In November 1966, a Great Lakes freighter sank to the depths of Lake Huron. Only one member of its crew survived.
It’s early in the morning on Nov. 29, 1966, and the Daniel J. Morrell, a 609-foot freighter, is in the midst of its final shipping run of the year. The bulk freighter—built and launched in 1906 in what was once known as West Bay City—is struggling. Stormy weather has brought forth heavy seas, waves of up to 25 feet, and 60 mph winds.
The Morrell, which has been sailing alongside another boat, its sister ship, the S.S. Edward Y. Townsend, goes forth into the night. The Townsend seeks safety in the St. Lawrence River. Eventually, the waves become too much for the Morrell, which seeks shelter in the calmer waters at Thunder Bay, near Alpena.
But the Morrell doesn’t reach its destination. Shortly after 2 a.m., an alarm rings and the crew tries to abandon the boat, which quickly breaks in half. Some crew jump into the freezing Lake Huron waters. Others seek safety aboard a liferaft.
“I thought, If I can get to the raft, I stand a better chance,” Dennis Hale, the lone survivor of the wreck of the Morrell, told the Twin Cities Pioneer Press in 2012. “I looked around, and I couldn’t see the raft. Finally, I saw it between waves.”
Hale, a 26-year-old watchman aboard the Morrell, was found the following day in a liferaft. His story lived on in books and documentaries until he died in 2015.
Stories of ships such as the Morrell litter the Great Lakes. More than 6,000 boats have gone down on the Great Lakes, taking with them over 30,000 lives, according to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.
You can find out more about how to support the preservation of Great Lakes history and Great Lakes shipwreck history by visiting the museum website here: https://www.shipwreckmuseum.com/