In the aftermath of the Great Lakes Storm of 1913, an extratropical cyclone that had caused twelve shipwrecks and more than 250 deaths, the lakes had given up what they had taken slowly, reluctantly. Five of the ships were never found; some bodies washed ashore days or weeks later. One ship, the Charles S. Price, was found floating upside down near the mouth of the St. Clair and was not identified for weeks (even then requiring an ex-crewman to identify the dead).

Of the many unsolved mysteries in the wake of that storm, the Tawas Bay Hulk is perhaps the most puzzling. On November 12, 1913, as citizens of the small lakeside town of East Tawas were digging out of the more than 24 inches of snow that had fallen during the storm, a ship was spotted out in the bay, presumably having been swept in by the gale and partly grounded on one of the shoals near the Tawas Light.

The Coast Guard was busy with rescue operations elsewhere and hampered by downed telegraph lines, so enterprising citizens and members of the lighthouse station crew made their way to the ship. They found it completely abandoned, with no bodies or personal effect onboard. Curiously, they also found that the ship lacked a name, registration, or any other papers. Despite being a 40-foot craft which would have required a medium-size dockyard to construct, there were no maker’s marks, plaques, or other clues that could even establish where the ship had been built.

When the Coast Guard was able to respond, they found that there was no mention of any such craft in what records they could uncover, and their Canadian counterparts were equally puzzled. Despite the fury of the storm and the haste with which the ship must have been abandoned, its crew seemed to have been very thorough at removing all traced of their presence; only a few scraps of paper with illegible scrawls and mass-market navigational charts remains. The cargo hold contained nothing but empty crates and broken glass.

Stymied, the Coast Guard seized the ship and auctioned it off to pay the costs of the recovery operation. Commissioned as the John Doe by a Saginaw navigation company with a sense of humor, it was unpopular with crews who regarded it as a cursed vessel. It sank in a 1967 storm, and remains an item of mild local interest to this day.

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