A collision on fog shrouded Lake Michigan sent the freighter SENATOR to the bottom of the lake with the remains of seven crew members and a cargo of 241 automobiles.
The steel boat was rammed amidships by the steamer MARQUETTE off Port Washington, Wis., on the morning of Oct. 31, 1929.
The SENATOR, with Capt. George Kinch at the helm, was steaming to Detroit from Milwaukee and the Marquette, Capt. W, F. Amesbury, was pointed toward Milwaukee with a load of ore from the steel mills at Indiana harbor. The fog was so thick the crews of the boats said they couldn't see one another until they were too close to avoid the crash.
Captain Amesbury took criticism for not stopping to help the crew of the SENATOR after the ship turned on its port side and sank. The freighter went down in about five minutes. It sank so quickly that crew members didn't have time to launch lifeboats.
Deckhand William Driscoll of Detroit, who was making his first trip on a lake boat, said he was sleeping in his bunk when the MARQUETTE drove its bow into the port side of the ship.
He said he slipped into a shirt and trousers and even put on a life preserver before he went on deck. By the time he reached the deck, Driscoll said "the ship was listing far over to port.
There was no time to get off the boat, because the SENATOR was going right under our feet. We
walked right out on the side and into the water. Seven or eight of us swan to a piece of wreckage and hung to it."
Seven crew members, including Captain Kinch and assistant steward, Mrs. Matthew Gromley, died. Wheelman Herbert Petting said he was with the captain in the pilot house. "The captain came to me after the collision and said: 'Can you swim'? You'd better get out of here."
Petting said he left the wheel and ran to the deck to save himself,
Driscoll said he later saw Kinch walk out with the other men into the water. He said Kinch had a life preserver on, but the ship was starting to dive to the bottom and he thought the captain got pulled down with it. Also killed were first mate John Neilson, second engineer T. A. Ammon and porter Tony Moreno, all of Detroit, H. J. Grious of Toronto, and Emil Passenger, no address given.
Radio operator Ralph Ellis said he and two other sailors jumped to the deck of the MARQUETTE before it pulled away. Another 15 survivors were in the water for about an hour. All were rescued by the fishing tug DELOS H. SMITH, which was working nearby and heard the crash.
Petting and second mate Harvey Nicholson charged that the MARQUETTE disappeared into the fog and never put out lifeboats. They blamed Amesbury for the loss of many of the sailors who perished.
Amesbury told investigators he ordered two lifeboats lowered and said he left the bow of his ship lodged in the side of the SENATOR for about 10 minutes. He said he thought there had been time for the sailors to climb on the MARQUETTE. The MARQUETTE's second mate disputed Amesbury's story. He said Amesbury ordered the boats manned, but only because he thought his own ship might be sinking. Once it was found that the MARQUETTE was not in danger, the mate said the boats were never lowered.
Port Huron Daily Tribune
By James Donahue
SENATOR Built June 20, 1896 Bulk Propeller - Steel
U. S. No. 116725 4048 gt - 3178 nt 410' x 45.4' x 23.9'
Sunk in collision with stmr. MARQUETTE October 31, 1929, 20 miles northeast of Port Washington, Wis., Lake Michigan; 7 lives lost.
Detroit/Wyandotte Shipbuilding Master List
Institute for Great Lakes research