This Ship Mysteriously Vanished 115 Years Ago. Now, It’s Been Found at the Bottom of Lake Superior

Nobody knew what happened to the “Adella Shores,” which disappeared with 14 crew members aboard in 1909

Black and white photo of ship
The Adella Shores was built in 1894 for the Shores Lumber Company. It was named after the owner's daughter. Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

On May 1, 1909, the wooden steamship Adella Shores was following behind a larger vessel across the ice-covered waters of Lake Superior. Not long after rounding Michigan’s Whitefish Point, the Adella Shores disappeared. Nobody saw what happened, but all 14 crew members are presumed to have perished in the accident.

Now, more than a century later, the mysterious shipwreck has been found under 650 feet of water roughly 40 miles northwest of Whitefish Point. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society announced the find last Wednesday, the anniversary of the vessel’s disappearance.

Researchers stumbled upon the shipwreck during the summer of 2021, when they were using side-scan sonar to scour the lakebed for unusual shapes. Darryl Ertel, director of marine operations for the historical society, spotted something on the sonar imagery that caught his eye—and, based on the size and location, he had a hunch it was the Adella Shores.

He confirmed his suspicion using a remote-operated vehicle (ROV) equipped with cameras.

“I pretty much knew that had to be the Adella Shores when I measured the length of it, because there were no other ships out there missing in that size range,” says Ertel in a statement from the historical society. “As soon as I put the ROV down on it for the first time, I could see the design of the ship, and I could match it right up to the Adella Shores.”

Since identifying the wreck nearly three years ago, historical society staffers have been thoroughly researching the Adella Shores to ensure they “tell the story accurately,” as Corey Adkins, a spokesperson for the organization, says in the statement.

“People often ask us why we wait so long to release shipwrecks that we find,” he adds. “Every one of these stories is important and deserves to be told with the utmost honor and respect.”

The Adella Shores may have been doomed from the start—if you believe in maritime superstitions. The 195-foot-long steamer was constructed in Gibraltar, Michigan, in 1894 for the Shores Lumber Company. It was named for the owner’s daughter, Adella.

During the ceremonial christening of the new vessel, Adella’s sister, Bessie, smashed a bottle of water against its hull—instead of the customary bottle of champagne or wine—because the family was strict about alcohol.

“Old-time sailors might have seen that as a bad luck omen,” writes the historical society.

Cargo winch under water
A view of the cargo winch on the Adella Shores Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

Even today, cruise lines and shipping companies continue to break a bottle of champagne or wine against the hull of new ships to ensure safe passage and good fortune. This tradition is thought to date back to the 18th century, though similar traditions are much older.

“The first recorded case concerned one of the princesses of Hanover, who threw the bottle with more energy than accuracy, missing the ship entirely, and injuring one of the spectators, who put in a claim for damages against the Admiralty,” according to Royal Museums Greenwich. “From about 1810, it was customary for a lady to be asked to perform the ceremony.”

When it set sail, the Adella Shores encountered a fair share of trouble. Before its disappearance in 1909, the vessel sank twice in shallow waters. Each time, crews brought the ship to the surface and put it back into service, according to the historical society.

The vessel met its fate while transporting a load of salt across Lake Superior from Ludington, Michigan, to Duluth, Minnesota, according to Bowling Green State University’s Historical Collections of the Great Lakes. After departing on April 29, 1909, the Adella Shores trailed behind the Daniel J. Morrell, a much larger steel steamship, as it carved a trail in the thick ice covering the lake.

Sonar image of ship under water
The side-scan sonar image of the Adella Shores at the bottom of Lake Superior Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

When the ships reached Whitefish Point—a peninsula that juts out into Lake Superior from the northeast corner of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—the Adella Shores was two miles behind the Daniel J. Morrell. The distance made the Adella Shores invisible to the crew aboard the larger vessel. Battling a fierce northeast gale, the Daniel J. Morrell plowed ahead, but the smaller ship vanished.

“Some debris was found, but no bodies,” per the historical society. “Captain Millen of the Morrell thinks the smaller Shores might have struck a large ice flow, puncturing her hull and quickly sinking.”

In shipwreck terms, the Adella Shores was categorized as a vessel that “went missing.” This umbrella phrase describes ships that set sail as planned but were never seen again. These vessels disappear with no survivors and no witnesses.

Now that the Adella Shores has been found, it’s no longer a member of the “went missing” club, says Fred Stonehouse, a maritime historian and the author of Went Missing: Unsolved Great Lakes Shipwreck Mysteries, in the statement.

“She still tells a very poignant and fascinating story,” he adds.

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