Seeking Shipwrecks on the Great Lakes | Midwest Living

Seeking Shipwrecks on the Great Lakes

Thousands of ships, pulled under by the Great Lakes and eerily preserved in their icy waters, give visitors a glimpse into a treacherous past.


A Shipwreck Survivor

"I did an awful lot of praying," he says. "I really don't think it was my time." The survival time of a person dressed like that in those conditions should be measured in minutes. He lasted 38 hours, relatively unscathed.

Eventually a helicopter swooped down and whisked Dennis, the Morrell's sole survivor, away to doctors who struggled to explain why he was still alive. As the chopper descended, he struggled to lift a half-frozen arm in a wave and mumbled, "I love ya."

For 20 years, the story of the Morrell's death went mostly untold, as Dennis walked away whenever it came up. Now the only witness speaks regularly about the wreck, and ship-loving friends introduce him as a "living legend." He sidles up to tourists at gift shop bookshelves and suggests Sole Survivor before revealing it's his story.

Getting back on a boat took longer. He stayed off them altogether until 1999 and never considered returning to work on a ship after the Morrell.

"No, no, no," Dennis says. "There was a message there for me."

As I paddle through Lake Superior's Murray Bay toward the Bermuda, these stories swirl in my mind. The cold water on my face hints at Dennis Hale's frigid ordeal. I remember reading that scientists say it takes 191 years for the water in this lake to completely change. That means the polite 2-foot waves I'm paddling through may have helped sink the Bermuda, the Fitz and scores of others.


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