Wreck of the Hesper(us)
By James Donahue
When the freighter Hesper
was launched at Cleveland in 1890, the builders considered calling it Hesperus after a Greek mythological
character. But the name was reduced to Hesper after someone remembered Longfellow’s poem The Wreck of the Hesperus, and thought the name might bring ill fortune.
The steamer proved to
be a good investment for the Bradley Fleet. It served a relatively long and uneventful career until 1905, when it was driven
ashore and wrecked in a storm on Lake Superior.
The Hesper was steaming
empty to pick up a cargo of iron ore at Two Rivers when it got caught in a late spring snow storm on May 3. The vessel was
driven off course by winds out of the northeast clocked at 60-miles-per-hour and was hurled on a reef off Silver Bay.
Captain E. H. Heaton
and his crew of 15 men remained aboard for several hours until it was evident the vessel was breaking up. Eventually the crew
fled by launching two lifeboats on the lea side of the wreck, successfully rowing to shore. One of the yawls capsized on the
rocks, but the men survived.
A fisherman later described
the wreck as it went to pieces in the gale. He said the cabins and spars were torn away, then the stack fell. Next the deck
was torn away and it was clear that the ship’s back was broken because the collision bulkhead was washed ashore.
Eventually the hull slid
off the reef into deep water. Even after that, the steamer’s tow line was still attached to the fantail deck, which
floated on the surface. Another section of the deck was being held by the shrouds. Parts of the wreck were found for about
five miles along the coast.
Divers even today visit
the remains of the Hesper, which lie in only 42 feet of water.
There was one other incident
involving the Hesper before that fateful disaster. The steamer had the schooner Samuel P. Ely in tow when the Ely was lost
in October, 1896, also off Two Harbors.
The two vessels were
traveling from Duluth. The Hesper was laden with wheat bound
for Buffalo, and was bringing the Ely into Two Harbors to
load ore when they ran into an autumn gale. The Hesper made it into harbor, but the crew either cut the tow rope, or it parted
as they were fighting to get to shelter behind the western breakwater.
The Ely dropped her anchors
but they didn’t hold and the schooner was driven into the breakwater where the storm pounded it to pieces.
The Mind of James Donahue