Lake Huron - Courtesy of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary
- Type: Bulk Freighter (1890 - 1895)
- Wreck Length: 296ft / 90m
- Depth: 210ft / 64m
Thunder Bay’s infamous fog contributed to a tragic collision one May morning in 1895, claiming the lives of three sailors. Approximately seven miles off Lake Huron’s Middle Island, the freighter Norman and the steamer Jack collided with enough force to cut the larger freighter almost in two.
In less than three minutes, the nearly 300-foot Norman plummeted to its current location, 210 feet below the surface of Lake Huron. It wasn’t until 1986 that the wreck was located and work could begin archaeologically recording this intriguing piece of Great Lakes maritime heritage.
The propeller Norman was part of a critical design revolution that transformed steel bulk carriers from the initial blueprint of the Spokane of 1886 into the large pre-World War I “lakers.” The use of steel transformed ship construction in the late nineteenth century as builders began to choose it over wood to produce stronger yet lighter hulls. These vessels, dubbed “fast steel flyers” for their speed and efficiency, hauled the iron and coal that fueled the factories and growing manufacturing sites of America’s Industrial Age. The Norman’s east bound cargoes of iron ore made possible the fortune of J.P. Morgan, and helped make his U.S. Steel Corporation America’s first billion dollar company.
That foggy morning in May 1895, the Norman was running light (empty), likely speeding north toward the rich iron ore deposits of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. All of the sudden, the lumber-laden steamer Jack appeared out of the mist, too close to be avoided. Despite panicked maneuverings at both helms, the Jack struck the Norman amidships with a loud crash. The Norman listed to port and settled quickly into the lake, as crew either jumped into the cold water or clambered for lifeboats.
Diving the Wreck
Today, one lifeboat remains at the wreck site, lying askew and to port of the massive freighter. Even immobile on the lake bottom, the Norman’s size is impressive. With a net tonnage of 1,870, the steel vessel hauled thousands of tons of bulk material in its short, five-year career. Other significant features evident today are the once-tall forward deck house, which lies collapsed in the mud near the port bow, and the triple-expansion steam engine peeking out of the broken aft decking. Much of the below decks area is accessible.
At a 210-foot depth with water temperature on site hovering between 38-45 degrees Fahrenheit, the Norman is a challenging technical dive. It is also one of hundreds of shipwrecks that make up northeastern Michigan’s diverse maritime landscape.
Thunder Bay's shipwrecks are magnificent, yet vulnerable. Natural processes and human impacts threaten the long-term sustainability of our underwater maritime heritage. Through research, education, and community involvement, the sanctuary works to protect the Norman for future generations. Protecting Thunder Bay's underwater treasures is a responsibility shared by the sanctuary, its many partners, and the public.