Steamer Eber Ward Sunk By Ice
By James Donahue
Five sailors died when thick ice at the Straits of Mackinac punched a hole in the
wooden hull and sank the 11-year-old steamer Eber Ward on April 9, 1909.
The 213-foot-long bulk freighter was laden with corn after apparently spending a
winter moored at Chicago. She was among the first lake vessels punching their way through the ice at the straits which was
usually among the last obstacles to getting the spring shipping season underway between Buffalo and Chicago and all ports
The Ward was about five miles west of where the Mackinaw Bridge stands today when
it was holed by a large sheet of floating ice. The ice punched two large holes in the bow of the steamer sinking it in 140
feet of water.
The steamer Bennington came on the scene on time to rescue 11 of the 16-member crew.
Five other crew members went down with the ship.
The cargo of corn was salvaged in the summer of 1909 and sold to a starch manufacturing
company. The wreck was not rediscovered until divers found it in 1980.
The Ward wasn’t the first nor was it the last ship to meet its end battling
ice at the straits. It has joined a sunken fleet of vessels in the Straits of Mackinac Underwater Preserve. It rests upright
and intact, a favorite visiting site for sport divers.
Divers said the holes in the bow are large enough to swim through. Divers can swim
the complete length of the ship on the inside of two decks. On the upper deck can be found rows of hand carts still attached
to the side of the hull. They apparently were used for loading the corn. Loading gear still hangs under every cargo hatch.
Two large folding anchors are on the top deck at the bow and a third anchor lies
on the lake bottom. The cook stove also lies on the bottom near the stern. The large propeller still remains in place under
The Eber Ward was launched in 1888 at Bay City. It was named for the late Eber Brock
Ward, the nephew of early Detroit shipbuilder Samuel Ward, a former master in the old Ward line, and later a steelmaker.