Lake Effect

The Marquette & Bessemer No. 2, Lake Erie Ghost Ship

In the winter of 1909, the Marquette & Bessemer No. 2 left port at Conneaut, Ohio headed for Port Stanley, Ontario. A steel car ferry, the ship carried railroad cars filled with coal. She made the five-hour Conneaut to Port Ontario run daily. On December 7th, she never made her destination. Caught in a winter storm, the ship is rumored to have spent two days traveling back and forth between Conneaut and Port Stanley, unable to make it into harbor. Nobody knows where or when she sank, and she remains one of the two undiscovered shipwrecks of Lake Erie.

Three days before the M&B #2’s final voyage, Sarah Clancy of Erie, Pennsylvania, woke from a nightmare. She dreamt of a ship going down in a terrible storm and of her brother crying out for help. Those she told about the dream laughed at her. Her brother, John Clancy, was on the crew of the M&B #2.

Accounts from the time tell of sightings of the Marquette & Bessemer No. 2 on both north and south shores of the lake, between December 7th and 11th. The reported sightings often occurred simultaneously. Many claimed to have heard her whistle as she went down. Legend says the wife of Captain McLeod, at home in Conneaut, heard the distress whistle and the cries of the crew as the M&B #2 sank.

On December 12th, one of the M&B #2’s four lifeboats was found. In it were frozen bodies of nine crewmen and the empty clothing of a tenth. The stories say the abandoned garments were frozen in place as if the body simply disappeared—belt still buckled, shirt tucked in, and socks still in shoes. The other three lifeboats were never found.

Over the next year, bodies were pulled from the lake from Ashtabula to Buffalo, but the majority of the thirty-one crewmen and passengers were never found and were declared lost at sea.

Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, with an average depth of 62 feet and a maximum depth of 210 feet, and yet the location of the Marquette & Bessemer No. 2 remains a mystery. Some claim her hull can be seen from the air on a clear day. Speculation places her eight miles north of Conneaut at about ten fathoms, or 60 feet, deep. Others believe she lies in Canadian water, closer to Port Stanley. For over a century, searches of the lake have yielded nothing.

That’s not to say the Marquette & Bessemer No. 2 was never heard from or seen again. She’s still spotted, and her distress whistle heard (sometimes accompanied by the cries of the crew), from the shore between Ashtabula County and Erie and by those on the freighters and fishing boats sailing the lake.

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A few years ago, my sister and one of my neighbors were part of a group who, as part of a fundraiser, attempted to swim across Lake Erie, from Ohio to Canada. They swam in relays, accompanied by two small boats. Although the fundraiser was successful, surpassing their goal, the swim wasn’t. Out on the lake, they ran into bad weather, rough water, and waterspouts. I’m told the swimmers wanted to keep going and at least make it to the international boundary, if not the Canadian shore. The owners of the boats had more sense. They turned around and came home.

What if a similar group of swimmers met not just rough seas, but the ghost of the The Marquette & Bessemer No. 2? The boat breaks down; communications go out. The swimmers are stranded on the water with no means of calling for help. Maybe the ship wants to be found. Maybe the ghosts of the crew are lonely, or, after a century, bored. After a hundred years on a lost freighter, they might want to play a few games with the swimmers.

While not a classic Haunted House, the M&B #2 has the elements to make a classic haunted house story. A small group of people, trapped with the ghosts of the long dead. Stranding them on the water removes the why don’t they just leave question: they can’t. Nor can they run upstairs, or down to the basement, or out to the woods, or any place else that signals Dead Character Walking. At some point, someone would surely decide to try to swim back to shore and find help; he would probably wear a red shirt. Or, maybe not. Maybe he would make it, and when help arrives, the boat is intact, crewed by a collection of empty wetsuits.

And my sister thought all she had to worry about was evil lake lampreys.

RESOURCES

On the Web:

Feather, Carl E. “Still lost after all these years.” Star Beacon [Ashtabula] 27 May 2012. Star Beacon. Web.

Hahn, Tim. “Ship lost on Lake Erie 100 years ago remains a mystery.” Erie Times 9 Dec. 2009. GoErie.com. Web. 20 Apr. 2013.

Marquette & Bessemer No. 2.” Web. 20 Apr 2013.

Books:

Boyer, Dwight. Ghost Ships of the Great Lakes.

Frew, David R. Long gone: The mystery of the Marquette & Bessemer No.2.

Swope, Robin S. Eerie Erie: Tales of the Unexplained from Northwest Pennsylvania.

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  One thought on “Lake Effect

  1. Cody Langille
    April 26, 2013 at 11:37 am

    Awesome! I particularly enjoyed the part about the empty clothing. There’s something extra creepy in that aspect. I’ve heard before that water can affect spirits. Although I hear conflicting stories, some say the water affects them badly, and others say it acts as a conductor for the energy. Who knows?

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  2. April 26, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Funny story: I’m laundromat-sitting today. I brought up this page to look at your reply. An Old Guy customer leaned around the desk to see what I was doing; I usually hate it when they do that.He saw the top of the page and said, “She’s still out there, you know.” I said something about the wreck not being found, and he told me no, he meant she was still on the water. When he was young and worked on a freighter, he saw her. I don’t know about water and spirits, but according to Old Guy Customer, “She still sails.”

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  3. April 29, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    I want to say that I’ve seen a filmed or televised version of this story. Is there an episode of Supernatural that deals with this story? Wait, don’t tell me. I’ll happily go back and watch every episode until I find it.

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  4. May 1, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    It may have been one of the ghost ships on the other great lakes. Michigan and Superior are reputed to have a few. Erie, not so many.

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  5. J. Rackauckas
    May 2, 2013 at 4:13 am

    I don’t know what it says about me when my first thought on the lifeboat bit involved the nine remaining members having eaten the tenth. I mean, they’re stranded at sea, right? They don’t know when they’re gonna eat again.

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  6. May 2, 2013 at 6:56 am

    I’ve heard that before. The arguments against it are: They were only out for three days (or less on the lifeboat) and on the lake, not a vast ocean, and with ongoing the winter storm, they had more pressing things to deal with. But, who knows? The arguments depend on the men in the lifeboats staying sane and thinking clearly.

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  7. May 4, 2013 at 5:15 am

    This is a really interesting story, both the real and the fiction. I wish we read some stories of haunted or ghost ships during class. I think that is a part of ghost literature that doesn’t get much attention, but is a significant part of it. If you haven’t read him, check out William Hope Hodgson. Many of his ghost stories are ones that involve ships and the sea.

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  8. May 4, 2013 at 7:34 am

    Thanks! I’m not familiar with Hodgson, but after looking him up, I downloaded THE GHOST PIRATES from Project Gutenberg: ghosts on the water; the possibility that the ghosts are really beings from another dimension—sounds right up my alley. Now, to find the time to read it….

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