Schooner Nelson Lost On Superior
By James Donahue
It was May 13, 1899 and the big schooner Nelson was at the end of a line of two coal-laden sailing
ships under tow behind the Great Lakes steamship Folsom. They had left Sault Ste. Marie and were making their way out into
the open waters of Lake Superior when the vessels got caught in a fierce late winter gale off Grand Marais.
Fifty-mile-per-hour winds whipped the lake into frenzy and heavy layers of ice began building on the
decks. Captain A. E. White, master of the Folsom, made the decision to turn the tow and run for the protection of nearby Whitefish
Point. The pressure on the tow line caused the Nelson to break free, however and the 199-foot vessel turned to the trough
of the sea, with the waves striking her broadside.
Captain White knew the Nelson was in trouble but his own crew was struggling to save the Folsom and
the schooner Mary B. Mitchell, which was still in tow. As they watched the Nelson’s stern rose out of the water and
then the coal-laden ship slid without warning straight for the bottom, sinking in about 300 feet of water.
Aboard the Nelson, Captain Andrew Haghney of Toledo was frantically trying to save his wife and two-year-old
child who were traveling with him, plus nine crew members. They were in the lifeboat, still attached to the davits, when the
Nelson sank out from under them.
Haghney jumped into the open seas but the lifeboat and everyone in it was carried down with the ship.
Haghney held onto a piece of flotsam and got safely to shore.
It was theorized that the cargo of coal shifted as the vessel was tossed in the seas, causing the
sudden and unexpected plunge.
The wreck was found in 2014 by wreck hunters Daryl Ertel and Tom Mannesto, using a 50-foot research
boat with sonar equipment.
The Nelson was launched in 1886 and was considered among the larger schooners operating on the lakes
in its day. It was owned by the Mitchell Transportation Co. of Bay City, Michigan.