August 7, 1912: Sinking of the James Gayley

On this day in 1912, the Cleveland Steamship Company’s freighter James Gayley sank on her way to Duluth from Buffalo, New York, with a load of coal. The vessel was forty-three miles east of Manitou Island near the tip of Michigan’s Keewena Peninsula navigating a thick fog at 1:35 a.m. when she collided with the Pittsburgh fleet’s Rensselaer. The Rensselaer’s bulkheads held, the James Gayley’s did not. According to newspaper reports, the captain of the Rensselaer immediately swung aside the damaged vessel, taking on passengers and crew while members of the Gayley’s crew “worked heroically” to keep the 416-foot freighter afloat long enough for the transfer. And a good thing, too: she went down in sixteen minutes. All passengers and the twenty-nine crew members survived, including Captain M. M. Steward. The boat was valued at $300,000; the 3,000 tons of coal on board $30,000 more. Since the area was notorious for deep water, no salvage effort was made.

The James Gayley (Image: Great Lakes Vessel Index)