While Gordon Lightfoot brought attention to the power of Lake Superior with his hit, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” what many might not know is just how powerful this Great Lake is. According to the Minnesota Historical Society, Lake Superior is the final resting place to 350 ships, with around 50 of these located in Minnesota waters. Eighteen of these 50 shipwrecks are attributed to storms, and four others sank due to foundering (filling with water). A beautiful sight to see, the big lake also demands respect.
Gichigami is especially active in the fall. The Gales of November have wreaked havoc on sailors and ships over the years. While there are many shipwrecks that are not related to weather at all, there’s no denying the gales are a force to be reckoned with. What exactly are the gales? In short, a gale is wind that reaches between 40-54 miles per hour (or if you’re a sailor, 34-47 knots), and this is common each fall when a large mass of cold, dry air meets a large mass of warm, wet air. The temperature of the lake can also factor into the equation. There’s a lot more to it, but when the right factors align, it can create gigantic waves and tumultuous seafaring conditions. And it’s also an amazing spectacle to see from a safe location. (Please keep your distance from the water and prioritize your safety in all conditions!)
Now, back to shipwrecks. Of the Lake Superior documented shipwrecks, those that have been closest to Duluth include the list below, ranging from a wooden scow schooner to a naval sloop. Though most of these near Duluth have been unrelated to the gales, they remain a part of the city’s shipping history. The Minnesota Historical Society has more detailed information about these and several other shipwrecks, along with a map and full list of the Minnesota Lake Superior shipwrecks.
- Winslow, 1891
- B.B. Inman, 1929
- Thomas Wilson, 1902
- U.S.S. Essex, 1931
- A.C. Adams, 1923
- May Flower, 1891
Though not located in the Minnesota waters of the Great Lake, perhaps the most famous shipwreck of Lake Superior was caused by the Gales of November: The SS Edmund Fitzgerald. On November 10, 1975, this ship went down in a storm and all 29 crew members were lost. This ship was the largest on the Great Lakes when it first launched in 1958, and it remains the largest ship to have sunk in Lake Superior. To commemorate this loss and honor all who have been lost in Great Lakes shipwrecks, each year on November 10, Split Rock Lighthouse lights its beacon.
If this piqued your interest, you’re in luck! On your next trip to Duluth, visit the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center in Canal Park to learn more about this majestic lake, the ships that navigate it and those who have been lost to its power.