Ships 2


Ships 3


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.