Pere Marquette 18, The
DESCRIPTION: "Out through the piers at Ludington one dark September day, The Pere Marquette 18 steamed proudly on her way. Her captain, Peter Kilty, looked on his ship with pride," but the mate announces the ship is sinking. They call for help, but 28 drown
AUTHOR: Frank McCauley
EARLIEST DATE: 1932 (collected from Manus J. Bonner, brother-in-law of the Pere Marquette 18's captain, by Walton)
KEYWORDS: ship disaster death drowning technology
FOUND IN: US(MW)
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Walton/Grimm/Murdock, pp. 177-179, "The Pere Marquette 18" (1 text)
NOTES: Although this wreck is historical, there seems to be some uncertainty about the facts. I checked four sources: Walton/Grimm/Murdock, Berman, Shelak, Thompson.
Berman's brief comment, p. 259, says merely that the Pere Marquette 18, 2090 tons, built 1902, foundered September 9, 1910, near Sheboygan, with the loss of 27 lives.
Walton/Grimm/Murdock agrees with the tonnage and the date of sinking; it says that "more than two dozen" lives were lost, including Captain Peter Kilty. The ship foundered some twenty miles from Sheboygan. The remaining crew members were saved by the Pere Marquette 17, a sister ship.
The most detailed accounts are in Shelak and Thompson. Shelak, pp. 144-147, describes her as 338 feet long, with a beam of 56 feet and a draft of 20, and lists her as 2909 tons (it will be seen that this and Berman's figures are easy typographic variants of each other). The ship was a car ferry; there were reportedly 29 railroad cars aboard. The ship had been recently inspected, and the weather on her final voyage, though stormy, was not really extreme. Reportedly there were 62 passengers and crew, and two stowaways, aboard.
The voyage was a "routine cruise" from Ludington to Milwaukee. Shelak seems to say that the voyage began in the early morning of September 8, but gives no date for the actual sinking (though he claims the fatal leak was discovered around 3:00 a.m.)
When water started coming in, the first mate made an inspection and concluded it was "nothing more than a damaged deadlight or porthole cover." But the pumps could not handle the flooding. Not even pushing out nine of the loaded railroad cars could keep the ship afloat. Finally a distress call went out. The Pere Marquette 17 responded, but the 18 went down just before rescue operations could begin. Pere Marquette 6 and Pere Marquette 20 also arrived eventually. 33 passengers and crew were saved, but all officers were lost, and two crew from the Pere Marquette 17 died in the rescue attempts.
The cause of the disaster was never determined, but a likely culprit is the rear deck area where the railroad cars were loaded.
Thompson, p. 285, says "On September 9, 1911, the Pere Marquette Railroad's Pere Marquette 18 got caught out on the lake in a severe storm and began taking on water through a number of portholes that were smashed out by the pounding seas. When the pumps couldn't keep up with the incoming water and the stern of the ship continued to settle deeper in the seas, the captain had the radio operator send out a message in Morse code asking for help.
"The distress call was heard by the Pere Marquette 17, which arrived on the scene just as the flooded ferry sank.... [C]rewmembers from the Pere Marquette 17 managed to pull thirty-two people from the stormy waters. Twenty-seven others went down with the ship or drowned before rescuers could get to them."
Thompson has another account of the sinking, on page 27, which ways that "many lives" were lost in the sinking, but 35 were saved. This passage gives the date as September 9, 1910, as in all the other sources. It seems clear that this is the correct date, but apparently the number killed and the number saved is slightly uncertain.
Thompson also notes that this was the first rescue on the Lakes made possible by radio. (There had already been one on the high seas.) Radios were still optional equipment on boats, but the Pere Marquette railroad company had voluntarily installed radios on their ship, and in this case it paid off handsomely. - RBW
Last updated in version 2.5
- Berman: Bruce D. Berman, Encyclopedia of American Shipwrecks, Mariner's Press, 1972
- Shelak: Benjamin J. Shelak, Shipwrecks of Lake Michigan, Trails Books, 2003
- Thompson: Mark L. Thompson, Graveyards of the Lakes, Wayne State University Press, 2000
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