The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Helen (Scow), sunk, 1 Nov 1886

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Sorry about the string of shipwreck article right in a row (don't usually do that), but there have been a lot of discoveries lately. A couple weeks ago vacationer and diver David Miesch located and reported a wreck near Muskegon and, with the help of my on-line database, tentatively identified it as the scow-schooner HELEN (US#95651), lost there in November, 1886. Last weekend Brendon Baillod and Ross Richardson of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Research Group dove on the wreck and confirmed the identification with "about 90% certainty." Articles on the find appeared in the papers this morning, even in our local podunk press. Congratulations to all. Here's a local Muskegon article concerning the loss:
      Dave Swayze note

Wrecks and portions of broken masts, spars and rigging continue to come in. Just before dark Friday the wreck of a vessel was discovered not far from the piers at the mouth of Muskegon harbor. It consisted of a large part of a hull, spars, boom, canvas &c. It was lodged upon the bottom and at last accounts was still in the same position. Three miles north of the harbor lights, lies the scow Helen, bottom upward, with spars and other wreckage floating around. The vessel lies about 100 yards from dry land and is a total loss.
Saturday the dead body of a sailor washed ashore near what is known as the Scotch Bonnet, three mile north of Port Sherman. It was first discovered by a farmer who lives near by, and the Life Boat crew took it in charge and conveyed it to the station. There is nothing upon the body by which it can be identified or located. Coroner Vanderwerp went down at 1 o'clock to hold an inquest. The man was probably one of the sailors belonging to the ill-fated schooner "Helen."
The drowned sailor washed ashore near Scotch Bonnet has now been identified as Captain VonThadden, master of the scow "Helen."
In speaking of the scow "Helen," the wreck of which is now three miles north of this harbor, Friday's Chicago tribune says: "The scow Helen left Chicago for White Lake Wednesday and is believed to have gone to pieces in the gale. It is also believed that her entire crew perished. The first information of the disaster received in Chicago came in a telegram from the life-saving crew at Muskegon. The crew reported that wreckage from two schooners had been coming ashore since daybreak. It consisted of broken spars and timbers, and was strewn along the beach for a mile each side of the piers. Among the wreckage was a yawl-boat, with the name "Helen of Chicago" painted on the stern, and a quarterboard, with the name "G. B. Mansfield." These were the only articles by which a stranger could identify either of the wrecked vessels. There is no vessel G. B. Mansfield known to Chicago vessel-men, but there may be such a boat belonging to the Michigan fruit fleet. The Helen, however, is owned here, and there is scarcely a sailor on Lake Michigan who is not acquainted with Capt. John Von Thadden, her master and owner. Capt. John is a great character in his way, but not more so than his wife, who always accompanies the vessel; collects the money, hires the crew, and devoted her spare time to keeping her good-natured consort sober. Just before the vessel left here the weather looked threatening and Mrs. Von Thadden sent her two children ashore. The Captain of the schooner Topsey tried to persuade her to remain ashore also, but she laughed and replied that if she did not stick by the vessel there would be no freight, no money, or vessel left. Accordingly she was aboard of the Helen when the vessel went out. The Helen measures 113 tons, and had been engaged in the lumber-carrying trade for many years. Besides the captain and his wife, there was a crew of four men and a boy. If the vessel went to pieces it is hardly possible that the crew could have reached shore in such a tremendous sea, and the fact that her yawl-boat came ashore with so much wreckage is almost positive proof that none of the crew escaped. The vessel was worth about $2,000."
      Muskegon Chronicle
      Thursday, November 25, 1886
The scow wrecked off the harbor mouth was the 99 foot scow SOUTH HAVEN (US#23495). No G. B. MANSFIELD appears on any list I have, but a schooner MANSFIELD was sunk by collision in the same area in 1855.

Just to add to my earlier posting, regarding the nameboard of the "G. B. Mansfield," the Detroit Free Press of Nov. 19, 1886 said:

. . . " the Mansfield is a scow not classed by the Inland Lloyds."

Media Type:
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Reason: sunk
Remarks: Total loss
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Geographic Coverage:
  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 43.23418 Longitude: -86.24839
William R. McNeil
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Helen (Scow), sunk, 1 Nov 1886