The steamship Bannockburn was a Canadian steel-hulled freighter which disappeared on Lake Superior in snowy weather on November 21, 1902. She was sighted by the captain of a passing vessel, around noon of that day but minutes later disappeared. The wreck of the ship has never been found, except for an oar and a life preserver, and no bodies were ever recovered. Within a year of her disappearance she acquired a reputation as a ghost ship and became known as The Flying Dutchman of the Great Lakes.
The next morning the Bannockburn was reported as overdue at the Soo Locks. With the severe storm the night before this was not considered unusual. It was thought that the Bannockburn had stopped behind an island or anchored somewhere to wait for the storm to pass. As the days passed though, concern for the Bannockburn began to grow. Then on 25 November 1902, a steamship, the John D. Rockefeller, passed through a debris field just off Stannard Rock Light. No other ship was missing and there was no indication of what happened. On 30 November 1902, the Bannockburn and her crew were officially declared presumed lost. On 12 December 1902, a life jacket from the Bannockburn washed ashore near the Grand Marias Lifesaving Station.
There had been many theories proposed for the loss of the Bannockburn including a boiler explosion. At the end of the shipping season when the Soo Locks were drained for maintenance, a hull plate from a ship was found at the bottom of the locks. Many believe this may have been from the Bannockburn. The theory continues that with a weakened hull, from the loss of the hull plate, the Bannockburn suffered a failure of its hull and sank. The ship has never been found and no one knows conclusively what happened to the Bannockburn.
The Bannockburn is not the first ship to disappear, only to be sighted afterwards. Submarine sailors reportedly sighted the USS Scorpion long after the ship sank southwest of the Azores. The USS Scorpion was one of six submarines, sister ships, that looked identical to each other. These other sightings were attributed to one of the Scorpion’s sister ships. The Bannockburn did not have the usual profile of a great lakes freighter. During life even at a great distance, the Bannockburn was accurately identified by her unique profile. Therefore, when the Bannockburn was spotted after her loss, there was no doubt what ship it could have been. Shortly after World War 2 the Walter A Hutchison was headed to the Soo Locks in a storm. Eleven hours out of Thunder Bay the crew knew they were close to shore but could not tell how close. They had been running close to the shore, but with a loss of their electronics due to ice, they did not know how close to shore. The wind was coming out of the northwest and would have been pushing the Walter A Hutchison closer to shore. They could steer a course more to the north, but this would put the seas on the side of the ship and could cause the cargo to shift and capsize the ship, so the captain continued on his course and preferring to risk possibly running aground to a likely capsizing.
The Bannockburn had been sighted on a parallel course, but with the coming night they had lost sight of her. Suddenly a rocket exploded in the night. The crew saw the Bannockburn a hundred yards off coming straight at them. The captain ordered the rudder brought over hard to port bringing the bow around to the northeast. The Walter A Hutchison wallowed in the high waves trying to put distance between itself and the Bannockburn.
After what seemed like an eternity, the Bannockburn passed safely astern of the Walter A Hutchison. The crew continued to watch as the Bannockburn then ran aground and began to rip apart at the seams. Then the Bannockburn simply disappeared. If the Walter A Hutchison had not changed course, she would have been the ship impaled on the rocks.
Did the Bannockburn appear to warn the Captain of the rocks ahead? What are your thoughts?