The Mystery Of The SS Marquette And Bessemer No. 2

Shipwreck in Lake ErieLake Erie is home to one of the world's great maritime mysteries: the loss of the SS Marquette & Bessemer No. 2 in 1909. 

Prior to recent decades, it was not uncommon for ships to meet their demise on Lake Erie; there have been more than 100 documented shipwrecks on the lake including commercial vessels and passenger vessels. 

What sets the Marquette & Bessemer No. 2 apart is the mystery surrounding the wreck and the difficulty of shipwreck enthusiasts to locate the vessel in the clear waters of this inland sea. According to James Donahue, "the wreck has reportedly been seen from the air on clear days...yet no one has located it by boat."

The Wreck of the SS Marquette & Bessemer No. 2

The vessel departed on the morning of December 7, 1990, engaging in its routine 5-hour trip to deliver cargo at Port Stanley. The ship encountered sustained winds of 75 mph and was unable to find shelter in nearby harbors. The specific details of the ships actions are unclear due to conflicting testimony from witnesses that night. 

On December 10, a field of debris was found that contained woodwork painted the color of the Marquette & Bessemer No. 2, and a lifeboat was found on December 12. 

The Aftermath of the Shipwreck

Only five bodies from the Marquette & Bessemer No. 2 were ever found and - chillingly - the captain's body had severe slash wounds that matched the profile of the two large knives and a meat cleaver found on a crewman's corpse. With no survivors to shed light on the circumstances surrounding the sinking, we will likely never know the cause of the wreck or what actions were taken in an attempt to find shelter.

Speculation has centered primarily on the lack of a stern gate on the car ferry allowing large waves to flood the ship from the rear. This could have extinguished boiler fires and resulted in a lack of power to steer through the storm or caused the ship to capsize due to the additional weight. 

Where is the Marquette and Bessemer No. 2 Today?

The Marquette and Bessemer No. 2 is considered to be the holy grail of Lake Erie shipwrecks, with reported findings ultimately proving to be cases of mistaken identity.

Will the wreck ever be found? Time will tell.

Here is an interesting presentation by Mark Allenbaugh on the sinking of the Marquette & Bessemer No. 2.

