Moonlight – The Queen Of The Lakes
By James Donahue
The Moonlight was launched in Milwaukee in 1874 as a large, 213-foot, three-mast schooner with a wooden
hull designed for speed.
Under the command of Captain Denis Sullivan, an Irish native, the Moonlight hauled cargoes of up to
1,400 tons and she moved them so fast that the schooner gained a reputation as "Queen of the Lakes."
Sullivan commanded the Moonlight from the day she was launched and for the next 11 years. Sometime
after that, however, the Moonlight joined the fate of most of the other sailing ships on the lakes as the steamships gradually
took over the job of hauling freight and passengers. She was converted to a tow barge, and spent her remaining years on a
tow line behind a string of other barges under the tow of a steamboat.
The Moonlight and another barge, the H. A. Kent, were under tow behind the Steamer C. J. Kershaw on
Lake Superior in the fall of 1895 when a storm drove all three vessels aground off Chocolay Reef near Marquette, Michigan.
The Kershaw broke in two and sank, becoming a total wreck. But the Kent and Moonlight came ashore and both vessels were salvaged.
One of and perhaps the only surviving picture of the Moonlight shows it resting in the mud following
The Moonlight was salvaged the following year and remained on the lakes, mostly serving as an ore
carrier from the Lake Superior ports until a storm claimed her in 1903.
It happened once again with a storm on mighty Lake Superior. And as it was the first time she wrecked,
the Moonlight and her consort, the steamer Volunteer, were caught in a September gale. The Moonlight was an old ship by now,
her wooden hull was rotting, and the storm got the best of it.
When the hawser parted and the barge was being driven before the wind and taking on water, the Volunteer
succeeded in pulling alongside and taking off its crew before it foundered off the Apostle Islands.
Sports divers using sonar equipment located the Moonlight in 2005. They say she lies in very deep
water, well over 300 feet down. A large debris field is found around it, apparently the ship’s scattered cargo.