The Mysterious Disappearance of the Thomas Hume and its Dramatic Rediscovery
The Great Lakes has served as a means of connecting the middle of the North American continent to the Atlantic Ocean, and has been used as a major water transport corridor for centuries. The first known ship to have travelled the upper Great Lakes is the 17 th century brigandine, Le Griffon . This ship was wrecked when it encountered a violent storm whilst sailing on Lake Michigan. Over the next few centuries, an estimated 6,000 – 8,000 ships sank to the bottom of the Great Lakes with around 30,000 lives lost. Some of these ships mysteriously disappeared without a trace, one of them being the Thomas Hume .
Satellite photo of the Great Lakes ( Wikimedia Commons )
The Thomas Hume was a schooner that was built in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, in 1870. The ship was christened as H.C. Albrecht , in honour of its first owner, Captain Harry Albrecht. In 1876, the ship was sold to a Captain Welch from Chicago. In the following year, the ship was bought by Charles Hackley, a lumber baron who owned the Hackley-Hume Lumber Mill on Muskegon Lake. The ship was then renamed as the Thomas Hume in 1883, after Hackley’s business partner.
In addition to a new name, the Thomas Hume was also refitted so that it could safely transport lumber from Muskegon to Chicago via Lake Michigan. The framing of the Thomas Hume was strengthened, a new deck was built, and a third mast added to it. After the refitting and re-christening, the Thomas Hume began doing its job of transporting lumber across Lake Michigan, alongside another of the company’s three-masted schooner, the Rouse-Simmons (another ship that would eventually be shipwrecked by a storm in 1912).
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The Thomas Hume. ( Michigan Shipwrecks )
The Thomas Hume would continue sailing Lake Michigan until 1891, when it suddenly disappeared without a trace. On the 21 st of May 1891, the Thomas Hume was last seen leaving Chicago for Muskegon after unloading a cargo of lumber. It was sailing alongside the Rouse-Simmons, and had a crew of seven. During the journey, a storm brewed on the lake, and the captain of the Rouse-Simmons, assessing that it was too dangerous to continue the journey, decided to make a U-turn. Whilst the Rouse-Simmons made it safely back to Chicago, the Thomas Hume decided to continue the journey. It was never seen again.
The Thomas Hume vanished on Lake Michigan (pictured). ( Wikimedia Commons )
When the Thomas Hume did not make it back to Muskegon, Charles Hackley and Thomas Hume dispatched a mariner, Captain Seth Lee, to search for the vessel. Not a single piece of wreckage was found. The seven crew members were presumed dead, and the company had to write off the disappearance as a $6000 loss as the ship was uninsured. Nevertheless, Hackley and Hume persisted in their search, even offering a large reward to anyone who could providing reliable information as to the whereabouts of the missing ship. The reward was never claimed.
The mystery of the disappearance of the Thomas Hume led to a number of speculations as to its fate. Some, for instance, suggested that the crew of the ship stole it, and turned it into another vessel by repainting it, or that it was struck and sunk by a much larger freighter, and that the captain swore his crew to secrecy. Others have suggested that the ship was a victim of paranormal phenomena and that it had sailed unknowingly into the so-called ‘Michigan Triangle’, an area likened to the Bermuda Triangle in which many ships went missing.
The mystery was finally laid to rest over a century later in 2006 when the Thomas Hume was dramatically rediscovered. It was during that year that Taras Lysenko, a diver with the A&T Recovery, came across an almost completely intact vessel at the bottom of the southern portion of Lake Michigan. The ship was remarkably preserved, as it sank at a great depth far out in the lake where it lay undisturbed.
The wreck of the Thomas Hume, which sets remarkably intact at the bottom of Lake Michigan ( Robert Underhill / MSRA )
A&T Recovery turned over the wreck to the Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates (MSRA) as well as to a respected team of Chicago underwater explorers. Tools, coins, clothing, and jewelry were found on the wreck, leading it to be described as a time capsule from 115 years ago. After years of exploration by divers, the MSRA and archaeologists from the Lakeshore Museum Center, the conclusion was reached that the wreck was the Thomas Hume. Today, research still continues on this legendary sunken vessel, in the hope of finally piecing together the final hours of the ill-fated ship.
Featured image: A three-masted schooner similar to the Thomas Hume ( Wikimedia Commons )
A&T Recovery, 2015. Mystery Schooner In Lake Michigan Special Report. [Online]
Available at: http://www.atrecovery.com/Pages/MysterySchooner.htm
Gaertner, E., 2008. Shipwreck mystery solved. [Online]
Available at: http://blog.mlive.com/chronicle/2008/09/shipwreck_mystery_solved.html
Gaertner, E., 2011. Muskegon lumber schooner's 120-year-old sinking honored during Saturday event. [Online]
Michigan Shipwreck Research Association , 2015. Thomas Hume. [Online]
Pisacreta, S., 2012. Lost To The Lake: The Disappearance of the Thomas Hume. [Online]
Available at: http://www.lakeeffectliving.com/Oct12/Shipwrecks-Thomas_Hume.html
What’s interesting is that so many ships of years ago weren’t insured. Vanderbilt didn’t usually insure his, and some of the losses were high. Maybe rates were too high in those times.
This ship’s original cost at 6000 dollars is the equivalent of about 300,000 today.
*sigh* In the days of handmade wooden boats [and given the modification history of this one in particular] it was passing difficult to just "repaint" a boat to hide it. The Great Lakes commercial sailing industry was closed enough that sailors would have recognized a simple repaint job. It really isn't until mass produced crap boats that a simple repaint would work.