Paul T. Hofmann
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Focused on personal injury, with an emphasis on maritime, railroad and construction worker tort claims.
7 Comments
I have been interested in the fate of the Marquette & Bessemer #2 for decades, and have read as many of the accounts and theories that there are out there. Like many others I have my own theory about what happened the night of her loss. I have recently discovered Joe Hindley's video on YouTube in which he asserts that the M&B #2 turned away from Port Stanley to the WEST, and headed toward Rondeau point and Erieau, Ont.. Mr. Hindley further asserts that, upon reaching the lee of Rondeau point, Capt. McCleod turned the ship southward with the intention of heading her toward Cleveland. Up to this point my theory agrees with Mr. Hindley. However, Mr. Hindley further claims that the car ferry capsized off of Rondeau, and upside down began forming the sand spit which is Rondeau point and Rondeau Park. According to lake geologists, the 8km long sand spit which is Rondeau Park and point has been in its present form for about 10,000 years, and has had almost the same outline since Rondeau Provincial Park was founded in 1894 (15 years prior to the shipwreck). So his suggestion that the ship is somehow beneath the shoreline of Rondeau Park and now spitting coal is, I believe, misplaced. The dark smudges along the shore visible on GoogleEarth (which Mr. Hindley refers to as indicating the final resting place of the M&B #2) are more likely organic effluvia emanating from dead and rotting vegetation and trees (which abound along the shoreline of Rondeau Park). In my research I've found that apparently the eastern shore of Rondeau Point has actually receded somewhat from its 1894 location, about 750 feet or so. If you visit the following website, you will find a map of Rondeau Park from both 1894 and 1941 in which the outline of Rondeau Park can be compared, and you will see that it was not formed by a shipwreck: https://ocul.on.ca/topomaps/highlights/ In spite of this, I do personally believe that Capt. McCleod did indeed turn the ship to the west from Port Stanley and head along the lee of the north shore toward Rondeau and Erieau because of the exposed nature of the ship's stern, which was not equipped with a stern gate (a month prior to the wreck McCleod complained that he had nearly lost the ship because of water intrusion into the open stern gate). I believe that he may have intended to attempt entry into Erieau harbor, but not really being a harbor for a vessel the size and draft of the M&B #2, he instead decided to make a run due south toward Cleveland, staying in the lee of the Rondeau point as long as possible. Once beyond the end of the point heading south, he would have faced seas and winds on his starboard bow quarter, in an attempt to shield his vulnerable open stern. Unfortunately, as he headed south, the mounting seas must have continued to climb aboard the ship, adding additional coating and weight of ice, causing the ship to roll and become unwieldy, and allowing water to intrude into the open car deck. Somewhere between Rondeau point and Cleveland, the seas flooded the engine room putting out the fires and leaving the ship dead in the water and in the trough of the waves. Somehow at least one or more lifeboats were launched (including #4 which was discovered off of Erie, PA.). Much has been made of the fact that knives and a meat cleaver were found on the person of the steward. I suspect that those were taken by the steward to assist with either chopping ice buildup on the lifeboat lines or davits, and/or cutting lines in the event that was necessary. The wounds found on Capt. McCleod's body were, in my opinion, more likely caused either by contact with torn or sharp wreckage, or contact with the ship's topside structures as it sank. Great lakes shipwreck history is replete with accounts of crewmembers being injured or killed by or during the sinking of a ship or launching of lifeboats. Once free of the sinking car ferry, the lightly-clad crewmen of lifeboat #4 (now located somewhere between the sinking ship and Cleveland, about mid-lake), began rowing in earnest toward the south, or what they thought was south. Because of the weather conditions, it would not have taken long for the lightly clad crew to begin to succumb to the effects of hypothermia, falling into a stupor, falling asleep, or hallucinating . They would shortly have stopped rowing and, unconscious in the bottom of the lifeboat, they would have drifted northeast with the waves and wind. I have estimated that if they stopped rowing north of Cleveland, they would have begun drifting approximately 90 miles to the northeast. They were discovered on 12/12/09 (four days after the ship went missing) about 15 miles off of Erie, PA. I consider it very plausible that given the 70mph winds, waves and current, that lifeboat #4 drifted 90 miles in four days, at the rate of about 1 mile per hour. Had M&B#2 been abandoned just west of Long Point as some suggest, and given the wind and sea conditions at the time, lifeboat #4 would have been unlikely to be where it was found on 12/12/09. It would have been driven either onto Long Point or further northeast toward Dunkirk or Buffalo.
by Robert B. January 2, 2021 at 05:47 PM
In searching this further, I see that a man named Joe Hindley claims to have located the wreck of the M&B#2 near Rondeau Park on the Canadian side. He has an 8 minute video. He claims that McCloud did not head back south, but instead went west. He says that McCloud probably planned to head west to keep his vulnerable stern away from the wind and wave action until he was north of Cleveland. At that point, he would turn south to cross to Cleveland. As he traveled west, ice continued to build up on his starboard side even as the tried to chop it away. At the point near where Rondeau Park is today, he turned to port. The ice build up on the starboard side caused the ship to roll over and sink upside down. The sand built up over her over the years and she is now buried under the sand there. He claims that you can see the darkened black stains seeping out into the water from the coal that she had been carrying. Seems possible to me.
by john cook November 17, 2020 at 08:21 AM
My name is Josh Billinghurst. I am 51 years old and grew up in St Thomas just 10 mi north of Port Stanley ont. My grandmother's mother had a lease on a cottage a stones throw west of the pier in Port stanley. When I was about 10 my grandmother told me about " the Bessimer" and I was always fascinated about it . I haven't read any books about it and was surprised to find out anybody else new anything about it until I googled it recently. I was apparently wrong. We grew up swimming in the muddy waters and playing in the roughest waters on Erie just west of what was at one time the"Boardwalk" . I wish I had a clearer story of what she told me but as far as I can remember , she or her mother regularly watched the Bessemer arrive in Port Stanley, and on the day of its supposed arrival it was terribly wavy and stormy . It was a regular thing to watch this boat arrive and depart since they were so close. Instead of coming strait into the pier the boat turned left (if you were approaching inside the boat) and went in front of my grandmothers cottage and continued west. She said it was difficult to see but distinctively saw it heading in a west direction which was not what it regularly did. I seem to recall her say it was foggy or raining but they could see the dark outline of this boat. I don't know if over the years I have fabricated some of these details in my head, but to the best of what I can remember, that's what she told me. She was born in 1904 and died in 1994 .I will ask my older sister or brothers if they remember anything she may have told them .
by Josh Billinghurst November 16, 2020 at 10:35 PM
by Josh Billinghurst November 16, 2020 at 09:23 PM
I have always been fascinated by this story since I first heard it. Part of that is because today I am controller for the Curtze Co. The passenger onboard worked for the Curtze family and descendants of that family still operate the business today. Curtze Co was simply a grocer back then but looked to get into the fresh fish business. I wish you success in finding the lost vessel and sincerely hope to hear more. I think this tale has the makings of a terrific movie.
by john cook November 11, 2020 at 10:45 AM
only five?? the frozen men in the lifeboat plus the captain.
by tom roberts September 9, 2020 at 07:34 PM
You might want to correct one error on this page--- the Marquette and Bessemer #2 disappeared in 1909, not 1990.
by David Bohn September 9, 2020 at 12:55 PM
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