SS Daniel J. Morrell

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Daniel J. Morrell.jpg
Early photograph of Daniel J. Morrell
United States
Name: Daniel J. Morrell
  • Cambria Steamship Company (M.A. Hanna Company, Mgrs.) 1908-1926
  • Cambria Steamship Company 1927-1929
  • Cambria Steamship Company (Bethlehem Transportation Company, Mgrs.) 1930-1966
Port of registry:  United States
Builder: West Bay City Ship Building Company
Yard number: 00619
Completed: 1906
Identification: U.S. Registry #203507
Fate: Foundered and broke in two 29 November 1966
General characteristics
Class and type: Bulk Freighter
  • 7239 gross
  • 5419 net
Length: 580 ft (180 m)
Beam: 58 ft (18 m)
Height: 27 ft (8.2 m)
Propulsion: triple expansion steam engine
Crew: 29

The SS Daniel J. Morrell was a 603-foot (184 m) Great Lakes freighter that broke up in a strong storm on Lake Huron on 29 November 1966, taking with it 28 of its 29 crewmen. The freighter was used to carry bulk cargos such as iron ore but was running with only ballast when the 60-year-old ship sank.

The ship's name[edit]

The ship was named for Daniel Johnson Morrell, a U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania.[1][2][3]

"A Bizarre Incident"[edit]

Making the last run of the season with her sister ship the SS Edward Y. Townsend, the Morrell became caught in winds exceeding 70 mph (110 km/h) and swells that topped the height of the ship (20–to-25-foot (6.1-to-7.6-meter) waves).[4] During the early morning hours, the Townsend made the decision to take shelter in the St. Clair River, leaving the Morrell alone on the waters north of Pointe Aux Barques, Michigan, heading for the protection of Thunder Bay. At 2 am, the ship began its death throes, forcing the crew onto the deck, where many jumped to their deaths in the 34 degree Lake Huron waters. At 2:15 am, the ship broke in two, and the remaining crewmen loaded into a raft on the forward section of the vessel. While they waited for the bow section to sink and the raft to be thrown into the lake, there were shouts that a ship had been spotted off the port bow. Moments later, it was discovered that the looming object was not another ship, but in fact the Morrell's aft section, barreling towards them under the power of the ship's engines. The two sections collided, with the aft section continuing into the distance. In the words of writer William Ratigan, the remnants of the vessel disappeared into the darkness "like a great wounded beast with its head shot off".[5]


The Morrell was not reported missing until 12:15 pm the following afternoon, 30 November, after the vessel was overdue at its destination, Taconite Harbor, Minnesota. The U.S. Coast Guard issued a "be on the lookout" alert and dispatched several vessels and aircraft to search for the missing freighter.

At around 4:00 pm on 30 November a Coast Guard helicopter located the lone survivor, 26-year-old Watchman Dennis Hale, near frozen and floating in a life raft with the bodies of three of his crewmates. Hale had survived the nearly 40-hour ordeal in frigid temperatures wearing only a pair of boxer shorts, a lifejacket, and a pea coat.[6]

The survey of the wreck found the shipwreck in 220 feet (67 m) of water with the two sections 5 miles (8.0 km) apart.[7]

The SS Edward Y. Townsend, after having escaped the same fate as her sister, had been discovered as having a large crack in its deck that grew worse from the same storm, It was declared a total loss and was docked for almost two years. Plans were made to tow the vessel to Europe to be scrapped. On her way during tow, she was caught in a strong storm on October 7, 1968 off Newfoundland and snapped in two, foundering in the general vicinity that the RMS Titanic had sunk.[8] The German saltie Nordmeer which had grounded at Thunder Bay Island Shoal on November 19 was declared a total loss after the additional damage to its bottom caused by the storm.[9]

The destructive force of the November seas and wind were an important factor in this loss, as it has been in many similar incidents on the Great Lakes.[10] The Coast Guard investigation of the Morrell sinking concluded that it broke in half due to the brittle steel used in her hull which was a "common problem" in ships built before 1948.[11]

In addition to the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, other contemporary Great Lakes freighters lost under similar circumstances were the SS Carl D. Bradley and the SS Henry Steinbrenner.


The following crew were lost in the sinking:[1]

The remains of 26 of the 28 lost crewmen were eventually recovered, most in the days following the sinking, although bodies from the Morrell continued to be found well into May of the following year. The two men whose bodies were never recovered were declared legally dead in May 1967. The sole survivor of the sinking, Dennis Hale, died of cancer on September 2, 2015 at the age of 75.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Daniel J. Morrell 1906 to 1966". Great Lakes & Seaway Shipping Online. Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  2. ^ "". Lakeland Boating. Retrieved September 26, 2012.  External link in |title= (help)
  3. ^ "MORRELL, Daniel Johnson, (1821 - 1885)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  4. ^ The Morrell Survey, Roland Schultz, Lakeland Boating, 2006
  5. ^ Ratigan, William (1977). Great Lakes Shipwrecks & Survivals. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 156. ISBN 0-8028-7010-4. 
  6. ^ Hale, Dennis (January 1, 2010). Shipwrecked: Reflections of the Sole Survivor: an autobiography. Rock Creek, OH: D.N. Hale. ISBN 0692009302.  ISBN 978-0692009307
  7. ^ Schultz, Ronald. "Morrell Survey: Finale". Lakeland Boating. Retrieved 2010-11-19. 
  8. ^ "Townsend, Edward Y.". Great Lakes Vessel History. Retrieved December 16, 2012. 
  9. ^ "The Morrell Survey". Lakeland Boating. Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  10. ^ Bradley, Mary (November–December 1999). "The Witch of November Came Early: The Saga of the Edmund Fitzgerald". Michigan History Magazine (Lansing, Michigan: Michigan Department of State). OCLC 20951644. 
  11. ^ Thompson, Mark (2000). Graveyard of the Lakes. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press. p. 311. ISBN 0-8143-3226-9. 
  12. ^ Seals, Eric (September 2, 2015). "Lone survivor of deadly 1966 Lake Huron shipwreck dies". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved November 11, 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Hale, Dennis (January 1, 2010). Shipwrecked: Reflections of the Sole Survivor: an autobiography. Rock Creek, OH: D.N. Hale. ISBN 0692009302.  ISBN 978-0692009307
  • Ratigan, Bill. Great Lakes Shipwrecks and Survivals. Grand Rapids: WB Eerdmans, 1977.
  • NPR Staff. (December 6, 2013). "Adrift In Frigid Water, Not Caring 'If You Live Or Die'." NPR. Retrieved December 6, 2013.
  • Kantar, Andrew. Deadly Voyage: The S.S. Daniel J. Morrell Tragedy. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2009.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 43°51′00″N 82°35′24″W / 43.850°N 82.590°W / 43.850; -82.590