The Wreck of the Arthur Orr

The Arthur Orr was a 286’ steel package freighter built by the Chicago Ship Building Company. She was entered into service as a package freighter on the Great Lakes in 1893. The Arthur Orr served faithfully out of Duluth, carrying packages and small freight up and down the north and south shores of Lake Superior.

After leaving Duluth with a mixed cargo on November 21, 1898, the Arthur Orr was driven ashore during a heavy storm in the early morning hours of November 22 at the mouth of the Baptism River near Silver Bay. No lives were lost, but most of the cargo spilled out of the ship and into Lake Superior.

The Arthur Orr was towed back to Chicago to be repaired and lengthened to 334’ in 1899. She returned to service later that year and served until 1947 when she was scrapped in Hamilton, Ontario.

Photos courtesy of the University of Minnesota Duluth, Kathryn A. Martin Library.

The Gales of November: George Herbert Shipwreck

It was a typical Monday morning for the crew of the flat-bottomed scow, George Herbert. Captain Charlie Johnson and lumber clerk William Hicks were discussing their trip one-hundred miles up the north shore of Lake Superior with provisions for the M.H. Coolidge Lumber Company. Three other crew members, Ole Nelson, George Olson, and Ole Miller were loading shovels, axes, smoked meats, coffee, whiskey, and lard into the scow’s hold. The lake was calm, and the weather was fair for November, but a steady northeast breeze made the temperature feel like it was below zero. The unpowered scow was loaded quickly. Captain Johnson rang the F.W. Gillett, their tug for the trip, to let them know the scow was ready.

As the George Herbert and F.W. Gillett made their way east along the shore, the wind began to blow harder, and the temperature began to fall. Hoping they could get past the edge of the storm, Captain Johnson stayed on course. By about 1:00 in the afternoon, the wind and the waves had increased to an alarming level. Johnson continued to press eastward hoping to find relative safety from the wind behind a group of islands near present-day Taconite Harbor. After two hours, the scow and its tug dropped anchor on the lee side of Two Islands. The George Herbert and F.W. Gillett  were the first boats to encounter the storm that would become known as the Big Blow of 1905.

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The Gales of November: Lafayette Shipwreck

One of the earliest victims of the big blow on Lake Superior on November of 1905 was the steamer Lafayette and her barge, the Manila. After passing through Soo, the Lafayette was caught west of Devil’s Island when the great storm started churning the lake into an uproar. After fighting the storm for several hours and traveling at half-speed, Captain Dell Wright was hoping to see the lighthouse on Devils’ Island to regain his bearings. Captain Wright’s years of experience gave him only a rough idea of his ship’s location, and he had an important decision to make.

The Gales of November: Mataafa Shipwreck

A gale swept Lake Superior after extraordinary high pressure began to fall on November 27, 1905. Snow, ice pellets, freezing temperatures and mountainous seas caused havoc all over the big lake. The most spectacular accident claimed the Mataafa.

The ore-laden freighter departed Duluth, towing the consort barge James Nasmyth, in the late afternoon of November 27, only to be attacked on the open lake. After a futile battle with the elements, the Captain of Mataafa decided to turn back and seek shelter. He managed to turn his freighter and the trailing barge, but trying to bring both through the port entry in these conditions was unwise. As a result, the James Nasmyth was left at anchor on the lake to ride out the storm.

On the run for the harbor entry, Mataafa got caught by the current and was pushed off course. The hull hit bottom, smashed the pier and soon lost power. The ship and all on board were at the mercy of the wind, waves, and current; it was driven aground and broken into three pieces.

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