SS Alpena

The Alpena was an American steamer, who disappeared without a trace on October 16, 1880 with passengers and cargo on the way to Chicago, in a violent storm, which became known as "The Big Blow" in American history. Nobody survived on board; the exact circumstances of the accident remained in the dark. She was not found until today.

The ship

The 60 m long wooden paddle steamer Alpena was built in 1866 by Thomas Arnold of society Gallagher & Company in Marine City (Michigan). It was intended for the transport of passengers and cargo on Lake Michigan. The Alpena was originally built for Gardner, Ward & Gallagher, but acquired in April 1868 by the newly founded by Albert Edgar Goodrich Goodrich Line shipping company.

The built wooden ship was powered by a single-cylinder steam engine and had on each side a paddle wheel with a diameter of 7.3 m. In winter 1875/76 the ship in Manitowoc was overhauled.

The disappearance

On Friday, October 15, 1880 at 21:30 clock the Alpena put under the command of Captain Nelson W. Napier in Grand Haven from a further crossing to Chicago. On board, 80 passengers and crew and cargo were of ten truckloads of apples. The weather on departure was clear, but the barometer showed the first signs of an emerging storm. On its south-westerly course to Alpena from the steamer Muskegon to 01.00 clock was sighted at night. At this point everything was still in order.

At about 03.00 clock in the morning on October 16 began on the waters of one of the worst storms that has ever been recorded in the history of Michigan and became known under the name "The Big Blow". Big bank sections were drawn by him suffer. In the following hours the Alpena was seen several times, including at 08.00 clock by Captain George Boomsluiter on board his barque City of Grand Haven. The ship fought about 35 miles from Kenosha with the high waves.

Then the steamer was again seen by another ship lying on its side, with one of the outstanding paddle wheels out of the water. Then the trace of Alpena lost. In the following days, currents and winds numerous pieces of wreckage and debris washed up on the shore of the city of Holland, including a piano. In Saugatuck drove hundreds of apples in the surf. A week after the disappearance of the alluvial debris had spread over a radius of 20 miles on the western shore of Lake Michigan. The New York Times reports also of a lifeboat of Alpena ¸ which was found at Saugatuck.

The exact circumstances and the exact time of the sinking are not known. As the clock of one of the victims had been recovered but are at 10.15 clock on 16 October, it was assumed that the ship sank at about the time. There were no survivors and only a few bodies were found. The number of people on board could never be accurately determined, as the passenger list went down with the ship. The newspaper Holland City News but published a list of passengers and crew with 80 names, including some women and children. Most passengers were from Illinois and Michigan, but there were also passengers from Philadelphia, New York and a group of five Swedes on board.

The wreck of Alpena was not discovered until today. It has been speculated, among other things, that the large amount of apples that had been stored on the main deck, had broken loose in the storm, shifted and brought the ship to capsize.