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mybaycity.mmcctech.net March 18, 2018
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The City of Bangor, still encased in ice, is pictured after the disaster in this photo from the Michigan Tech Archives.

ICY CHRYSLERS: Ship Built 1896 by Wheeler in Bay City Still Making News

Coast Guardsmen from Eagle Harbor Save Crews of 2 Vessels on Nov. 30, 1926

March 18, 2018       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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One of the most stirring tales of Michigan maritime history is still rising from beneath the waters of Lake Superior. Here is a taste of most of the oft-mentioned "rest of the story."

The City of Bangor, a steamer built by the F.W. Wheeler Shipbuilding Co. in Bay City in 1896 is just part of the tale still making headlines 93 years after it foundered in a snowstorm in Lake Superior.

Although 18 of the 248 new Chrysler autos were lost overboard, and the ship marooned on a reef, the saving of 230 cars makes an epic adventure story of Great Lakes shipping still resonating today.

But the real heroes of the tale were the Coast Guardsmen from Eagle Harbor who saved the crews of both the City of Bangor and the Thomas Maytham -- a total of 51 sailors -- that incredible night.

The Eagle Harbor Lighthouse Museum recounts: "The wreck of the City of Bangor was one of the most trying and interesting episodes in the life-saving station's history. During a late November storm in 1926, the men at the station were notified that a ship, the THOMAS MAYTHAM, was hung up on rocks some 40 miles away. Immediately, the rescue crew set off in their motorized boat and, after braving below-zero temperatures and towering waves, reached the ship and took on its 22 crew members. On the return trip, the lifesaving crew spotted an abandoned ghostly ship so covered with ice and snow that they barely recognized it as a ship. This was the CITY OF BANGOR, which had run hard aground. Her crew had made it to shore but were in grave danger of suffering from exposure. After dropping off the men of the Maytham, the station's crew had to return in another boat to rescue the 29 man crew of the City of Bangor and her unusual cargo, over 200 brand new Chryslers."

The lighthouse museum is now operated by the Keweenaw County Historical Society and is open daily during the tourism season.

The following is mainly from the website www.exploringthenorth.com:

"During the night of November 30, 1926, the Eagle Harbor Coast Guard crew were heading for Copper Harbor with 22 men they had saved from the Thomas Maytham. As they rounded Keweenaw Point, they came across another ship encased in ice and abandoned. This was the City of Bangor.

"As the Coast Guard boats continued on towards safety, they finally saw the crew of the City of Bangor on the shore. After shouting instructions back and forth, the Coast Guard boats went on to Copper Harbor to unload the Maytham crew. They then returned to the City of Bangor crew, fought through the breakers and rescued the crew of 29.

"The men were in bad shape. When the City of Bangor hit the rocks, the hull was ripped open, and water poured into the engine room, drowning her fires. The ship was dark and cold. The lake spray froze over the steel ship, creating an iceberg.

"When the seas moderated the following day, the crew reached shore in the lifeboat. There they found a couple feet of wet snow and nothing else - no road, no people, no houses. They built a fire and spent a cold night in the woods. The men were without adequate clothing for the freezing temperatures. There was no food. The ship's officers forcibly kept the men moving to prevent them from succumbing to the cold. When sighted by the Coast Guard, they were exhausted and nearly all in. Many were suffering from frostbite and would require hospitalization. All of her crew were rescued by the Eagle Harbor Coast Guard, in spite of the blizzard and below zero temperatures.

"A double rescue in one day and night was unusual, but so was the cargo of the City of Bangor. Her cargo consisted of 248 brand new 1926 Chryslers.

"The wind was so fierce that 18 cars on the deck were blown into the lake. Later the remains of these cars washed up on the Keweenaw beaches. The City of Bangor was upbound from Detroit to Duluth when she went up on the rock reef, in an area of heavy forest between Keweenaw Point and Copper Harbor.

"Most of the cars were in the Bangor's hold and thus in excellent condition. Eventually, all of the cars, outside of those blown into the lake, were recovered. When the water surrounding the steamer froze solid enough, a ramp was built to the deck and the Chryslers were driven off and over the ice to Copper Harbor. There, they were kept until spring when the roads could be plowed open. Taken to Calumet, they were loaded on a Detroit train, shipped by rail back to Detroit and, after repairing, resold.

"Several Chryslers did remain in the Copper Country area where their proud owners swear they are the "finest cars they ever owned." The City of Bangor later slid off the reef during the spring storms and has become a site for SCUBA diving.

During World War II she was cut up for scrap, although some of the vessel still remains.

The adventure was not to end up north for the Thomas Maytham. Owned later by the Dolomite Marine Corporation of Buffalo, NY, she was given in 1941 to British interests, renamed MOTOREX and June 18, 1942, was sunk by torpedo from German submarine U-172. Crew members were rescued and questioned by the Germans.

(Information from Great Wrecks of the Great Lakes, Frederick Stonehouse, Harboridge Press, Marquette MI 1973 and Keweenaw Shipwrecks, Frederick Stonehouse, Avery Color Studios, Au Train MI, 1988)

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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at carraroe@aol.com)

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