Lake Superior – drowning in mystery
Of all the North American Great Lakes, Lake Superior is the biggest. In fact this huge expanse of water is the largest in the world in terms of surface area. It holds a staggering three quadrillion gallons of water and makes up a staggering 10% of the worlds fresh water surface. This massive lake acts like an inland sea, boasting its own tide, something local surfers make especially good use of.
As well as being the largest it also happens to be one of the most mysterious with lots of strange goings on in and around it. You’d expect shipwrecks on a lake that behaves like an ocean, but 350 seems like an unusually high number and with over 10,000 lives having been lost in her waters, it’s hard to fathom that such instances are all put down to the perilous conditions they face on these shores, such as the seasonal storm ominously named, Witch of November. But the really spooky thing here is the dozens of accounts of disappearances, where vessels are lost without a trace, never to be seen again, it’s said that Lake Superior never gives up her dead. Here are some examples of the strange phenomena that makes the lake such a intriguing place.
One of the most famous ghost ships of Lake Superior is the Bannockburn. On November 21st, 1902 this 200-foot, steel hulled freighter carrying a cargo of wheat and a crew of 21, disappeared on Lake Superior pretty much straight after setting sail from the dramatic sounding Thunder Bay, without so much as a trace. Although it has been said there was a partial ore that showed up on a beach near Grand Maris, on which the chilling inscription ‘Bannockburn’ was written in blood. Throughout the years many have claimed to see the Bannockburn as a ghost ship, most often spotted between Port Arthur, Michigan and the Soo Locks between Lake Superior and Huron.
A steamer ship named the Hudson, sank in mid-September 1901. According to David Grandmaison, founder of the Duluth Experience, decades later a tugboat captain encountered a rusty ship covered in slime on Lake Superior. He boarded and met the ghost of the lost Hudson captain who told him to ‘get off the ship or he would be lost’ — just like the ship’s crew! “He dove off, swam in the icy waters back to the tugboat and for years refused to talk about what had happened.”
Superstition in the area says a ghost ship sighting is bad news for anyone on the water, the legends of sightings were always followed by some kind of stormy weather.
Here’s one that may be more mirage than ghost ship but still rather unsettling.
One of the popular hobbies in the Great Lakes area is diving at the sites of wrecks. But it’s not all fun and games under these waves. There are numerous accounts of ghostly inhabitants, and whether they’re just a good device to get a few more tourists donning the dive gear or not, they might make some of the most hardened underwater explorers think twice before getting their feet wet.
The wreck of The Emperor in the lake is said to be haunted by a crewman who continues to go about his duties, even in the afterlife. Now that’s dedication for you. The most haunted of all the many wrecks that lies beneath is the SS Kamloops, that in 1927 sank off Isle Royal in Lake Superior. It’s known to those who’ve entered the site, that there is a particularly well-preserved corpse (due to the water temperature) of a sailor nicknamed Old Whitey in the ship’s engine room (see pic below), who legend has it, is inhabited by a scary sounding spirit known as Grandpa. Divers have recounted many stories of seeing him, sometimes floating up behind divers and reaching out to touch them.
The F89 Jet
One of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the lake is the disappearance of a military jet. On the evening of November 23, 1953, an Air Force radar controller was alerted to an unusual target flying in restricted airspace over Superior. They scrambled an F-89C Scorpion jet from Kinross Base to check out this UFO. It was piloted by First Lieutenant Felix Moncla Jr, a US Air Force pilot on temporary assignment at Kinross. He was an experienced hand with over 1,000 hours of flight time under his belt. Radar controllers watched as the F-89 closed in on the UFO, and then were stunned by what they saw next. The two blips came together and merged on the screen over the Canadian side of the lake and then the plane’s identification signal disappeared. The signal for the UFO continued North before vanishing. Control therefore knew that the crafts hadn’t collided and assumed they’d crashed into the lake hopefully bailing out before they did. A search and rescue mission was launched immediately for the F-89 and it’s two man crew, pilot Felix Moncla Jr and radar operator Robert Wilson. But after an extremely thorough search of the area, the men were never found. To this day no plane parts or crew have ever been discovered. It was as though they’d been been removed from existence.
The Lake Monster
A piece about the mysteries that surround this Great lake wouldn’t be complete without a word on it’s own water monster. Loch Ness may have the famous Nessie but Lake Superior has Mishipeshu or Mishibizhiw also known as the Dragon of Lake Superior or Water Panther. He was feared by the indigenous Ojibwa people, they drew him as the figure of a fearsome water-dwelling creature that has the body of a horned lynx with scales and webbed paws. So a bit odd looking then. They were said to be so scared of him because he caused waves, rapids and whirlpools, and even broke the ice in winter, claiming victims.
There have been recorded sightings since 1894 when members of two different steamer crews saw a beast undulating in the moonlit waters with its back 8 feet out of the water. More recent sightings of the creature tend to describe it as a very long serpent like creature with a head similar to a horse. In a body of water this massive and this mysterious there are certainly plenty of places for Mishipeshu to hide out.