The Louisiana Crashed and Burned


By James Donahue


Among the less remembered casualties of the Great Storm of 1913 is the wooden hulled freighter Louisiana, lost on Lake Michigan.


This ship, commanded by Capt. Fred McDonald, was steaming empty from Milwaukee to Alpena to pick up a load of limestone when it got caught on the southern edge of the storm.


The ship was battling high seas and gale-force winds of 45-miles-an-hour. It was driven aground on Washington Island, off Port Washington, Wisconsin, on Nov. 10. There the vessel pounded until it broke in two.


At some point a fire broke out and the Louisiana burned to a total loss. One account said the ship burned after it went aground. Another report in the Detroit News said the ship caught fire in the storm and that McDonald drove it ashore to give the crew a chance to escape.


The crew escaped in a ship’s yawl and successfully rowed to shore against a deadly surf. The wind and seas were so severe the local life savers, although watching the wreck from ashore, were fearful of attempting a rescue, one report said.


The Louisiana was built in Marine City, Michigan in 1887 so was considered an old boat at 27 years when it wrecked. Wooden ships were no longer in their prime by the after that many years on the lakes.


The ship’s owners, the Thompson Steamship Co. of Cleveland, had the Louisiana completely rebuilt the year before the fire, however.


It was one of the few wrecks reported on Lake Michigan. The bulk of the storm, which reached hurricane strength when it swept Lakes Superior and Huron, passed to the north.


More Ship Stories


The Mind of James Donahue

Great And Lost Ships Of The World