After 130 Years, A Missing Ship Found and a Harrowing Story Revived

Once the Atlanta sank in Lake Superior in 1891, the crew then spent hours in a lifeboat in the middle of a storm

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Paradise, MI. The ship Atlanta sunk in 1891 in Lake Superior, but it was recently found in 2022.
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Paradise, MI.
Doug Coldwell, CC BY-SA 4.0

It’s been a good time to have an interest in maritime archaeology. In the last year alone, a number of high-profile shipwrecks have been located or explored, including Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance, which famously sank on a voyage to Antarctica. Working in somewhat less hazardous aquatic conditions, scientists have also located a number of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes in the last year. Now, more details have emerged about how one of those vessels came to sink — and the harrowing ordeal its crew faced.

The ship in question is the Atlanta, which sank during a storm in 1891. Writing at The New York Times, Christine Hauser zeroed in on what makes this particular shipwreck so compelling. The ship, which was carrying coal and being towed by another vessel, sank in Lake Superior while en route from Buffalo, New York, to Duluth, Minnesota. Nine members of the crew boarded a lifeboat and headed to shore, but the weather prevented them from doing so. And that’s when things get especially harrowing.

As Hauser writes, the lifeboat capsized 200 yards from shore, at which point would-be rescuers mistook it for a tree trunk. Eight of the crew members got back in the boat and continued towards shore, at which point it capsized again. Ultimately, only two members of the crew survived.

This discovery adds another layer to what we know about the sinking of the Atlanta, and makes you wonder what other mysteries are beneath the surface of the Great Lakes. Even with these high-profile discoveries being made, there are still more to come — the article notes that the remains of “up to 40” vessels are still unaccounted for.

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