Shipwreck found in Lake Superior sank in 1940 during storm, taking captain down with it

Researchers have uncovered the lost shipwreck of the SS Arlington more than 80 years after it sank in Lake Superior, taking its captain down with the vessel under mysterious circumstances.

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS) and researcher Dan Fountain of Negaunee, Michigan, revealed the discovery of the 244-foot-bulk carrier SS Arlington this week. 

For 10 years, Fountain has used remote sensing data to search for shipwrecks in Lake Superior. When he came across a "deep anomaly" about 35 miles north of Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula, he contacted the Shipwreck Society for further investigation.

In 2023, a team with GLSHS used sonar to observe the unusual shape and discovered it was a shipwreck. Using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), the team was able to identify the hulk of the ill-fated Arlington more than 600 feet below the icy lake surface.

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Part of the Arlington ship lettering seen on ROV video. (Image: Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society) (GLSHS)

"These targets don’t always amount to anything…but this time, it absolutely was a shipwreck. A wreck with an interesting, and perhaps mysterious story," GLSHS Executive Director Bruce Lynn said. "Had Dan not reached out to us, we might never have located the Arlington…and we certainly wouldn’t know as much about her story as we do today."

A video shared by the Shipwreck Society shows pieces of the vessel appearing in the dark water. Slowly, more recognizable ship hardware, including a smokestack and the ship's wheel, becomes visible to the ROV operators. 

Mystery surrounds captain's death

The Arlington sank in the spring of 1940 when it sailed to Ontario. 


A historical photo of the SS Arlington in 1940. (Image: GLSHS)

According to the Shipwreck Society, dense fog blanketed Lake Superior during the journey, and at night, a storm began battering the Arlington and another large freighter, the Collingwood. When the Arlington started taking on water, the ship's first mate ordered a course closer to the Canadian North Shore, but the ship's captain, Frederick "Tatey Bug" Burke, disagreed and ordered the ship back out into the open lake.


On May 1, 1940, the Arlington began to sink in the early hours, and the crew abandoned the ship. The crew swam toward the Collingwood for safety. However, Burke did not make it out alive and went down with the ship.

According to the Shipwreck Society, there is a mystery surrounding why Burke stayed on the ship and his "odd" behavior. Survivors said Burke was last seen near the ship's pilothouse and waving at the Collingwood before the Arlington went under. 

More than 84 years later, the ship was found near the 650-foot-deep lake bottom.

"It’s exciting to solve just one more of Lake Superior’s many mysteries," Fountain said. "Finding Arlington so far out in the lake. I hope this final chapter in her story can provide some measure of closure to the family of Captain Burke."

The Arlington wasn't the first or the last ship to sink on the Great Lakes because of inclement weather. The lakes are home to thousands of shipwrecks, according to Indiana Dunes National Park. 

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