. When the ship was built in 1958, she was the largest on the Great Lakes and remains the largest ship to have sunk there to this day.