Marquette Lifesaving Station (U.S.C.G #279)
Where does one begin to discuss the shipping tragedy that happened on the 20th day of November 1920? This incident occurred just two miles northwest offs the lighthouse at Marquette, Michigan. Well before we get to the story of the wreck of the Steamship J. H. Sheadle. Let’s look at the vessel itself that was built in Ecorse, Michigan as “Hull #22” and cost J. H. Sheadle approximately $750,000. She was launched out of Cleveland, Ohio on the 29th day of September 1906 for “The Cleveland – Cliffs & Iron Works.” At the time of her launching the Superintending Engineer who was responsible for her was Thos. B. Kelley and steamship’s “Home Port” was listed as “Fairport, Ohio.”
According to a report I read the “Steamship J. H. Sheadle” arrived at Erie, Pennsylvania on the 12th day of November 1920, before making her way towards Marquette, Michigan. The wreck of the Steamship J. H. Sheadle began as she started to back away from the dock at Marquette, Michigan. She was loaded down with 6,924 tons of iron ore worth approximately $60,000. As she backed away the steering gear failed and the steamer struck the rocks tearing away her rudder and puncturing a large hole in the number seven tank causing her to settle to the bottom of Lake Superior. While the wrecked steamer was sitting on the bottom of the lake, a large aggressive storm erupted across Lake Superior causing even more damage to the J. H. Sheadle.
Now that we have taken a quick look at the history of the Steamer J. H. Sheadle, let’s find out how the crew from Marquette Lifesaving Station assisted with this wreck. Here we find Thomas E. Deegan as the Officer-in-Charge (O.I.C.) of Marquette Lifesaving Station (Coast Guard Station #279). Deegan had eight other surfmen serving under him at the time this wreck took place.
I decided to tell this tragic story based on Thomas E. Deegan handwritten accounts of what occurred from Saturday the 20th day of November till the “Steamship J. H. Sheadle” was towed back to Marquette, Michigan on Wednesday the 1st day of December 1920.
Its 8:15 a.m. on the 20th day of November, Thomas E. Deegan received a telephone call from Mr. Morgan, manager from company docks at “The Cleveland – Cliffs& Iron Works” requesting we go to the “Steamship Cadillac” that was anchored in harbor. I was asked to tell her captain to bring her out to “Presque Isle” and assist “Steamship Munising” in pulling the “Steamship J. H. Sheadle” off the rocks, when she had gotten on about ¾ of a mile from Presque Isle in getting away from the docks.
We immediately launched the power lifeboat ran to the “Steamship Cadillac” informed captain of my telephone conversation with Mr. Morgan. We left the “Steamship Cadillac” and then ran on to where the “Steamship J. H. Sheadle” lies in fifteen feet of water. We did as Mr. Morgan requested of us, we were on standby and assist them in running lines. My crew and I arrived at “Steamship J. H. Sheadle” at 9:30 a.m. and stood by and assisted them in running lines until 12:20 p.m.; where they found they could do nothing with her. The “Steamship J. H. Sheadle” rudder was gone, bottom of the vessel broken, water was flooded engines and we decided to await for the wrecking tugboat, that was on its way in from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. We returned to station arrived at 1:00 p.m. Weather conditions, Sky’s: Clear, Surf: Medium, Winds: Southeast, Wind Speed: 3 knots, Temperature: 36 degrees.
Sunday 21st day of November 1920 Surfman o. 8, Charles Ricker (4:00 a.m. to 6:45 a.m. watch) reported signal of distress burning on “Steamship J. H. Sheadle.” I called the crew and started for her at 6:45 a.m. Arrived at “Steamship J. H. Sheadle” at 7:30 a.m. and found the captain wanted to go ashore. I sent a surfman to extract him off the vessel and two other crew members. We made our way to Presque Isle and as the seas out on the Lake Superior were rough. Meanwhile there was nothing that could be done on board the “Steamship J. H. Sheadle.” I told the captain that I was agreeing to bring them all ashore before sea got so high as to make it impossible to head back. He agreed. My crew and I returned to the wreck of the “Steamship J. H. Sheadle” and got nine members of the crew with all their baggage off the ship and landed them at dock at Presque Isle. We returned to wreck and took the remaining six crew members off the wreck and started for home. The seas were now breaking over the wreck of the “Steamship J. H. Sheadle.” We ran for cover around “Lighthouse Point” and then into “Marquette Harbor” in pretty good shape. Landed the men the remaining men in town and returned to station at 11:45 a.m.
Monday, 22nd day of November 1920 at 10:20 a.m. took fleet captain, fleet engineer Mather and Mate of wrecked “Steamship J. H. Sheadle” and four member of the crew, ran out to Sheadle and put them aboard. Those men were there to assess the extent of the damage done to her by the storm. We brought them to the wreck, our anchor went down, they boarded and we returned to station at 1:00 p.m. Just about 2:00 p.m. a request came in from the Captain of the wrecked “Steamship J. H. Sheadle.” He wanted us to take him and five members of the crew out to the wreck in our power lifeboat. He needed to obtain some of the more valuable articles aboard and want us to assist in their safe keeping. We returned to station at 4:45 p.m. Temperature: 33 degrees, Winds: Northeast Speed: four knots, Surf: Rough, Weather: Snowing.Tuesday, 23rd day of November 1920 at 8:30 a.m. received telephone call from William G. Mather, “Steamship J. H. Sheadle.” He was asking us to him, the insurance agent and six members of his crew out to the wreck. We launch power lifeboat and ran over to passenger dock. We picked up all three men and took them out to the wreck. They asked us to wait while they did their tasks aboard the wreck. They re-boarded our vessel and we took them to shore leaving five crew members aboard the wreck. We returned to station at 11:00 a.m. Shortly after 3:00 p.m. another request came in from William G. Mather associated with the wreck of the “Steamship J. H. Sheadle.” He again requested I take him and the insurance agent out wreck, so he can talk with the wrecking outfit that had just arrived. Once we arrived the insurance agent was giving them instructions. The insurance agent and William G. Mather remained aboard the wreck until we arrived back at the wreck site. We took a few of crew members back to shore. We had taken these men aboard the wreck early that morning. We were back at the wreck round 4:10 p.m. We took on five members of crew and landed them on station at 5:00 p.m. Weather clear, temperature: 36 degrees, winds: Northeast, two to five knots, surf moderate.
Wednesday, 24th day of November 1920 at 8:00 a.m. took wreck master, insurance agent William G. Mather’s and six crew members of Steamer J. H. Sheadle in power lifeboat and put them aboard the wreck. Took William G. Mather and the Fleet Captain out to the wreck and then into Presque Isle, Michigan. We returned to Marquette LSS in the power lifeboat at 10:40 a.m.
Wednesday, 1st day of December 1920 the two wrecking companies who were working on the Steamer J. H. Sheadle, towed her into the harbor, just inside the breakwater at 5:00 p.m., where she now lays in twenty-eight feet of water. The wreck was laid up for the winter in Marquette, Michigan. The damages were repaired the following “Spring.” The cost of those repairs topped off at $150,000.