Documentation of Steamer Vienna

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On the pleasant afternoon of September 16, 1892, the large wooden steamer Vienna of Cleveland was towing the schooner barge Mattie C. Bell east on Lake Superior towards Sault Ste. Marie. Both soon rounded Whitefish Point, downbound, and both were heavily laden with iron ore. The dangerous voyage along Lake Superior’s Shipwreck Coast, between Munising and Whitefish Point had gone very well with little in the way of threatening weather.

The crew of Vienna settled in for a comfortable trip toward the Soo Locks and down the St. Mary’s River. Just then, Vienna’s pilothouse watch noticed an upbound vessel towing two schooner-barges, which were soon identified as the Nipigon pulling the Melbourne and Delaware.

Both towing consorts approached. Each lead vessel sounded one whistle, the standard signal for a normal port-to-port passing. But just as they came abreast of each other, the Nipigon turned hard and rammed Vienna with a terrible crash!

Fortunately, there were no injuries, but Vienna was mortally wounded. Both lead vessels dropped their tows. The Nipigon tried to tow the Vienna to shore, where she could possibly settle in shallow water and be later recovered - but it was not to be.

About an hour after the collision, with her crew safe, the proud Vienna sank into Whitefish Bay to a depth of 146 feet. She took all of her artifacts and cargo with her, not to be seen again until 1975. The cause of the collision was never determined.

Discovered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service while setting fish sampling nets, the wreck was first explored by divers Kent Billrichard, Dick Race, and Tom Farnquist. With permission from the State of Michigan, selected artifacts were later recovered and placed in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, and are today available for public viewing as part of an exhibit on this early wooden sailing steamer.Study of Vienna commenced in May of 2004. The Society thanks divers Steve Ouellette, Kevin Jones, Rick Heineman, Richard Mannesto, Darryl Ertel, Sarah Ertel, and Terry Begnoche for their participation. Divers are essential to the project in that only they can take accurate, hands-on measurements of wreckage and artifacts.

The Society also thanks the crew of its research vessel, the R.V. David Boyd: Gordon Saum, Bob Smith, Jerry Ignatowski, Tom Mannesto, and Chris Sams.   Thanks to Terry Begnoche for handheld underwater photography.

Please note that the Underwater Project section of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum’s Web Site is a work in progress. Images and information will be updated as they are available.

Please enjoy these images of Vienna, uploaded on June 30, 2004.  This project is made possible through the TEA-21 Enhancement Program of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

We acknowledge Kodak Corporation for supplying still image film to this project, and our thanks to Bill Springer of the Rochester Institute of Technology (New York) for image processing consultation.

Vienna is the first subject of underwater documentation in a series of five historic wrecks to be closely examined and documented, using state of the art technology and highly skilled technical divers.is an ideal subject for study as an underwater cultural resource. She is a 191-foot, 1005-ton wooden steamer, with deck hardware and many artifacts either aboard or lying close by in her debris field. Her fore and aft cabins were blown off during the sinking by air trapped within the hull. Her bow is heavily damaged as a result of its impact into the lake bottom. Yet her stern is in great shape, with engine, boiler and propulsion systems intact.

Vienna quickly became a popular sport diving site. However, the cold waters of Whitefish Bay, and her lying at the extreme depth limit for safe scuba diving, have led to the loss of more than one diver at this site.

All images are copyrighted Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, 2005 and may not be reproduced without permission.