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WWII-era ship with 'mysterious story' that sank in 1940 along with its captain finally found

The mystery behind the captain of SS Arlington and his decision to go down with the ship still confuses many.

WWII-era ship with 'mysterious story' that sank in 1940 along with its captain finally found
Cover Image Source: Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Sunken ships hold a lot of hidden stories and increase the curiosity of those who dive deep into the oceans to discover them. Recently, a World War II-era ship that was believed to have sunken over eight decades ago was found at the bottom of Lake Superior in North America. What makes the wreck an "interesting and perhaps mysterious" discovery is that the ship's captain sank along the bulk carrier back then. It was revealed in a press release from the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS) that on the evening of April 30, 1940, the bulk carrier named SS Arlington departed from a port in Ontario, Canada and was loaded with wheat for transport.


Unfortunately, the cargo ship was caught in the middle of a storm and the captain of the ship, Frederick "Tatey Bug" Burke, made a grave decision that still puzzles historians. Captain Burke ignored the suggestions from his first mate to opt for a safer route through the water and stay close to the shore. Instead, he ordered his people to maintain the 244-foot-long ship's course through the open waters. SS Arlington was damaged in the ongoing storm and on May 1, the ship's crew woke up early to a loud alarm rang by the chief engineer and realized that the cargo carrier was sinking.

Without waiting for orders from Captain Burke, the ship's crew started fleeing the bulk carrier and safely boarded a nearby ship called Collingwood. Everyone left the wreck, except the captain himself. Those present there observed SS Arlington getting engulfed by the restless water and Captain Burke was spotted near the ship's pilothouse as he waved at the Collingwood. The executive director of the museum, Bruce Lynn, had a chat with The New York Times and theorized that maybe the captain was waving because he had fallen sick. "The stereotype is that the captain goes down with the ship," Lynn told the outlet. "But there was plenty of time for that captain to get out of his pilothouse and be part of that crew that was going to be rescued."

The historical society has not been able to provide any clear explanation for Captain Burke's off behavior before SS Arlington mishap. 84 years later, the wreckage has been finally discovered and it might provide people with some answers. The remains of the bulk carrier were discovered 650 feet below the lake's surface and almost 35 miles north of Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula, announced the historical society, as well as shipwreck researcher Dan Fountain. Talking about the critical discovery, Lynn said: "These targets don’t always amount to anything…but this time it absolutely was a shipwreck. A wreck with an interesting and perhaps mysterious story. Had Dan not reached out to us, we might never have located the Arlington…and we certainly wouldn’t know as much about her story as we do today.”


Fountain has been looking into the wreckages in Lake Superior for several years and this time, he discovered a "particularly deep anomaly," after which he contacted the museum. Last year, he joined hands with the historical society's director of marine operations, Darryl Ertel, and the crew of research vessel the David Boyd to use sonar over the area and they determined it was yet another shipwreck. Shortly after, they identified the remains of the wreck as that of the SS Arlington. Fountain claimed that it was "exciting to solve just one more of Lake Superior's many mysteries." "Finding Arlington so far out in the lake, I hope this final chapter in her story can provide some measure of closure to the family of Captain Burke," he added.


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