Michigan Triangle Part One

Rosabelle. Captain Donner. NWA Flight 2501.

Published in the February 2018 Issue May 2020 Feature

While her sister lakes have blockbuster movies and chart-topping songs dedicated to their mysterious shipwrecks, Michigan is wracking up points on the strange disappearances scale. In this month’s Lake Lore, GLB editors examine the burgeoning theory of The Michigan Triangle.

Determined by believers as the area of water between Ludington and Benton Harbor, Michigan, to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, on the far shore, more than a few shipwrecks have been dubiously attributed to their presence in this region. The Michigan Triangle’s first victim was often cited as the Thomas Hume. In a typically temperate May in 1891, the Thomas Hume was lost at sea, returning from a successful lumber haul. However, the complete shipwreck was discovered in 2006 by a team of recovery experts looking for downed World War II airplanes.

That leaves The Triangle’s first famous claim as the Rosabelle. According to Wisconsin Historical Society’s Maritime Preservation Program, the Rosabelle was a small two-masted schooner and was used to bring supplies to High Island for the House of David. It was 100 feet long, with a beam of 26 feet.

From their archives, the news bulletin for the day reads: “October 30, 1921: the schooner Rosabelle, loaded with lumber, left High Island bound for Benton Harbor and apparently capsized in a gale on Lake Michigan. She was found awash 42 miles from Milwaukee, with no sign of the crew. After she drifted to 20 miles from Kenosha, the Cumberland towed her into Racine harbor. A thorough search of the ship turned up no sign of the crew. She was purchased by H & M Body Corp., beached 100 feet offshore, and attempts were made to drag her closer to shore north of Racine. The corp. planned to remove her lumber.”

Uh, Captain?

Fast forward to 1937, the O.S. McFarland and the disappearance of Capt. George R. Donner. While the ship was under way on April 28, 1937, Donner retired to his cabin. The McFarland picked up 9,800 tons of coal in Erie, Pa., and was headed west through the still ice-choked waters for Port Washington. Donner gave instructions to his first mate to wake him as they neared port and was never seen nor heard from again. The crew undertook a thorough search of the vessel and even broke down his locked cabin door. But to no avail.

From Fishing To Missing

Over the years, shipwrecks stacked up, drawing attention to this region of Lake Michigan. During the blizzard of November 1940, three massive freighters and two fishing tug boats sank off the coast of Pentwater, Mich., well inside this triangular boundary. Wrecks of the three freighters have been found, but the two tugboats have yet to be discovered. Regardless of whether the wrecks are lost or found, experts find it highly unusual that five ships – killing a total of 64 sailors – all sank on the same day so close together.

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