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Uncovering the Enigma: Shipwreck Discovery Reveals Captain’s Fate in 1940

A vessel that sank more than eight decades ago (alongside its captain) has recently been uncovered on the bed of Lake Superior.

On the evening of April 30, 1940, the SS Arlington, a bulk carrier dating back to World War II, set sail from a port in Ontario carrying a cargo of wheat. Unbeknownst to the crew, the ship would meet a tragic end, as revealed by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society on Monday.

Shortly after embarking on its journey, the ship encountered a fierce storm, leading to a pivotal decision by its captain, Frederick “Tatey Bug” Burke, that continues to puzzle historians.

Against the advice of his first mate, who proposed a safer, shore-hugging route, Captain Burke opted to maintain the vessel’s course across the open waters, a choice that ultimately proved disastrous, according to the historical society.

As the storm raged on, the ship sustained heavy damage, and in the early hours of May 1, the crew was startled awake by the blaring sound of a horn signaling imminent danger. The Arlington was rapidly taking on water, prompting the chief engineer to sound the alarm.

In a bid to save themselves, the crew members disregarded the captain’s authority and swiftly abandoned ship, seeking refuge on the nearby vessel Collingwood. Tragically, Captain Burke did not survive.

Moments before the SS Arlington succumbed to the depths, witnesses reported seeing Burke near the ship’s pilothouse waving at the Collingwood, a gesture that left the crew perplexed. Speculations arose about his well-being, with some suggesting illness or a fall as potential reasons for his behavior, as recounted by Bruce Lynn, the executive director of the historical society.

While maritime tradition dictates that the captain goes down with the ship, there was ample time for Captain Burke to evacuate and join his crew in the rescue operation, underscoring the enigma surrounding his actions, Lynn noted.

Nearly 84 years after the tragic incident, the wreckage of the SS Arlington has been located approximately 650 feet beneath the lake’s surface, about 35 miles north of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, as announced by the historical society in collaboration with shipwreck researcher Dan Fountain.

Following extensive searches in Lake Superior, Fountain identified an unusual depth anomaly that hinted at a potential shipwreck. Subsequent sonar investigations conducted by Fountain, Darryl Ertel (the society’s director of marine operations), and the crew of the research vessel David Boyd confirmed the presence of a wreck, later confirmed to be the SS Arlington.

In a statement, Fountain expressed his excitement at unraveling another of Lake Superior’s mysteries and expressed hope that the discovery would offer closure to Captain Burke’s family, marking a poignant conclusion to the vessel’s story.