The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Equinox (Propeller), sunk, 9 Sep 1875

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A private dispatch from Chicago states that the prop. EQUINOX foundered off Big Point Sauble, Lake Michigan, Thursday night, and all hands were lost. Her consort, the EMMA MAYES, has arrived at that port all right.
      Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
      September 11, 1875 3-5

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      The propeller EQUINOX went down in a gale on Lake Michigan near Point Au Sable, about 180 miles from Chicago. All 22 on board were lost. At about 2 o'clock Friday morning the EMMA A. MAYES in tow of the propeller, had cast off her line and witnessed the towing steamer go down. The EQUINOX was built in 1857.
      Port Huron Daily Times
      Monday, September 13, 1875

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      The crewman (or crewmen ? poor type) of the EQUINOX was brought ashore by the schooner HAVEN, after 31 hours on the pilot house of the wrecked vessel.
      Port Huron Daily Times
      Tuesday, September 14, 1875

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      (Full Particulars Of Both Disasters.- Chicago Sept. 14.)
      Reuben Burr, who is supposed to be the sole survivor of the propeller EQUINOX, which foundered off Point au Sable, Lake Michigan, on the morning of the IOth. inst., reached this city yesterday afternoon, by the schooner HAVEN, Capt. Ross, having been picked up by that vessel after floating thirty-one hours on the pilot-house of the wrecked steamer. Burr was helmsman. He was picked up eighty miles south-south west of Manitou Island on Saturday last. He stated that the sea was very rough during all the night preceeding the catastrophe, and the vessel sprung a leak while he was at the wheel. Burr and the mate attempted to stop the leak but their efforts were fruitless, and it was decided to lower the boats. At this time the schooner in tow, EMMA E. MAYES, was hailed and asked to come alongside; but either the persons on board did not hear the request, or their vessel was unmanageable. At all events the schooner did not respond. Signals were made and lights displayed, but without avail. A boat was then lowered from the port side of the propeller and the ate, owner, watchman, five deck-hands, an engineer and two firemen got into it, when the vessel went down almost immediately. Burr swam for a long time side by side with the captain and they finally reached a spar, but afterwards got seperated. Subsequently Burr caught the pilot-house and occupied that with the second cook, but the latter after nearly a day's drifting became exhausted, then unconscious, and slipped off. Burr was picked up by the HAVEN in an exhausted condition on Saturday morning, but he is now feeling quite comfortable.
The seven passengers of the steam-barge MENDOTA, who were picked up by the schooner ADDIE, off Manitou, arrived here yesterday. One of the crew states that at one o'clock on Friday morning the waves began breaking over the MENDOTA, and she parted the line by which she was towing the barge MORNING STAR. The water kept gaining till five o'clock, when the other barge was thrown off. Soon after the boats were lowered, and the captain, his son, the first mate, and some of the crew climbed into the larger boat. The smaller one was taken by some of the crew, who almost immediately pulled away. The father and wife of the captain were left. The father was seventy years of age, and tried to reach the boat. When last seen the steward stood with his wife, and went down with her. The story is related also by another of the crew, who speaks in terms of praise of the conduct of the captain and officers. The MENDOTA was eighteen years old, and was owned by Wm. Crossthwaite, of Buffalo. She carried a large cargo of coal, and was valued at $30,000. The cargo was insured, but the vessel was not. It is feared that the barge EVENING STAR is also lost. She had six men on board. The names of the lost and saved in the MENDOTA disaster, as given by the, Chief Engineer, Ness, are as follows :- Wm. Crossthwaite, the owner's son; E. Fairbanks, the captain's father, who was on a pleasure trip; Charles Dean, steward, and his wife of Bay City; Edward Hughes, of Buffalo; Patrick Ryan, first wheelsman, of Bay City, Mich.; Wm. Frankford, watcbman, of Bay City; and Edward Moynehan, Edward Durow, Edward Mulligan, John Carsel, deck hands.
      SAVED:-Albert Fairbanks, captain; the captain's son Franklin W. Fairbanks; John McKinney, first mate; Amos Wess, chief ewngineer; W. Scott Crone, fireman; A. S. Murphy, fireman; James Smith; Spencer; L. Sage; George McKinney, all deck hands.
