October 29, 1856: The side wheeler Superior wrecks on Lake Superior

On this day on Lake Superior in 1856, the 184-foot, 646-ton wooden sidewheel steamer Superior was dashed to pieces at Lake Superior’s Picture Rocks, east of Munising on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Over forty-five lives were lost. First reports said that 35 people had perished and 19 were saved, but subsequent reports increased the casualty list. According to meteorologist and amateur historian Karl Bohnak, “The Superior hit a northerly gale just west of Whitefish Point on October 29, 1856.  [Captain Hiram] Jones made a run for the shelter of Grand Island when his ship lost her rudder while approaching Pictured Rocks.  Jones could not keep his vessel from crashing broadside into the rocky ledge. The sidewheeler disintegrated quickly.  An estimated 18 passengers and crew managed to float on debris to the rocks. They watched as Captain Jones and eight of his crew went under one by one. A couple of crew members took a patched up lifeboat to the home of a fur trader near present-day Munising, while the rest of the survivors were forced to walk through an early-season snow cover along the shoreline to reach shelter.  Two more victims were claimed by exposure and exhaustion bringing the toll of the Superior shipwreck to an estimated 50—the worst loss of life in a single accident on Lake Superior.” Remains of the Superior lie in 20 feet of water below at the base of Spray Falls.

While there is no photograph of the sidewheeler Superior, it would have looked much likes the Northern Light, above, which was built by the same outfit that constructed the Superior. (Image: Great Lakes Vessel Index)

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