SS Daniel J. Morrell

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File:Daniel J. Morrell.jpg
Early photograph of Daniel J. Morrell
Name: Daniel J. Morrell
Operator: 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
Tonnage: 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 boat sank.

The Ship's Name

The ship was named for Daniel Johnson Morrell, a U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania; who was born in North Berwick, York County, Maine, on 8 August 1821. Morrell attended the public schools; moved to Philadelphia, Pa., in 1836; and entered a counting room as clerk. Thereafter, he afterward engaged in mercantile pursuits; moved to Johnstown, Pennsylvania. in 1855 and became general manager of the Cambria Iron Company (until the Johnstown Flood was the greatest manufacturer of iron and steel in the United States). Morrell also served as president of the local gas and water company 1860-1884 and president of the First National Bank of Johnstown 1863-1884; president of the city council many years; elected as a Republican to the Fortieth and Forty-first Congresses (4 March 1867-3 March 1871); chairman, Committee on Manufactures (Fortieth and Forty-first Congresses); unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1870 to the Forty-second Congress; commissioner to the Paris Exposition of 1878; again engaged in banking; died in Johnstown, Cambria County, Pa., 20 August 1885; interment in Grandview Cemetery, Johnstown. [1] He was a member of the elite South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club mainly to keep an eye on the club and its dam which formed Lake Conemaugh. Morrell died before the Johnstown Flood, caused by the failure of that dam.

"A Bizarre Incident"

Making the last run of the season with its 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 (20-25 foot waves).[2] During the early morning hours, the Townsend made the decision to take shelter in the St. Mary's 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 Bill Ratigan, the remnants of the vessel disappeared into the darkness "like a great wounded beast with its head shot off".[3]

The SS Edward Y. Townsend had a large crack in its deck from the same storm, It was declared a total loss and was docked for almost two years. It would later be towed to Europe to be scrapped. On its way for scrapping it broke in two and sank in the same vicinity as the R.M.S. Titanic. 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.

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.[4] See Great Lakes Storm of 1913 and Great Storms of the North American Great Lakes.

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 Morrell was not reported missing until 12:15pm 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.

The survey of the wreck found the shipwreck in 220 feet of water with the two sections five miles apart.


The following crew were lost in the sinking:

The remains of 25 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 the spring of the following year. The three men whose bodies were never recovered were declared legally dead in May 1967.



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