Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake by area, holds its fair share of secrets amid its icy depths. The massive body of water has been the site of hundreds of shipwrecks, most of which still remain undiscovered. Recently, researchers located one of them over 600 feet beneath the water’s surface — but some mystery surrounding the vessel persists. 

A 244-foot bulk carrier named the Arlington pulled away from Port Arthur in Ontario, Canada, on April 30, 1940. It was carrying a full load of wheat and headed southeast to Owen Sound, about an 850-mile drive by car. 

Per a news release from the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, or GLSHS, the ship met with dense fog as it made its way across Lake Superior. As the first day of its journey turned to night, that fog turned into an intense storm. It battered the Arlington and another, larger freighter called the Collingwood, and soon, the smaller ship started taking on water. 


Robert McGreevy/Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

The Arlington’s first mate ordered it to change course and hug the shore to evade the wind and waves, but its captain, Frederick “Tatey Bug” Burke, countermanded the order, insisting the vessel continue on across the open water. 

“That lake will take you in a second if you don’t keep your eye on it,” Corey Adkins, content and communications director at the historical society, told The Washington Post. “And Captain Burke that night did not keep his eye on it.”

On May 1, as it became clear the vessel would sink, its panicking crew began abandoning it, despite the captain not giving orders to evacuate. Everyone but Burke made it safely onto the Collingwood. 

In the years that followed the wreck, Burke’s choice to remain on board rather than flee would generate much speculation; reports say he was spotted near the pilothouse of the Arlington and waved to the Collingwood minutes before his ship sank. 

Robert McGreevy/Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

“This is a story of ‘the captain goes down with the ship,’” said Adkins. “But he didn’t have to.” He added: “What happened to him that night, nobody knows.” 

“The question is whether he was saying, ‘Hey, hold the lifeboat’ or waving goodbye,” shipwreck researcher Dan Fountain explained to The New York Times.

Fast forward to about a decade ago, when Fountain began exploring the Great Lake via remote sensing data. When he noticed a “particularly deep anomaly,” which he suspected might be a wreck, he contacted the historical society. In 2023, the group organized a two-day excursion across the lake to investigate, and sonar scans confirmed Fountain’s suspicions. 

“These targets don’t always amount to anything … but this time it absolutely was a shipwreck. A wreck with an interesting, and perhaps mysterious, story,” GLSHS Executive Director Bruce Lynn said in the news release. “Had Dan not reached out to us, we might never have located the Arlington … and we certainly wouldn’t know as much about her story as we do today.”

Subsequent dives to the wreckage enabled the team to explore what’s left of the ship up close, capturing eerie footage and photos. 

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“It’s exciting to solve just one more of Lake Superior’s many mysteries, finding Arlington so far out in the lake,” said Fountain. “I hope this final chapter in her story can provide some measure of closure to the family of Captain Burke.”