The wreck of the Mataafa

The other night the family and I were enjoying the light show at Bentleyville in one of our rare trips to Duluth, northern Minnesota’s regional center. In the glare of holiday opulence we caught a glimpse of a big laker gliding through the cold harbor on its way under the lift bridge, out the canal and into the expanse of Lake Superior. The holiday music made it impossible to hear the ship’s engines, only its obligatory horn bleats to lift the bridge.

The sight reminded me of this recent WDIO story about the 1905 wreck of the Mataafa, a Great Lakes ship trapped in bad weather at the end of the Duluth pier. Along with the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975 it was one of the Great Lakes’ worst shipping disasters, made more alarming by the fact that it occurred in full view of a Duluth population powerless to stop it. Modern rescue technology could have saved those men, but one wonders what effect it would have on the thousands of Bentleyville attendees to watch figures scramble for life across the paralyzed hide of a frozen ship within a snowball’s throw of shore.

We find much to complain about these days, but so many things are undeniably better than they were before.

Photo of Duluth Lift Bridge at night, Justin Sorenson, Creative Commons license

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