With Halloween just a few days away, I thought I’d share a ghostly tale from my home on the Great Lakes. The S.S. Bannockburn, built in Scotland and named for the famous battle there, was a Canadian-owned vessel and spent its time of service on the Great Lakes around the turn of the 20th century.
George Wood, her 37-year old captain, left port from western Lake Superior on November 21, 1902, carrying 85,000 bushels of wheat. He sailed for the lower lakes after he received the forecast of calm waters ahead.
The captain of the steamer Algonquin, familiar with the distinctive silhouette of the Bannockburn, sighted the vessel near Passage Island later that evening. He handed his binoculars to his first officer, but before that man could confirm the sighting, the Bannockburn had slipped into the fog.
Later that evening, the night watchman aboard the S.S. Huronic reported seeing the lights of the Bannockburn along the northern shore of Lake Superior. And lights from an unknown freighter – possibly the Bannockburn? – where sighted from land off Rossport.
But the next day, the freighter was reported overdue at the locks at Sault Ste. Marie. The Bannockburn and her crew were never seen again. Or were they?
The very next year, a captain and crew feared they were in for a collision with an approaching freighter barreling toward them. It ignored their warning whistles and lights. Just before impact, the vessel veered to the right and the captain and his crew saw the name “Bannockburn” on the ship’s bow … and skeletal faces at her portholes.
Other mariners have come forward over the years with a similar tale. The Bannockburn has been dubbed the “Flying Dutchman” of the Great Lakes, after the famous ghost ship from the Cape of Good Hope. It appears out of the fog and then slips back into oblivion. Perhaps looking for that safe harbor they never found.
photo is of the freighter Kaye E. Barker, taken in Lake Superior on Brimley Bay in 2013