The Ghost Fleet of Lake Superior

The Ghost Fleet of Lake Superior

The Bannockburn, the “Flying Dutchman of Lake Superior.” (Image: Great Lakes Vessel Index)

Myth? Depends on whether you believe in ghosts…

Many a Great Lakes seaman believes Lake Superior is home to a “Ghost Fleet” made up of ships that have disappeared without a trace somewhere between Duluth and Sault Ste. Marie (The Soo). The Ghost Fleet’s roster includes, among others, the Adella Shores, the Bannockburn, and the Hudson.

For those who believe in superstitions, the fate of the lumber hooker Adella Shores was sealed as she was launched. Built in Gibraltar, Michigan, and towed to Ashland, Wisconsin, before she was finished, the Adella Shores was constructed for Ashland mill owner Walter Shores, a leading supporter of the temperance movement in Wisconsin. Rather than have a ship named after his daughter christened with champagne, a bottle of lake water was used to launch the vessel. Mariners considered this very bad luck and an act that doomed the ship. In April 1909, the Adella Shores left her home dock in Ashland with a load of lumber. She was never seen again.

The Bannockburn also disappeared from Lake Superior, but she has been seen again—in spectral form. The steamer vanished November 21, 1902, while on her way from Port Arthur to The Soo with a load of wheat and 21 men on board. Only a life preserver and an oar were ever found. Still, several sailors claimed to have seen the Bannockburn on stormy nights. This has caused many to call the Bannockburn the “Flying Dutchman of Lake Superior,” after the legendary phantom ship that disappeared off the coast of Good Hope.

The Hudson was lost near Michigan’s Keweenaw Point on September 16, 1901, and like the Bannockburn, she has been seen since. Even boarded. As the story goes, a tugboat captain and his mate were near Keweenaw Point on a September 16 in the late 1940s when they spotted a rusty ship covered in brown slime. The tug captain claims to have boarded the vessel to see if it was in distress. In the pilot house he encountered the ragged apparitions of the Hudson’s helmsman and captain, who explained to him that the ship and its crew were damned to relive the sinking each September 16 and warned him to get off. He leaped from the boat and swam in icy waters to the tug, refusing to explain to his mate what happened to him on board. (And yet somehow we hear the story….)

From True North: Alternative & Offbeat Destinations in and Around Duluth, Superior, and the Shores of Lake Superior, copyright © 2003, Zenith City Press, Duluth, Minnesota.

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