Conversations about ghost ships aren’t limited to the Flying Dutchman. The Great Lakes have their fair share of spooky tales, too.
LAKE SUPERIOR, Mich.—At first, they thought it was just an ordinary boat, traveling amongst the choppy seas common on Lake Superior in the later months. It was the season of the witch—October 2016—and they watched as the boat continued on in the distance, bouncing up and down with the water around it.
“We were filming on the lake off the coast near Marquette, and someone pointed out into the lake and asked ‘What is that?’” Jason Asselin, a commercial cameraman and director, who was filming a music video for the artist Kevin B. Klein, told Forbes in 2016.
Asselin turned his camera toward the lake and captured video of the object in the water. Posted on YouTube, the video quickly became popular, Forbes reported.
“It was moving around a lot, but it looked like a pirate ship with a tall mast and billowing sails,” Asselin said. “But then someone said, ‘That’s no pirate ship. That’s a ghost ship!’”
With more than 6,000 recorded shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, it makes sense that, if there was a place for some mysterious, ghostly sightings, they would be among them. After all, with those over 6,000 shipwrecks, more than 30,000 people have died, according to data collected by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Paradise, Michigan.
The seas, rising and crashing down, can turn from calm, beautiful bodies of water, to a sailor’s worst enemy in a matter of minutes.
Was it a ghost ship that Asselin captured on a video that has since been viewed more than 3.4 million times? Who knows. Some speculated it was an alien ship, while others thought maybe it looked like Jesus, walking on water in the middle of Lake Superior.
What is certain is that the Great Lakes carry a certain mystique about them, something that comes with a long-storied history and tales of heroics, triumph, and death. There’s a certain romanticism that comes with tales from the Great Lakes, and with all of that also comes…well, you guessed it: stories of ghosts and ghost ships.
Here are some of the most popular spooky tales from the Great Lakes, but if you know of some others feel free to share them with us on Facebook.
The Great Lakes Ghost Ship—The Cornelia B. Windiate
The Cornelia B. Windiate earned the nickname “The Great Lakes Ghost Ship” not because people on other vessels see the late-19th century schooner still sailing in foggy seas on Lake Huron but because it simply vanished one night in November 1875.
Built in 1874, the Windiate ran cargo on the lakes for a year before one night, when it was on its way to deliver 21,000 bushels of wheat to Buffalo, New York, it never made it, according to The Herald Times Reporter. The ship’s crew of nine were never seen or heard from again.
For years, nothing was known about the Windiate. But nearly a century after its disappearance, divers found the ship in Lake Huron, near Thunder Bay. Standing upright in less than 200 feet of water, the Windiate was found with its masts out and its cargo preserved in the cold water.
You can learn more about the Windiate shipwreck here, including the opportunity to take a 3D look at the shipwreck.
Lost in the Fog—The Story of the W.H. Glicher
There was some excitement when the W.H. Gilcher was built in Cleveland in 1891. Why would there be any hoopla over the launching of another Great Lakes coal steamer? Well, the Gilcher was piloting an experimental steel hull.
Of course, that excitement wouldn’t last very long. A year after it was built, the Glicher, while carrying a cargo of coal from Buffalo, New York, to Milwaukee, the ship entered a cloud of fog while sailing through the Straits of mackinac. No one aboard the ship would ever be seen or heard from again.
According to some reports, the Glicher has been seen since its physical disappearance. The steamer has apparently been seen sailing through fog near Mackinac Island, just as it did on its fateful voyage in 1892. Those same reports suggest that when the sunlight shines through the fog, the ship’s fog whistle sounds.
A Nightmare Come True—The Sinking of the Western Reserve
On an August night in 1892, Benjamin Truedell woke from a sound sleep. He’d had a nightmare, one that, as a ship captain, proved particularly worrisome. Truedell had dreamt that the Western Reserve, a Cleveland-built steamer and sister ship of the W.H. Gilcher, had sunk in Lake Superior.
And it was true. The Western Reserve, sailing across Lake Superior with its owner, Peter Minch, aboard, sank when its mast collapsed onto its deck. It fell beneath the dark Lake Superior seas about 60 miles offshore, taking with it 26 of its 27 occupants.
When the Gilcher sank eight weeks later, an investigation was opened into the steel used in the building of both vessels. Eventually, led to changes in what types of steel can be used in shipbuilding.
But some say they still see the Reserve sailing the seas of Lake Superior to this day. According to some reports, voices and laughter can be heard when the ship is in sight on the largest of the Great Lakes.
The Flying Dutchman of Lake Superior—The SS Bannockburn
One of the spookier Great Lakes ghost ship tales is that of the SS Bannockburn, which sank in 1902 while sailing in Lake Superior.
The Bannockburn left Thunder Bay on Michigan upper right-hand side, making its way north into the northernmost of the Great lakes when it ran aground, according to some accounts. Others reported that it’s not entirely known what happened, although it’s possible it was stranded on Caribou Island.
Legends have it that the Bannockburn—nicknamed as the Flying Dutchman of Lake Superior—can be seen today, sailing back and forth between Port Austin on the top of Michigan’s Thumb and the Soo Locks of Lake Superior.
A Ghostly Demise—The Disappearance of the Erie Board of Trade
Another ghost ship reportedly sailing the Great Lakes is the Erie Board of Trade, a 1800s-era schooner that some believe was itself sunk by a ghost.
According to the maritime tale, a crewman was sent to the ship’s mast to serve as the ship’s watchman. While the chair used to sit in was knowingly unsafe, the captain ordered the crewman to do it anyway, and the crewman ultimately fell to his death.
The crewman was later reportedly seen around the deck of the ship and, later, the ship disappeared after it set sail on Lake Huron. It has never been seen again.