      Toronto Daily Globe
      Wednesday, September 15, 1875

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      (To the Editor of the Globe)
SIR,-The captain of the steamer BADGER STAE, which called here this moruing, en-route from Chicago, reports seeing thirteen vessels, ashore on Lake Michigan. The names or further particulars he was unable to give,as they were not approached near enough further than
to observe their relative positions with the aid of a telescope.
It is just 23 years since the northern lakes were visited by so severe a gale so early in September, and strange as it may appear, both occurred on the same date, with winds from the same quarter, though attended with far less loss of life and property in the former instance. Among other casualties occurring at that time was the loss of the schooner CLYDE near Toronto, having on board 50 hhds. of sugar, and 100 tons of coal; the wrecking of the schooner BUFFALO, and the loss of all hands, on Long Point; the Canadian prop. REINDEER
beached at Long Point Cut; the schooner OREGON foundered above Erie with the loss of all hands, with many others, the value of property lost being estimated by the underwriters at $47,125, and the number of lives sacrificed 37. It was also noticed in that year (I refer to 1852 ) that the equinoctial gales which usually occur on or about the 2Oth. of the month did not take place, nor did any weather of a violent character set in until towards the latter part of October. In short, the remainder of the season was not violently unpropitious for the shipping, or for navigation continuing uninterrupted until after the middle of December, the last disaster of the season being the loss of the brig JOHN HANCOCK, with a cargo of railroad iron, at Rond Eau,which occurred on the I8th. of that month.
The loss of such treacherous old crafts as the EQUINOX, COMET, and MENDOTA, can occasion no surprise. In the case of the EQUINOX, Capt. Dwight Scott, her principal owner, was the victim of his own recklessness, and the further loss of life has been most deplorable.
There are numerous old crafts yet afloat, and ere the season closes other casualties equally as sad and alarming, will doubtless occur. A Plimsoll would find much to occupy his time in going for these miserable old hulks
      J. W. H. Detroit, Sept. 14, 1875
      Toronto Daily Globe
      Thursday, September 16, 1875

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      A terrible disaster occurred on Lake Michigan early last Friday. The propeller EQINOX, on the way from Bay City to Chicago with a cargo of salt and towing the schooner EMMA A. MAYES, loaded with lumber, was overtaken by the storm about two o'clock in the morning near Point au Sauble, one hundred and eighty miles north of Chicago. Capt. Woodworth of the EQUINOX came to the stem of the propeller at that time and called out to cut the lines. This was done and the propeller careened and sunk in a few minutes afterwards. She had on board a crew of nineteen men and Capt. Dwight Scott of Cleveland, a well known lake captain, who was accompanied by his daughter and granddaughter, making a total of twenty-two. The first intimation the schooner had of the catastrophe was the shrieks of the drowning. The MAYES could render no assistance whatever in the terrible sea that was running and the entire crew of the EQUINOX went down. The angry waters of the lake swallowed the great vessel at one gulp, leaving no sign of where it had been a few minutes before. The story of the disaster is told by Capt. Lusk, of the schooner EMMA A. MAYES, which arrived off the harbor Friday and was brought in Saturday morning. His schooner was being towed by the lost propeller up to within a few minutes before
she went down. The storm struck the lake with great force, but the two vessels plowed their way through without misfortune until two o'clock Friday morning. The crews of both vessels were ready for duty and those on the schooner were constantly engaged about the sails and rigging. The fury of the storm was terrible and it seemed as though certain destruction awaited them. No sign, however, came from the EQUINOX that all was not right on board. Her speed was very much retarded, but she held to her course and steamed ahead. The night was pitch dark and the water was running high. The storm created a fearful din, making it almost impossible to hear anything but the warring of the elements. As the lightning flashed across the scene it