November 21, 1902: The steamer Bannockburn vanishes

On this day on Lake Superior in 1902, the Bannockburn—a 254-foot, 1,620-ton steel-hulled steamer—vanished. She was headed down lake to Saulte Sainte Marie from Port Arthur/Fort William (today’s Thunder Bay, Ontario) with 95,000 bushels of wheat grown in Manitoba. Built in Scotland in 1893, the Bannockburn was piloted by Captain George Woods, who had a crew of 19 with him. The reports of her disappearance first reached Duluth on November 27, in a report from Chicago. At first it was hoped she was stranded on Caribou Island. The whaleback John D. Rockefeller (aka the S. S. Meteor) reached Duluth the day before, and the same issue of the Duluth News Tribune carrying the Chicago story also reported that the Rockefeller’s crew said they had passed through a large debris field off Stannard Rock east of the Keweena Peninsula, with no signs of life. Later the steamer Algonquin reported seeing her on November 17 about sixty miles southeast of Passage Island (part of today’s Isle Royale national Park) and northeast of Keweenaw Point, within a heavily used shipping lane. Tugs searched along the entire north shore of Lake Superior to no avail. In December, one of her life preserver’s was found near Grand Marais. No one ever saw her again. Except…well, some did. She apparently had a unique profile and was easily identifiable from a distance. In the years after she vanished, crews of Lake Superior vessels have reported seeing her, most often in November storms. In the late 1940s the captain and crew of the Walter A. Hutchinson claimed seeing the ship during a November storm. The Bannockburn reportedly forced the Hutchinson to change course and then rammed itself into a rock the Hutchinson would have hit—and vanished. She is known as “the Flying Dutchman of the Great Lakes.”

A painting of the Bannockburn. (Image: Ships Nostalgia Gallery)

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