September 16, 1901: The sinking of the steamer Hudson

On this day on Lake Superior in 1901, the steamer Hudson sunk off northern Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. The vessel had foundered eight miles off Eagle River, Michigan, in heavy southwest gale. All 24 aboard went to the bottom along with a full load of grain. Since there were no survivors, the circumstances that lead to the sinking are impossible to describe. The captain of the steamer Nichol passed the Hudson while a few sailors still clung to the sinking vessel, but he made no attempt to save them, fearing he would endanger his own crew. His crew supported the decision, but other lake captains, according to published reports, were not “satisfied with the excuse.” Since that time, legend has it that the Hudson has become a ghost ship, appearing only on September 16. One tugboat captain even claimed to have boarded the sunken vessel. As the story goes, a tugboat captain and his mate were near Keeweenaw 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—and to scold its captain for nearly wrecking the tug. 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 or his fate would be locked with theirs. The tugboat captain then leaped from the boat and swam in icy waters to his vessel, “refusing to explain to his mate what happened to him on board.” And yet somehow the story gets told….

The steamer Hudson. (Image: Great Lakes Vessel Index)