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The wreck of the Hesper

On May 3, 1905, as she forged through a northeaster en route to Duluth, the crew lost its bearings and the ship was thrown against a reef near present-day Silver Bay.

Starboard bow view of the Hesper in river at Manitowoc, ca. 1900
Starboard bow view of the Hesper in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Photo c. 1900
C. Patrick Labadie Collection, Duluth, MN

Hesper was launched at Radcliffe Yard in Cleveland on June 28, 1890. Constructed for that city’s Bradley Transportation Company, she was a bulk freighter with a forward pilot-house designed to haul loads like grain and iron ore across the Great Lakes. With masts and a steam engine, Hesper was a hybrid that reflected the transition from wind-powered vessels to mechanically propelled ships. About 250 feet long, she was large for her day; today, many Great Lakes freighters measure more than 1,000 feet.

In late October 1896, Hesper, a wooden-hulled steamer, was caught in a Lake Superior tempest as she towed the schooner-barge, Samuel P. Ely, from Duluth to Two Harbors. Unable to steer both vessels into the safety of Agate Bay, Hesper’s crew severed the towline. Ely dropped anchor, hoping to ride out the storm, while Hesper fought her way into the bay. The storm proved too much for Ely, hurling her against the harbor’s west breakwater where she broke apart and sank. The crew survived. Several years later, Hesper would suffer a similar fate.

On May 3, 1905, as she forged through a northeaster en route to Duluth, the crew lost its bearings and the ship was thrown against a reef near present-day Silver Bay, Minnesota. She was repeatedly bludgeoned against the rocks until an enormous wave pitched her over the reef. Fortunately, the ship’s crew escaped before she sank.

Today, Hesper rests 30 to 50 feet below the surface of Lake Superior, abutting the west breakwater at Silver Bay Harbor, a port constructed long after the ship went down. The port and starboard sides of the hull, which was split near the turn of the bilge, now lie adjacent to the hull’s base. Hesper was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994, two years after Ely.

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