gave the only idea to the unfortunate mariners as to the look of things. As to what was likely to happen at any minute they had only too forcible an impression. They were off Point au Sauble at about two o'clock Friday morning when Capt. Lusk heard a voice from the propeller shouting, "Cast off your line," which was immediately followed by the shrieks of the women. For a few seconds all was still, the crew of the MAYES meanwhile loosing the line. The voices of the women from the propeller were again heard and it sounded to those on board the MAYES as though they cried: "We are drowning." The line was already loosened and the connection between the two vessels severed. Suddenly while Capt. Lusk was peeing through the darkness at the receding propeller, it appeared to tip and almost before he could make a motion the immense craft went down, the hissing and bubbling of the water only telling where she had been. It was so quiet that no one on board the schooner seemed to have an idea of the true state of the facts. For a moment it seemed as though it might be that the propeller had steamed away and was lost to sight in the storm. But the spectacle of the sinking steamer was too plainly impressed on his mind. There could be no mistake. The steamer had been swallowed up. There had been no warning, no sign that anything was wrong until the order came to cut loose and from that instant all seemed to have been lost. Capt. Lusk weathered the remainder of the night as best he could and Saturday evening arrived in the harbor, considerably the worse for wear. The propeller cleared from East Saginaw Sunday night with a cargo of five thousand one hundred and thirty barrels of salt owned by James Stewart & Co, and consigned to the
branch house of that firm at Chicago. The propeller was owned by her master, Capt. Dwight Scott, hailed from Cleveland, was built in 1857 and rebuilt in 1874, rated B.1." and was valued at $26,000. She was eight hundred and seventy tons burden. Her crew are not all known, but she is supposed to have had eighteen men on board. The cargo was insured for $7,000 in the Pacific Mutual of New York.
      Amherstburg Echo
      September 17, 1875
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      The Gale Of Thursday And Friday On The Lakes:- Chicago, Sept. 11. -- The schooner EMMA. A. MAYES arrived here today and reported that the propeller EquINOX, of the Grand Trunk Line running between here and Buffalo, foundered in the middle of Lake Michigan yesterday. All lives on board were lost. Capt. Scott, his two daughters, and nineteen others were drowned.
About 75 wrecks have resulted from the late gales.(from our own Correspondent, by Telegraph)
(Associated Press Telegram) Chicago Sept. 11 -- A terrible disaster occurred on Lake Michigan early yesterday morning, which has Just been reported here. The propeller EQUINOX, on her way from Chicago to Bay City, Mich., with salt, and towing the schooner EMMA A. MAYES was overtaken by a storm about two o'clock yesterday morning near
Point Au Sable, 280 miles north of Chicago. Captain Woodworth, of the EQUINOX, came to the stern of the propeller at that time and called out to "cut the lines". This was done, and the propeller careened and sunk in a few minutes. She had on board a crew of nineteen men and
Captain Dwight Scott, of Cleveland, a well known Lake captain, who was accompanied by his wife and grand-daughter, making a total of twenty two persons. The first intimation the schooner had of the catastrophe was the shrieks of the drowning. The MAYES could render no assistance whatever in the terrible sea running, and the entire crew of the EQUINOX went down. The schooner arrived here this morning.
The EQUINOX was owned by the Grand Trunk and Sarnia Line. She was very old, and rated very low in point of safety. In 1875 the company overhauled her, and put work on her to the amount of about $15,OOO, and she was valued at from $26,000 to $50,000. The insurance,
if any, is not known. Besides a large cargo of salt-nearly six thousand barrels-there was a deck load of lumber more than she was capable of carrying. Her engineer, Preston, had protested against the overloading, but was induced to go with the vessel in spite of his
convictions that she was unsafe. The cargo was valued at $8,000, and insured in the Pacific Mutual Marine of New York for $7,000. It is stated there were twenty-four or twenty-five persons on board, and it is believed that no one could have been saved.
