Happy Halloween month! I hope everyone has some spooky shenanigans planned despite all the fuckery COVID has wreaked on typical October activities. To celebrate here at the Morbid Library, we’re going to cover one of Michigan’s most interesting and lesser-known mysteries. If you haven’t realized (or didn’t read the author page) – I’m from Michigan and voraciously read up on all the creepy happenings in my state. And let me tell you, there is a lot of lore in the mitten state. I know you’ve all at least heard of the Bermuda Triangle. If you’re reading this blog you’ve probably done some extensive reading on its lost flights and disappearances. But did you know that Lake Michigan has its own version? This post will examine the Michigan Triangle, its shipwrecks, disappearances, and strange phenomena. Note: some articles list the Lake Michigan Stonehenge as being in the Michigan Triangle but it is not – it is located further north, in Grand Traverse Bay. Therefore, I’ll be addressing Michigan Stonehenge in next month’s Mystery post.
What It Is
If, for whatever reason, you’ve found your way here without knowing what the Bermuda Triangle is and have no point of reference, allow me to explain. The Michigan Triangle is a triangle-shaped area in Lake Michigan in which a supposedly abnormal amount of strange occurrences – disappearances, aerial phenomena, shipwrecks, etc – occur. The three points of the triangle are Manitowoc, WI, Ludington, MI, and Benton Harbor MI. It is unclear whether rates of these occurrences are actually higher within the triangle, or whether we simply pay more attention to those that happen within its boundaries. So just keep that in mind as we discuss what’s gone on in the Triangle.
The first phenomena we’re going to look at is disappearances. The first instance we’ll examine is the disappearance of Captain Donner from the O.S Macfarland in 1937. The story goes that Donner went to his cabin to rest, with orders to his shipmates to wake him as they neared their destination. However, when they knocked on his door, they got no answer. When they tried the handle, they found that it was locked. And when they finally relented and broke the door down, Captain Donner was nowhere to be found. It was a true locked room mystery. I couldn’t find any information regarding whether there were any windows in Captain Donner’s room, but that’s the only explanation I can think of. Surely someone would have noticed the Captain slip from his cabin and go overboard? We’ll likely never know what happened to him that day, unfortunately.
A possibly more solvable disappearance is an aviation mystery: the vanishing of Northwest Orient Airline Flight 2501. On June 23, 1950, Flight 2501 was travelling from New York City to Seattle. There were 58 people on board – 55 passengers and 3 crew members. While the flight was over Lake Michigan, it encountered a line of thunderstorms. The pilot requested a descent to 2,500 feet shortly before communications with air traffic control ceased and never resumed. Substantial wreckage of the plane has never been found, but partial human remains washed ashore at several points in Michigan. Notably, there are two mass graves relating to Flight 2501 – one in a St. Joseph area cemetery and one at Lakeview Cemetery in South Haven. Based on the fact that there are remains, it seems obvious that the plane went down that stormy night, but that begs the question: where is the wreckage, and why hasn’t it been found in the more than 65 years since the accident?
A ship known as Le Griffon is most often cited as the first unexplained ship to disappear in the Michigan Triangle. It was exploring the Great Lakes in 1679 in hopes of finding a passage to east Asia.The ship was never seen after sailing through the Michigan Triangle. Despite the fact that the ship must have sunk to have gone unseen in the years after its voyage, wreckage has never been definitely discovered. I use the phrase definitively on purpose – many divers have gone searching for the wreck of Le Griffon, and many claim to have found parts of it. Scientists, however, seem unable to come to a consensus regarding the validity of findings concerning Le Griffon, which has just added to its infamy. The wreckage is considered the “holy grail” for people who go wreck diving in the Great Lakes.
Another ship that met its watery fate in the Lake Michigan Triangle was known as the Thomas Hume. In 1891, the Thomas Hume, a schooner, was making its way from Chicago to Muskegon when it vanished. Its location remained unknown until a wreck diver located the ship’s wreckage in 2006 – though the actual cause of its sinking remains unknown to this day, as does any trace of its crew.
The third shipwreck we’re going to discuss took place in 1921, when a ship named the Rosa Belle was discovered overturned in the Michigan Triangle. It was clear that the ship had collided with something, but there were no signs of another ship and no other incidents reported in the area. Which begs the question – did the Rosa Belle hit another ship at all? This wreck is a bit different than the other two discussed above as well – the ship itself did not vanish, but no trace of the eleven passengers have ever been found. Theories on the Rosa Belle abound. Some suspect the ship collided with some sort of lake monster. Some suspect aliens. And some believe the Rosa Belle did collide with another ship, which then sank to the bottom of the lake, hence no report being filed. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll ever definitively know what happened to any of these three ships.
The main otherworldly phenomena witnessed over the Michigan Triangle are visual in nature. There have been hundreds of reports of floating lights, often described as balls of fire. These have, unsurprisingly, been attributed to aliens, and are possibly crafts themselves. One interesting thing that I haven’t seen in regards to aliens in the Michigan Triangle is reports of USOs – Unidentified Submerged Objects. If you come across any such reports, I’d love to see them. Strange weather is also a commonly reported phenomena in the Michigan Triangle. I’m listing this under the aliens header because it simply doesn’t fit anywhere else, and could conceivably be the result of otherworldly technology. Reports of strange weather vary wildly, but mostly center around storms of some sort. Storms that pop up out of nowhere and disappear just as fast. Gale-force winds that run ships to their water graves and then vanish. And even, in once case, mysterious blocks of ice falling from a cloudless sky. The ship that experienced this particular phenomena was called the Mary McLane. Its crew reported being out on Lake Michigan one calm, clear day. The water was not rough and there was no sign of trouble on the horizon. And then, enormous chunks of ice began falling from the sky, pummeling the boat. Once they weathered the storm, the men returned to shore, apparently eager to share their strange tale, along with the proof they’d kept – several chunks of ice had left dents in their small vessel, and they had managed to preserve a piece of the ice as further evidence.
Regardless of whether this phenomena is happening at an increased rate within the triangle, it’s clear that the Great Lakes can be dangerous. Personally, I don’t particularly believe that this particular area of Lake Michigan has the most unexplained phenomena of the Great Lakes. As I mentioned earlier, the structure known as Michigan Stonehenge is located further north, and Lake Eerie statistically has the most shipwrecks. Plus, growing up, I spent a lot of time on the shore of Lake Superior, and I can tell you that there are literally hundreds of legends about that lake in particular – dragons, mermaids, shipwrecks, disappearances, and more. The mysteries aren’t confined to the Triangle.