Deadly day on Lake Erie

Oct 20, 2016

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the "Black Friday Storm," a swirl of rain, wind and waves that left about 50 people dead on Lake Erie.

The Colgate sank in the "Black Friday Storm" of 1916.
Credit National Museum of the Great Lakes

Four large commercial ships sank in an 18-hour period.  

“There is a reason why Lake Erie has more shipwrecks because it is probably the most dangerous of all the lakes," Chris Gillcrist, executive director of the National Museum of the Great Lakes, told the Toledo Blade. ​“The storm lasted for almost a full day and it was too much for those boats to weather.” 

Lost were the steamer Merida, which was carrying iron ore; the D.L. Filer, a two-masted schooner hauling coal; the James B. Colgate, a coal-hauling freighter; and the Marshall F. Butters, a lumber hooker.

Carrie Sowden, archaeological director for the Toledo-based museum, told Great Lakes Today that the event was "Lake Erie's own perfect storm. And when you talk about it, you get a cross-section of what shipping was like in 1916." 

The lost ships joined thousands of other Great Lakes wrecks; they're documented in great detail on boatnerd.

Here's a notation for the Filer: Trying to make Detroit in tow of the prop Tempest, she was left at anchor,  broke up and went down in the "Black Friday Storm."

And for the Butters: A huge gale tore her apart offshore. Her crew was saved in a courageous rescue from steamers FRANK BILLINGS and FRED G. HARTWELL.

​Remarkably, more than a dozen people were rescued amid the fierce storm.

The  Butters' entire 13-member crew made it to safety, Sowden said. And the Colgate's captain held onto a piece of raft for 30 hours before being rescued.