      Toronto Daily Globe
      Monday, September 13, 1875
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      The Story Of The Survivor Of The Sunken EQUINOX
      Death Of His Solitary Companion
      The Chicago papers bring us the thrilling narrative of Reuben Burr, the wheeleman of the propeller EQUINOX, which foundered in Lake Michigan during the storm of Friday last. Burr was picked up eighty miles south, south, west of Manitou Island Saturday morning. He was floating on the pilot house, and had been thirty one hours on the water. The poor fellow was in a very exhausted condition. We condense his story from the 'Tribune' as follows:-
I turned in at 8 o'clock Thursday night.The sea was at that time running very high, with a heavy wind from the North-west. I was to go on watch again at I o'clock, but long before that time, while I was dozing in my bunk, I heard a quick rush of men past my door. I came
out and met the watchman, who, in answer to my question as to what was wrong, replied, "Nothing; it is only one of the quarters that has burst in." I went back to my room, and lay down again, coming on watch about 12.10. A deck hand helped me at the wheel until 12:15, when he said he was sick, and went aft, leaving me alone at the wheel. The Captain came around, and seeing I was alone, came into the pilot-house, and took hold of one side of the wheel with me. The sea was frightfully rough, and the ship was hard to steer-pretty well unmanageable. The deck hand returned after an absence of ten minutes, when the Captain
relinquished his side of the wheel to him. The sick-hand, however, was little use. Every time the ship pitched, the wheel threw me quite over, and the deck-hand was of no assistance. Seeing this the Captain again took hold, telling me to sit down and rest a while. I sat down
for a short time, but cannot say how long, and while I was resting the cry came that the vessel was leaking aft; that her bulwarks were stove in. This must have been about I. The Captain told me to go and call the owner. I went into the cabin, and saw the two girls, who told me Capt. Scott had Just gone aft. I then went aft, and the mate and I went down the stairs. We saw the water coming in, but not very bad.
After doing what we could to stop it the mate went forward and I went amidships. Directly afterwards I heard a dreadful rush of water. I went aft once more, and saw the water coming up the stairs clear to the upper deck. I ran forward and told the mate of our condition, he came aft with a light; the water was rushing in through a loose board. I held the light and put my foot against the board while the mate nailed it in it's place. But as soon as the board was nailed, the water burst it open again. The mate said, "It's no use; we are gone." I urged him to try again to fasten it, which he did, but it was again forced open, and the sea rushed in and put out the light. We then came up and informed the Captain of our mishap. The owner and Captain then hurried down, and I followed. The owner, Captain and myself could do nothing. We made several efforts to nail up the board and stop the rush of water, but they were of no avail. The Captain then called out for an axe to chop open one of the gangways to roll out the barrels of salt. Several men ran to execute the order, but before anything could be done in that direction the Captain cried out "It's no use; we're gone." At that time the upper deck was below water. The boat on the port side was successfully lowered, and the mate, the owner the watcbman, five deck-hands, one of the engineers, and two firemen got in.
REPORTER - Did they make no effort to get the women into the boat?
Burr - That I cannot say. I was for'ard. The Captain blew the whistle to stop the engines, and cried out for the men to leave the wheel, I came aft then, and tried to lower the boat on the starboard side, but the ship went from under us, and we wore washed away. The Capt.
and myself swam together side by side for a short time, and then we got hold of fender-boards, which kept us afloat. The boat then was getting clear of the wreck. The wreck was keeping the seas from them, and they still cried out to the schooner for help. I do not think the boat could live after getting clear of the wreck.
REPORTER- Did you see anything of the ladies after the vessel went down?
Burr - No; I saw the first cook on on of the gangways stretched out full length, and the second cook, who was on another board. The Captain left hold of the fender board, and got on the gangway. That was the last I saw of him. The pilot-house floated near me, and I managed to get on it. The cook passed by, and I said he had better try and get on with me, but he replied, "No, I am all right." He went to leeward of me, and disappeared out of my sight. The second cook who had a life-preserver on, got on the pilot-house with me. We managed to get clear of the wreck, and then lost sight of the others. We went with the wind, but the pilot-house was heavy and did not drift very fast. We held on by the posts which support the wheel. The sea kept washing over us, and it was all we could do to keep on. We stood side by side until the break of day, and had a fearful time. The other man seemed rather cheerful. I felt a little down. I told him two or three times there was no chance of being saved, but he kept saying we would come out all right. We were both cold and wet, and scarce knew what to do to keep up our circalation. We held on with one hand, and pounded each other with the other to keep warm. My companion seemed to get weak towards the break of day. He complained of his legs being tired, and sat down. I told him he would last longer if he stood up, and I pulled him to his feet again, He stood awhile, but every time the sea struck him his hands gave way from the post. There was no keeping him on his feet. He sat down perfectly exhaustod, one of his legs sinking to the floor of the pilot-house. When day broke we sighted two schooners. He kept telling me to hail them. I saw they were too far off for us to attract their attention to us, but to satisfy him I kept shouting for help. He was getting weaker and weaker, and I could not help him in any way. At last he gave one shout for help, and his hands completely lost their power, and he was not able to straighten up. I tried to pull him up, but he rolled back and simply groaned. His foot came through the hole in the floor, and the sea washed him off the pilot-house. I grabbed him and pulled him on.
