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Henry B. Smith

Henry B. SmithThe 525x55x31 ft. Henry B. Smith, owned by Acme Transit Company (Wm. A. Hawgood, Mgr.), was built at Lorain, Ohio by the American Shipbuilding Company and given the official number 203143.

 

On May 2, 1906 a crowd gathered at Lorain, Ohio, to watch as Mrs. Henry B. Smith christened the new 6,631 ton vessel that had been named in honor of her husband. A Buffalo, N.Y. newspaper, on the date of launch, claimed that the vessel was named in honor of Henry B. Smith, the manager of the Ludington Woodenware Company and owner of the H. B. Smith Machine Co. of Smithville, N.J. Examination of Ludington newspapers for the last week of April through the second week of May, 1906, finds no mention of this whatsoever as would be expected if it were true. It's more likely that the vessel was named after the vice president of Smith Steamboat Company of Bay City, MI.

 

Up until 1913 her career had been fairly uneventful. A stranding in the Detroit River during a heavy fog and a little brush with the north pier while approaching the American canal upbound. An encounter with the Douglass Houghton at Fairport, Ohio, on August 25, 1906 caused some damage her boat davits, rail, bulwarks, and stanchions. During the navigational season her days were spent carrying coal upbound and bringing back cargoes of grain or iron ore.

 

It was late Thursday night, November 6th, 1913, when the Henry B. Smith arrived at Marquette, having been delayed by rough seas and gale winds while coming up the lakes. Delays had plagued the Smith all season, and veteran Captain James Smith was likely not in a congenial frame of mind when he learned the dock had shut down due to the storm and they wouldn't load his boat. Owen had a little rumpus with the ore dock people that day and finally pursuaded them to open up and put on his cargo of ore. Yet another delay was to be had when the ore, frozen in the dock pockets, had to be knocked loose with long poles. The storm eased as the loading of 9,500 tons of ore continued, taking much longer than usual. At 6:30 p.m. on November 9th, astonished witnesses aboard the Choctaw and Denmark watched as the Smith made a hasty departure from the dock and headed out into the lake, her crew still struggling to batten her hatches! The Smith had 32 telescoping hatch covers, each one requiring time and strenuous effort to make watertight under the best of conditions and, for the Henry B. Smith and her crew of 25, time was almost up.

 

Captain Jimmy Owen had one of the staunchest boats on the lakes under him and likely figured that, as he made a run for the Soo with the storm at his stern, she could easily weather anything the big lake could throw at her. The Smith had barely gained the lake, and was still within view of those on shore, when the storm unleashed with a ferocity never before seen in navigational history. Described by Bos'n Slattery, aboard the Denmark as "one of the most spectacular sights I ever witnessed," he described the Smith as "pitching like a rowboat as she bucked in the big seas. At times she stood right on her stern so that we could see everything on her deck; then she would plunge forward, coming down with a slam and standing on her nose so that her wheel was thrown clear out of the water." Now realizing how greatly he, and everyone else, had underestimated this monster, Capt. Owen turned her nose into the wind and faced the demon as he made a run for the shelter of the Keweenaw Peninula, but it was too little, and too late. It had been too little since leaving Marquette without securing the hatch covers and it was too late to rectify it now. From ashore many people watched as the big freighter, only about a half hour out, made the turn to port and was swallowed from view by the blinding snowstorm.

 

The storm had devastated communications all over the Great Lakes region, and for several days many vessel owners had no knowledge of the whereabouts of their boats and crews. As communication was gradually restored the real horror of the storm began to unfold as the list of vessel strandings and losses grew at an alarming rate. But, where was the Henry B. Smith? Certainly not among the list of missing vessels published by most newspapers. Although concern had been felt when she was overdue at the Soo, her fate wasn't confirmed until wreckage, including four oars and a pike pole marked "Henry B. Smith", washed ashore between Chocolay River and Shot Point on the 13th. More wreckage was found in the days that followed including pieces of her white deckhouse and an armful of unused life belts, indicating that whatever happened to the Smith had happened quickly. Only the remains of H. R Haskin, second cook, and John Gallagher, third engineer were ever recovered, the latter being found on Parisian Island the following spring.

 

Rumors and speculations made the rounds following her loss, and still do. Some said that Capt. Owen was under pressure to deliver this cargo on time or he'd be looking for a different boat the next season. This charge was immediately refuted by the Hawgoods. Others hinted that liquor was involved, or that pride, after having words with the people at the ore dock, caused the captain to leave so hastily. And, of course, there has to be the message in a bottle. One such note, signed "Oliver", was reportedly found the following June and discounted by the owners as a hoax. Strangely enough, an almost identical note was reported as being found 21 years later!

 

On May 24th, 2013, wreckage believed to be that of the big freighter was found by shipwreck hunters Jerry Eliason, Kraig Smith and Ken Merryman, resting 30 miles north of Marquette under 500 feet of Lake Superior. On June 22nd & 23rd the group returned to the site with video equipment and was then able to confirm, with clear video of the vessel name, that they had indeed found the wreck of the Henry B. Smith, missing for almost a century. Eliason described the Smith as being broken in the middle in a "V" shape, the propeller and rudder being high off the bottom, with both ends v-ed down into the pile of ore. The 26th annual Gales of November conference, a fundraising event for the Lake Superior Marine Museum Association, is scheduled for November 1st & 2nd, 2013, with Eliason and Merryman having been invited to give a presentation about the wreck.

 


The Crew

James L. Owen, master, Geneva, Ohio
John Tait, first mate, Kingston, Ontario
Charles E. Rayburn, chief engineer
George Carey, second engineer
John Gallagher, third engineer, Escanaba, Michigan
Martin Freeman, watchman
Rufus Judson, Toledo, Ohio
Joseph Zink, boatswain, Corunna, Ont.
John Shire, deck hand
Harry R. Haskin, porter
Lawrence Perry, porter, Duluth, Minnesota
Christ Loefen, oiler
John H. Olsen, oiler
Otto Becker, fireman
Peter Costandakis, fireman
Charles J. Nilson, fireman
Charles Cattanach, wheelsman, Sombra, Ontario
Edward E. Shipley, wheelsman, Deckerville, Michigan
William Shotwell, Angus, Michigan

 


Sources:

- Photo courtesy of University of Detroit Mercy Fr. Edward J. Dowling, S. J. Marine Historical Collection

- Marine Review, Volume 35, 1907

- Annual Report, Lake Carriers' Association, 1913

- New York Tribune, 5 June 1914

- Buffalo Courier, 9 January 1916

- Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 31 March 1935

- Ludington Daily News, 3 November 1983

- Went Missing, Redux; Frederick Stonehouse, 2008

- Legendary Locals of Bay City, Michigan; Ron Bloomfield, 2012

- Superior Telegram, 23 July 2013





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