The SS Alpena
, lost with all hands on Lake Michigan in 1880.
Built in Marine City Michigan in 1867, Alpena
was typical of sidewheelers on the Great Lakes in the late 19th century. She was purchased by the Goodrich Transportation Company shortly after her construction to replace the Goodrich steamer Seabird
, which tragically burned off Waukegan, Illinois in 1868. Alpena
, powered by a single cylinder vertical beam engine manufactured by the Detroit Locomotive Works, typically ran a passenger and package freight route from Muskegon Michigan to Grand Haven, Michigan, and then on to Chicago, a trip of about 105 miles and taking the better part of a day and night.
It was on this route that Alpena
departed from Grand Haven at about 9:30 on October 15, 1880. At about 1:00am, she passed the steamer Muskegon
, another Goodrich boat returning from Chicago on the same route. Within the hour, an intense low pressure system moved in from the southwest, and the Lake Michigan and all vessels on it were suddenly swept into a violent gale. Temperatures plummeted from 65 to 32 Fahrenheit, and winds reported reaching 70 miles per hour. Alpena
, captained by veteran of the lakes Nelson W. Napier, battled on towards Chicago. At about 6:00am on October 16, the ship was sighted making way into the waves by the schooner S.A. Irish
. About an hour later, 35 miles east of Kenosha, Wisconsin, Alpena
was again sighted by the schooner-barge City of Grand Haven
as laboring heavily in the storm, but still persevering. Between 10:00 and 11:00am, another schooner, sometimes identified as Challenger
and others as Holmes
, sighted Alpena
heading due west and struggling in the trough. This was the last confirmed sighting of Alpena
It is thought that the cargo may have shifted, not an uncommon occurrence on vessels of the lakes, which would have lifted one of the paddle wheels out of the water. Now listing in heavy seas, Alpena
would also now have less power, with one wheel spinning uselessly in the air, and the other digging deeper than designed for, putting a strain on the engine. Debris from the wreck washed up on the Michigan side of the lake from Holland to South Haven. Wreckage from the schooner D.A. Wells
was also found intermingled on the beaches, giving some credence to the theory that Alpena
had collided with another vessel, as the Wells
was also lost in the storm.
No manifest of the ship was kept, but it is thought that Alpena
was carrying between 60 and 100 persons on her last voyage. The remains of fewer than 10 were recovered in the following weeks. The coroner's jury, held in Muskegon, found the Goodrich Transportation company wholly responsible, questioning the vessel's seaworthiness and the state of the lifebelts carried aboard. The exact location of the hull has not been found. As it was the most prominent vessel lost, the October 1880 storm is often referred to as the Alpena
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