Another heavy sea came and washed him completely out of my reach. He threw up his hands slightly and then sunk. That would be about 5:30 Friday morning. I thought my turn would surely come. My strength was failing fast, and I had to make strong efforts to keep standing.
I knew if I gave way it would be all over with me. T stamped my feet as hard as I could to keep warm, but Just as I was at my last struggle I saw something like a blanket floating up from the floor. I pulled it up and found it was a blanket and a white spread. This discovery was a perfect blessing to me. I had no strength to wring out much of the water. I hung them on the posts for a short time, and then wrapped then around me. They seemed to warm me a little, and nerve me to keep up. But still I shivered with the cold. The time dragged on till mid-day. How it passed I cannot tell. My only thought was to keep warm. At noon I saw two schooners, but my heart sank when I realized that they were too far off to heed my cries. I made up my mind to pass another night of it, but hoping all the time something would come to save me. I was a little warmer during the afternoon, and had somewhat recovered my spirits. But the shivers still crept over me. The two schooners were all I saw that day. When the sun went down I became cold again, and shook so I could scarce maintain my hold on the posts. I had to stamp my feet again to prevent losing the power of my limbs. The sea began to go down at night,and that helped me a little. After dark I pulled the blankets closely around me, laid my head against one of the posts, and encircled it with my arms. I dozed off to sleep, but every time the spray touched me, I awoke with a start, cold and shivering. I dozed in this way all night, and, strange to say, the night seemed to pass away very quick. At the break of day I imagened I saw land, and spread out the blankets to catch the wind. I was deceived in this, however, the land was only some dark clouds. Off to the west I saw a schooner, but she was far from the reach of my voice. Still, I did not lose my spirits again;
I felt cheerful and hopeful. The sun rose, and you can have no idea how happy his rays made me. They warmed me and nerved me to hold on.
      I was then about the middle of the lake. About 8 o'clock the schooner PANAMA hove in sight. Those on board saw me; there was no need for me to holler. They signalled me, and I waved the bed-spread in response. I shall never forget my feelings at this point. All my suffering was forgot in a moment. I only knew I was saved, and the pangs of hunger and cold left me at the thought..
      Toronto Globe
      September 20, 1875
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A Chicago paper says that Mr. Reuben Burr, the sole survivor of the prop. EQUINOX is nowhere to be found, and it is believed that he has been induced by the owners or agents to ship for some other port to avoid giving testimony in an investagation to be held by the
Inspectors. The Inspectors, Messrs. John Warren and John P. Farrar, left a summons for him to appear before them under penalty of $10O. The sailor, however, had left before the summons could be handed to him. There is not the least doubt that the EQUINOX was overloaded. Let them summon the Captain and mate of the schooner EMMA A. MAYES. They
were present when the engineer Mr. Preston, remonstrated with the captain of the EQUINOX for taking on too much wood, and the captain wanted to lick him for meddling with things that were none of his business. The mate of the MAYES told this incident to various parties and the captain will also tell, if he is closely questioned. If the Inspectors would do their duty, and investigate vessels before they leave port, such disasters as that of the EQUINOX and the MEMDOTA would not happen, nor would a consequent investagation become necessary..
      Toronto Globe
      September 22, 1875


Media Type:
Item Type:
Reason: sunk
Lives: all
Freight: salt
Remarks: Total loss
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Geographic Coverage:
  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 44.05778 Longitude: -86.51425
William R. McNeil
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Equinox (Propeller), sunk, 9 Sep 1875