Wreck of ship that sank in 1940 found in Lake Superior

The wheel of a wrecked ship
The wheel of the ship Arlington is seen more than 600 feet deep in Lake Superior, about 35 miles north of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. The Arlington sank in 1940; the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society announced Monday that it located the wreck.
Courtesy Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

Updated: 2:50 p.m.

Shipwreck hunters have discovered a merchant ship that sank in Lake Superior in 1940, taking its captain with it, during a storm off Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society and shipwreck researcher Dan Fountain announced Monday the discovery of the 244-foot bulk carrier Arlington in about 650 feet of water some 35 miles north of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula.

The Arlington left Port Arthur, Ontario — what’s now known as Thunder Bay — on April 30, 1940, fully loaded with wheat and headed to Owen Sound, Ontario, under the command of Captain Frederick “Tatey Bug” Burke, a veteran of the Great Lakes.

But as the Arlington and a larger freighter, the Collingwood, made their way across Lake Superior they encountered dense fog and then a storm after nightfall that battered both ships. The Arlington began to take on water.

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A black and white photo of a ship carrying timber
The Arlington is seen with a cargo of timber in an undated file photo taken before it sank in Lake Superior in May of 1940.
Courtesy Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

The ship’s first mate ordered the Arlington onto a course to hug the Canadian North Shore, which would have provided some cover from wind and waves, but Burke countermanded and ordered his ship back onto a course across the open lake, the discoverers said.

Early on May 1, 1940, the Arlington began to sink and the ship’s chief engineer sounded the alarm. The crew, “out of fear for their lives, and without orders from Captain Burke,” began to abandon ship, they said in a statement.

All crew made it safely to the Collingwood except for Burke, who went down with the Arlington. Reports indicate he was last seen near its pilothouse, waving at the Collingwood, minutes before his ship vanished into the lake.

The shipwreck society said in the statement that “no one will ever know the answer” as to why Burke acted as he did before his ship was lost.

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

A shipwreck at the bottom of Lake Superior
The wheel of the ship Arlington is seen more than 600 feet deep in Lake Superior, about 35 miles north of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula.
Courtesy Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

The Arlington was discovered thanks to Fountain, a resident of Negaunee, Mich., who has been conducting remote sensing in Lake Superior in search of shipwrecks for about a decade, said Bruce Lynn, executive director of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society.

Fountain approached the group with “a potential target” near the northern tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, and the Arlington was discovered last year. Lynn said.

“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,” he said in the statement. “Had Dan not reached out to us, we might never have located the Arlington.”