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Missing Shipwreck That Claimed Captain’s Life Found Discovered In Lake Superior After 74 Years

Samantha Franco
Photo Credit: Courtesy Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society
Photo Credit: Courtesy Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

We are all well aware that the Great Lakes are littered with shipwrecks; it is just a matter of finding them. One researcher managed to find the missing SS Arlington, long believed to be lost beneath the waves, after committing an entire decade of time and resources to locate it. After reaching out for help, he was able to identify, with certainty, that the shipwreck was indeed the SS Arlington.

The discovery of the SS Arlington

Photo of the SS Arlington.
The SS Arlington, prior to its sinking. (Photo Credit: Courtesy Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society)

After a dedicated 10-year search over Lake Superior, researcher Dan Fountain finally came across something at the bottom of the lake using remote sensing technology. Following his find, he approached the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society for help to determine exactly what he had come across. In 2023, Fountain and a team from the society took a sonar device out over the area, where they were able to confirm that what he had found was, in fact, a shipwreck.

The shipwreck, located about 35 miles north of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, close to Copper Harbor, Michigan, was identified as the 244-foot SS Arlington after underwater drones explored the wreck that sits beneath approximately 650 feet of water. The discovery was a surprise, as the ship had been missing since its sinking, and video footage showed the state of the wreckage, with its toppled smokestack and its steering wheel still intact.

How the ship became a wreck

A photo of a ship's steering wheel underwater.
The steering wheel of the SS Arlington, captured by underwater drones. (Photo Credit: Courtesy Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society)

Before it sank, the SS Arlington was a Canadian bulk carrier that was captained by seasoned Great Lakes sailor, Frederick “Tatey Bug” Burke. On April 30, 1940, the ship set off from Port Arthur, Ontario, onto Lake Superior, fully loaded with wheat. It was headed for Owen Sound, approximately 1,000 miles to the east of Lake Huron, accompanying another ship called Collingwood.

Throughout the journey, the pair of ships were met with a thick fog that, over time, transformed into a serious storm. Arlington‘s first mate, Junis Macksey, ordered the ship to adjust its course, sailing closer to the Canadian shore to the north to provide some sort of cover from the intense winds and rough waves. However, Captain Burke overrode this order, sending the ship back into the dangerous open waters. This would prove to be a massive mistake, as at 4:30 A.M. on May 1, Chief Engineer Fred Gilbert sounded the alarm that the vessel was sinking.

The mystery of Captain Burke

A shipwreck photographed underwater.
Another photo sourced from the underwater drones of the SS Arlington wreck. (Photo Credit: Courtesy Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society)

In a statement by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, they explained that, “Out of fear for their lives, and without orders from Captain Burke, the crew began to abandon ship on their own. Luckily, everyone safely got off the Arlington and made it to the safety of the Collingwood… everyone but Captain ‘Tatey Bug’ Burke.” Contemporary reports say that as the ship was going down, Burke was spotted near the pilothouse of the ship, waving to the Collingwood as he sank with the vessel. Why he went down with the ship instead of escaping with the rest of his crew remains a mystery to this day.

While the mystery continues to puzzle researchers, the Society’s Executive Director, Bruce Lynn, said that the discovery was the direct result of teamwork. “These targets don’t always amount to anything… but this time it absolutely was a shipwreck. A wreck with an interesting and perhaps mysterious story. Had Dan not reached out to us, we might never have located the Arlington… and we certainly wouldn’t know as much about her story as we do today,” he said.

Read more: A Father and Daughter Just Discovered a 152-Year-Old Shipwreck While Fishing in Green Bay

Fountain said of the find, “It’s exciting to solve just one more of Lake Superior’s many mysteries, finding Arlington so far out in the lake. I hope this final chapter in her story can provide some measure of closure to the family of Captain Burke.”

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!