An 80-Year-Old Shipwreck Was Just Discovered At The Bottom Of Lake Superior

Published February 15, 2024
Updated March 12, 2024

The S.S. Arlington sank into Lake Superior on May 1, 1940, along with its captain — but it's unclear why the captain went down with his ship.

SS Arlington Shipwreck

Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical SocietyA historical photo of the merchant ship S.S. Arlington.

The remains of a World War II-era merchant ship that sank in Lake Superior along with its captain were recently discovered by a group of shipwreck hunters.

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum announced the discovery, attributing the find to shipwreck researcher Dan Fountain, who has been studying remote sensing data in the hunt for sunken vessels in Lake Superior for the past decade.

Fountain’s independent research led him to reach out to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS), who then worked with Fountain to locate the 244-foot bulk carrier S.S. Arlington roughly 650 feet below the surface of the water, just north of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula.

Arlington's Toilet Bowl Rudder And Stock And Steam Mooring Winch

Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical SocietyThe Arlington‘s toilet bowl rudder and stock-and-steam mooring winch.

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

But just what happened to the Arlington all those years ago? The shipwreck paints an image of an unfortunate, tragic disaster.

The Final Journey Of The S.S. ‘Arlington’

The S.S. Arlington left Port Arthur, Ontario, on April 30, 1940, loaded with wheat and ready to set sail for Owen Sound, Ontario. Under the command of Captain Frederick “Tatey Bug” Burke, who had crossed the lake many times, the merchant ship sailed off into the dense fog.

Another larger freighter, the Collingwood, also set off across Lake Superior that day, but as night fell, the thick fog turned into a heavy storm. As rain assailed both ships, the Arlington began to take on water, and first mate Junis Macksey ordered the crew to bring the ship closer to shore, where the wind and waves would be less intense.

Captain Burke, however, refused and instead demanded that the ship remain on its original course.

History News February 2024
History Uncovered Podcast
Episode 107: History Happy Hour, February 2024: The Titanic Of The Alps, Amelia Earhart’s Plane, And More
Join the History Uncovered podcast for a look at the most fascinating history news stories and historical anniversaries from February 2024.

Around 4:30 a.m. on May 1, the Arlington started to sink into the water, and chief engineer Fred Gilbert sounded the alarm. Lacking orders from Captain Burke but fearing for their lives, the crew of the Arlington abandoned ship — and thankfully, everyone managed to survive and make it aboard the Collingwood.

Everyone, that is, except Captain Burke.

Captain Burke

Robert McGreevy/Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical SocietyAn artist’s rendition of Captain Burke going down with the sinking Arlington.

Shortly after, an investigation was conducted regarding the ship’s sinking. Why, for example, had Captain Burke made the strange call to usher the ship into more dangerous waters? And why did he go down with the ship when he could have easily made it off as his crew did?

Unfortunately, the investigation found no answers to these questions. Captain Burke reportedly even stood near the ship’s pilothouse and waved at his crew as the Arlington went under.

Still, while many questions remain unanswered, the discovery of the S.S. Arlington can perhaps provide some closure for Captain Burke’s descendants.

Discovering The Lost Merchant Ship

“One of the most important aspects of everything we do as an
organization involves the concept of teamwork,” said GLSHS Executive Director Bruce Lynn. “We are lucky to have so many dedicated shipwreck historians and researchers as friends of GLSHS.”

Arlington Ship's Wheel

Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical SocietyThe steering wheel of the Arlington.

This dedication to history and teamwork was precisely what enabled researchers to find the Arlington. When Dan Fountain approached GLSHS with a potential target, it could have easily been passed off as nothing — after all, as Lynn notes, these suspected finds often do amount to nothing.

However, in this instance, “it absolutely was a shipwreck,” Lynn said in the announcement. “A wreck with an interesting, and perhaps mysterious story. Had Dan not reached out to us, we might never have located the Arlington… and we certainly wouldn’t know as much about her story as we do today.”

After reading about this newly discovered lost ship, dive into the story of the RMS Titanic, history’s most famous sunk ship. Or, read about the Andrea Gail, the shipwreck that inspired The Perfect Storm.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Citation copied
Cite This Article
Harvey, Austin. "An 80-Year-Old Shipwreck Was Just Discovered At The Bottom Of Lake Superior.", February 15, 2024, Accessed June 16, 2024.