Marquette & Bessemer


The Open Stern

Marquette & Bessemer Bow On

Ghost Ship Marquette & Bessemer No. 2


By James Donahue


Lake Erie holds a few dark secrets that include the railroad car ferry Marquette & Bessemer No. 2. The ferry, laden with 30 coal-laden hopper cars, disappeared with all hands in a winter gale on Dec. 8, 1909. The wreck has never been found.


The ferry, with Capt. Robert R. McLeod at the helm, was steaming from Conneaut, Ohio, to Fort Stanley, Ontario, on its regular route, when the storm caught it in the middle of the lake. The storm generated 70 knot winds and visibility from the snow was reduced to zero.


The 335-foot-long steamer was unable to enter the harbor at Port Stanley because of the heavy seas so McLeod turned her back into the teeth of the gale, apparently trying to reach shelter behind Point Aux Pins. People on both sides of the lake claimed to have heard the ship’s distress whistle and seen its lights as it vainly searched for a safe place to escape the fury.


When the force of the wind shifted, it is believed McLeod turned the ship again toward Conneaut. The vessel was built without a sea gate to secure the stern and this is believed to have been reason it flooded and sank. It took on water faster than the pumps could handle it.


Another theory is that the railroad cars broke loose, possibly smashing the low stern gate and allowing the waves to flood the ship.


Three days after the Bessemer went missing one of its lifeboats was found about 15 miles from Erie. The boat carried nine frozen bodies.


Old-time sailors still claim to hear her whistle on stormy nights.


The exact location of this wreck has been a challenge to contemporary sport diving teams equipped with the best in scuba gear as well as new sonar equipment that allows them to search the lake bottom for lost wrecks. They are beginning to think of the Marquette & Bessemer as a ghost ship because they have not found a trace of it. They ask how a ship that large, and equipped with so many rail cars, be lost in a lake as shallow as Erie?


Adding to the mystery is that the wreck has reportedly been seen from the air on clear days. It has been sighted about eight miles northeast of Conneaut, in about 10 fathoms of water. Yet no one has located it by boat.


Further incentive for finding the wreck is the value of the cargo . . . mostly coal and steel. They say there also were coins in the ship’s safe that would today be valued at somewhere between $25,000 and $50,000. With this wreck there is a treasure to be found as well.


 The Mind of James Donahue


Great And Lost Ships Of The World