The story of a particularly deadly part of Lake Michigan.
It’s May 21st, 1891. Seven sturdy sailors of strong Wisconsin stock drop a shipment of lumber off in Chicago and then board their ship — the Thomas Hume. They are sailing back to Muskegon, to the Hackey-Hume Lumber Mill. Their three-masted schooner has made the journey several times alongside the lumber company’s other ship, the Rouse-Simmons.
They set off from port, and soon foreboding clouds darken the horizon.
“Storm a’comin,” says one of the sailors, whose name I like to imagine was Rutherford.
The Rouse-Simmons crew decide to turn back and return to Chicago to wait for calmer waters.
“Poltroons and milksops, all of ya,” Rutherford calls out after them. “Retreat, hell! As for me and my men, we sail for Muskegon.”
The Thomas Hume sails deep into the heart of Lake Michigan.
Muskegon awaits the arrival of the ship. It never comes.
No word from the seven sailors.
Hackey and Hume send out a search vessel, offering a steep reward for the ship’s discovery. Nothing is found, no reward is claimed, and not a single piece of floating wreckage is left on the water.
Twenty-one years pass, and the now it’s November 22nd, 1912. A world war is on the horizon, and a new generation of sturdy Wisconsin sailors is traversing the Lake Michigan waters. This time that old fortunate vessel, the Rouse-Simmons is on another run, transporting Christmas Trees from Thompson, Michigan to Chicago.
Captain Herman Schuenemann helps load the boat full of tannenbaums and invites the Michigan lumberjacks to catch a free ride to Chicago with them, if they want it. The crew of sixteen along with the extra lumberjacks set off into the waters.
Again, the ship never arrives at its destination.
The ship was spotted sailing in clear conditions with a distress flag flying. A lifeboat is sent out to provide aid, but when it arrives there is nothing to find.
Again, there is no wreckage.
A year later, Christmas trees begin to wash up along the shore. A fisherman in Two Rivers catches Captain Schuenemann’s wallet a year later. No further trace is discovered.
The list of ships is long and the stories are awash in speculation and misinformation. The Thomas Hume was discovered at the bottom of the lake in 2006, in near-perfect condition. The Rouse-Simmons was found sunken in 165 feet of water, no sign of what took it down.
Both of these shipwrecks—uncharacteristic of the normally placid and easily-navigable Lake Michigan — occur within one specific triangle: west to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, east to Ludington, Michigan, and south to Benton Harbor, Michigan. And these are only two wrecks of a much longer list. Even the deadliest open water sinking on the Great Lakes occurred in this triangle, the sinking of the Lady Elgin in 1860. A wooden steamship, the Lady Elgin collided with a smaller boat, the Augusta, which went on to sail safely to harbor, but the Lady Elgin continued taking on water until it sank, dragging 300 passengers to their deaths.
Another ship, in 1921, set sail with eleven passengers. The Rosabelle is a two masted schooner used to transport supplies to the Benton Harbor House of David. Yet again, the ship fails to reach its destination, except in this case the wreck hasn’t disappeared.
The ship is found floating upside down with no trace of a single passenger.
Examining the hull, there appears to be evidence of a collision, but no other vessel is found and there are no reports of an accident. The Coast Guard determines there was no collision, and the eleven crew members are never found.
The list grows. The Carl D. Bradley sinks in 1958, when its hull splits in two.
And the Lake Michigan Triangle has been the sight of more than just shipwrecks.
In 1937, Captain George R. Donner is sailing the O.M. McFarland through the treacherously icy upper Great Lakes. After navigating his crew through the dangerous waters, he retires to his cabin to rest. Fifty-eight years old, he is exhausted by the difficult voyage, and as the ship sails through the Lake Michigan Triangle, he shuts the door to his cabin. A few hours later, the ship is nearing its destination, Port Washington, and crew members go to wake him. Their knocks go unanswered. The door is locked from the inside. Eventually, they break down the door and find the cabin empty. The entire ship is searched to no avail. No sign of the captain. No explanation is ever discovered, and the disappearance remains unsolved.
On June 23 1950, Northwest Airlines Flight 2501 is flying from New York City to Seattle with fifty-eight people on board. Over the Lake Michigan Triangle, Captain Robert Lind radios in to request permission to descend to 2,500 feet due to a severe electrical storm and high winds. Permission is denied. And then radar goes dark. No word from the captain. No sign of the plane. Flight 2501 is gone.
A search commences. Lake Michigan is dragged for wreckage. As you might have guessed, no wreckage is found. Human remains wash up on the coast in the days following, but the plane itself has disappeared. In the decades since, the wreckage still has never been found, despite a yearly search funded by noted nautical thriller author Clive Cussler, and undertaken by the Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates.
Explanations abound for this plethora of disappearances and deaths. UFOs obviously — a theory enlivened by a report of inexplicable bright lights over the lake on the same night as the Flight 2501 disappearance. Paranormal phenomena. Time portals. Unholy creatures. Bad weather. The whims and cruelties of a mocking and malevolent god of old. Etc.
But one report is slightly more interesting than the rest.
In 2007, archaeology professor Mark Holley and his colleague Brian Abbot ran a sonar search around the Lake Michigan Triangle in an effort to find shipwrecks. They discovered, in about 40 feet of water, a line of stones arranged in a pattern reminiscent of Stonehenge. They sent divers to photograph the area and found, alongside the line of stones, what could be a prehistoric carving of a Mastodon, which went extent over 12,000 years ago. The site has not been authenticated, and the exact location remains a secret. Much like Stonehenge, there is little explanation for the carefully arranged underwater stones, what they signify, or who put them there.
No definite explanation links the several bizarre incidents that mark this triangle of Lake Michigan, and of course one can make a rational argument to explain every one of them, but as the coincidences mount and the darkness on the horizon grows closer, there’s no denying the eeriness of this particular tale, so perhaps next time you’re on the lake, you’ll consider staying close to the shore, for as H.P. Lovecraft said, “We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.”