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Uncovering the truth behind a 100-year-old shipwreck

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Nitish Bissonauth
Staff Writer

Thursday, June 13, 2013, 8:21 AM - Is the recent discovery of a shipwreck off the coast of Marquette, Mich., really the famed S.S. Henry B. Smith, a ship that was caught in a deadly storm and sunk nearly 100 years ago in Lake Superior? If you ask the group of shipwreck hunters who made the discovery, they’ll tell you that is the case.

Jerry Eliason, who is part of the group that found the ship called it, “ ... the most satisfying find of (his) shipwreck-hunting career.” Eliason and his group have uncovered 12 shipwrecks to date, and plan on visiting the lake floor again to gain more information. 

Based on the information to surface in the wake of the discovery of the vessel in May, there’s a strong indication Eliason could write the ending to the famed 'ghost ship'. The story goes that at close to 5:00 p.m. on November 9, 1913, the S.S. Henry B. Smith loaded its last car of ore before departing from the Marquette Harbor. 

The ship was piloted by Captain James Owen, a man with reputation of delivering cargo late. According to reports, the owners of the boat made it clear to Owen that he better make this trip on time or else. With that in mind, Captain James Owen decided to leave the port for Cleveland, despite premature signs of a storm brewing. Soon after the boat left the Harbor, winds started to pick up and 20 minutes later the vessel was caught in the full force of the gale, only to disappear with its 25 member crew and never to be found again, until now. While the group of shipwreck hunters has yet to see the name of the ship, there are clues that lend credence to it being the S.S. Henry B. Smith. For instance, the shipwreck is sitting on a huge load of spilled iron ore. The resting place is also a clue, and the Duluth News Tribune reported that the vessel was found last month, 535 feet off the shore of Marquette in Michigan.

The S.S. Henry B. Smith was a steel-hulled, propeller driven freighter built in 1906. Owned by Acme Transit Company, the ship was named after Henry B. Smith, a prominent lumberman. The boat measured 525 ft. in length, 55 ft. in width and almost 37 ft. in height. It also had the capacity to carry loads of up to 6600 tons. However, the boat met its match after falling victim to a notorious Great Lake Storm that raged for nearly five days and causing millions of dollars in damages. It had hurricane force winds of up to 100 km/h and created waves that reached 10 metres in height. The 1913 storm was the biggest ever recorded on the Great Lakes, and sank more than a dozen ships and left some 250 sailors dead.

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