Wreck in Lake Superior identified as the Arlington

Wreck in Lake Superior identified as the Arlington

A wreck submerged under about 650 feet of water some 35 miles north of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, in Lake Superior, has been identified as the Arlington, a merchant ship that sank in stormy weather in 1940.

The SS Arlington
The SS Arlington, which sunk, along with its captain, during a wreck in 1940, was found on the floor of Lake Superior.

After finding a particularly deep anomaly in his search for shipwrecks in Lake Superior, shipwreck researcher Dan Fountain reached out to the Shipwreck Society to help identify it. This resulted in an expedition in 2023 that culminated in the positive identification of the anomaly being the SS Arlington, which sank in 1940.

Here is its story.

On 30 April 1940, the SS Arlington, a merchant ship, left Port Arthur, Ontario and set sail across Lake Superior. Fully loaded with 98,000 bushels of wheat, it was headed for Port Arthur, Ontario. Accompanying it was the Collingwood, a larger and faster freighter.

At the helm was Captain Frederick “Tatey Bug” Burke, a seasoned veteran with experience sailing the Great Lakes. The ship drove into a dense fog that progressively grew into a storm. Because the Collingwood did not have a directional finder, the Arlington  then took the lead.  Strong winds and waves relentlessly battered the two ships. 

The Arlington’s first mate set a new course to sail near the northern shore of Lake Superior in a bid to seek shelter, but he was overruled by Captain Burke, who insisted on sailing across the open lake. As night fell, the weather continued to worsen.

Then, in the middle of the night, tragedy struck. 

At 4.30am, the alarm sounded on board the Arlington, as the ship started taking on water. This prompted the crew members to abandon the ship. They were all rescued by the Collingwood, which was 250 metres away. 

There was only one casualty that night—Captain Burke chose to stay on board the sinking ship, even though he could have easily joined the crew in the lifeboats. It was said that he was last seen near the pilothouse, waving at the Collingwood before his ship sank. 

To this day, the mystery of why Captain Burke chose to go down with his ship remains unanswered. Some believe that he had followed the tradition of the captain going down with his ship. 

“I am not a bit surprised to hear that Capt. Burke went down with the ship,” said George Mackery, whose father was the Arlington's first mate, as printed in a Toronto Daily Star article published on 2 May 1940, as reported in the CNN website.

“He was a real sailor type, rough and ready and never was the type who would desert a sinking ship,” he continued.


Fast forward to the 21st century. After the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS) heard about the anomaly in the remote sensing data from Dan Fountain, an expedition was organised in 2023 involving Fountain, Darryl Ertel (the Society’s director of marine operations), crew and volunteers.

They deployed side-scanning sonar technology and ROVs, and were eventually able to confirm that the anomaly was, in fact, a shipwreck. A ROV captured footage that showed lettering across the ship’s stern that identified it as the Arlington.

With its discovery, the team brings to light yet another of Lake Superior's sunken wrecks. 

Fact file