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.
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.
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.
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.