100-Year-Old Shipwreck Discovered 800 Feet Below Lake Superior

The “Huronton” sank after colliding with a larger ship amid heavy fog and smoke in October 1923

Large hole in shipwreck
The gash that sank the Huronton in 1923 is still visible. Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

On October 11, 1923, a steel bulk freighter called the Huronton sank while making its way across Lake Superior. Now, a century later, researchers have located the shipwreck in an 800-foot-deep hole in the lake floor.

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society announced the find last week on the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking.

The 238-foot-long Huronton was empty as it traveled northwest across Lake Superior amid heavy smoke and fog from forest fires. The 416-foot-long Cetus, meanwhile, was loaded with ore as it sailed southeast across the water.

The two ships were traveling “too fast for the conditions,” according to the historical society. The Cetus’ bow collided with the Huronton’s port side and, for a brief moment, the two vessels were locked together. The collision ripped a hole in the Huronton.

Sketch of dog being rescued from shipwreck
An artist's interpretation of the bulldog rescue from the Huronton Bob McGreevy / Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

The Cetus’ captain realized he could use his vessel to plug the hole, giving the Huronton’s 17 crew members enough time to abandon ship, according to the historical society. But after the men clambered safely aboard the Cetus, they realized they’d left their bulldog behind. First mate Dick Simpell risked his life to jump back onto the sinking ship and grab the dog. He made it back to the Cetus just in time to see the Huronton sink to the lake's depths.

All told, the vessel sank in just 18 minutes, reports the Star Tribune’s Christa Lawler. It went down about 23 miles northwest of Whitefish Point.

Researchers with the historical society discovered the Huronton’s wreckage in Lake Superior this summer. Aboard the R/V David Boyd, they were using side-scan sonar to systematically search for wrecks when the lakebed’s depth dropped from 300 feet to 800 feet deep. They spotted a “straight line” in the 800-foot-deep hole on the sonar image, which suggested the presence of a wreck, per the historical society.

They continued to survey the lakebed, marking the spot as a “possible target.” A few hours later, they circled back on their way home.

Sonar view of shipwreck
Using side-scan sonar, researchers found the wreckage in an 800-foot-deep hole. Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

“Sure enough, it was a shipwreck,” says Darryl Ertel, marine operations director, in the historical society’s statement.

The team sent down a remote-operated vehicle equipped with a camera and a light to capture photos and videos of the Huronton. Per the Star Tribune, the vessel was located just three miles from the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot immortalized with a 1976 hit song.

Underwater image of open door on shipwreck
An open door on the port side of the Huronton Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

“Finding any shipwreck is exciting,” says Bruce Lynn, the historical society’s director, in the statement. “But to think that we’re the first human eyes to look at this vessel 100 years after it sank, not many people have the opportunity to do that.”

Staffers with the historical society, which also has a museum in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, spend every summer scouring Lake Superior for shipwrecks. Their recent discoveries include the 131-year-old Atlanta schooner barge, as well as a pair of ships that went down in November 1914.

Underwater view of shipwreck smokestack
The Huronton's smoke stack Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

Thousands of vessels—many of them hauling iron and coal—sank in the Great Lakes during the late 19th and early 20th centuries because of bad weather and poor communication. Researchers say the clock is ticking for many of these wrecks, which are being damaged by invasive zebra mussels and quagga mussels. Per the historical society’s website, the team hopes to locate, identify and document as many shipwrecks as possible “before they are lost to these invaders.”

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