SS Vienna (1873)

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The Vienna at dock.
Career (U.S.) Flag of the United States (1867-1877)
Name: Vienna
Owner: Built for Cleveland Transportation Company. Owned by Orient Transportation Company at time of loss
Port of registry: Cleveland, Ohio
Builder: Quale & Martin of Cleveland, Ohio
Completed: 1873
Fate: Sank in Whitefish Bay 17 September 1892 after she was rammed by the Nipigon
Notes: United States Registry # 25875
General characteristics
Class and type: Propeller, wooden steamer

1005.79 Gross Register Tonnage

829.42 Net Register Tonnage
Length: 191.33 ft (58.32 m)
Beam: 33.66 ft (10.26 m)
Depth: 14 ft (4.3 m)
Propulsion: Propeller
Notes: The Vienna was downbound with her schooner barge tow, the Matte C. Bell, when she sank. No lives were lost.

The Vienna was built in 1873 during the era when steamers were built with sail rigging. She had a 19 year career marked with maritime incidents including sinking when she was just 3 years old. She sank for her final time in fair weather in Whitefish Bay in Lake Superior after she received a mortal blow when she was inexplicably rammed by the steamer Nipigon. Although no lives were lost when the Vienna sank for the last time, more than 100 years later her wreck claimed the lives of 4 scuba divers, the most of all the wrecks in the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve that now protects her as part of an underwater museum. Her wreck was stripped of artifacts that resulted in the Michigan Department of Natural Resources seizing her artifacts in a raid on the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in 1992. Her artifacts are now on display in this museum as loan from the State of Michigan.


Quayle & Martin built the wooden steamer Vienna with an octagonal pilot house and sail rigging in 1873 for the Cleveland Transportation Company during the era when insurance companies still required ships to carry sails to maintain liability coverage.[1][2]

The Vienna had a series of maritime incidents during her 19 year career. In August 1876, she ran ashore at Presque Isle in Lake Huron and was able to get off. Her luck did not hold in October 1876 when she sank in Lake Superior with a cargo of grain when she was just 3 years old. She was rebuilt in 1875 – 1876 as a double-decker with 3 masts and increased tonnage. In September 1883 she sustained considerable damage when the Willow Street bridge swung into her in Cleveland, Ohio.[3] In 1887, she was assisted by the tug Leviathan when she was stranded on an uncharted 14 feet (4.3 m) deep shoal 1.5 to 2 miles (2.4 to 3.2 km) southwest of Waugoshance Light in the Straits of Mackinac with $1,800 in damages.[3][4] In 1889, she was sold to Orient Transportation Company of Rockport, Ohio. In 1890, her rigging was changed to 2 masts. She sank for a second and final time in 1892.[3]

Final voyage

In fair weather at 12:25 am on 17 September 1892, the steamer Nipigon was light and upbound in Whitefish Bay in Lake Superior towing the schooners Melbourne and Delaware. The Vienna under Captain J.W. Nicholson was downbound from Marquette, Michigan and towing the schooner Mattie C. Bell. Both were heavy with a cargo of iron ore.[5] The Vienna and the Nipigon exchanged signals for the normal port to port passing but the 191 ft (58 m), 626 ton Nipigon suddenly veered and rammed the 191 ft (58 m), 1,006 ton Vienna on the port side. Both vessels immediately dropped their consorts.[5][6].[7] The Nipigon tried to tow the Vienna to shallow water but after an hour they were still about 1 mile (1.6 km) from shore when the ore-laden, mortally wounded Vienna dove into deep water.[5][7][8] No one could explain why the Nipigon rammed the Vienna. The Vienna was valued at $46,000 but she was only partly insured.[7] The Vienna’s crew and papers were transferred to the lumber hooker Nipigon. The Nipigon’s stem and forefoot were badly crushed but she was not leaking much and she was able to proceed on her way. A tug towed the Bell to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.[5][8][9]

Wreck artifacts

The wreck of the Vienna was discovered in 1975 by the United States Fisheries R.V. Kohvo research vessel while setting fish sampling nets. She was then extensively explored by divers Kent Bellrichard of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Tom Farnquist, Director of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS) and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.[6] Shipwreck historian Gerred wrote of Bellrichard and Farnquist's dives to the Vienna:

They had made many trips to the wreck and brought up some interesting artifacts. Among them were a hand carved eagle atop the pilot house, the ship's wheel, wooden blocks, portholes, a telegraph bell, whistle pull, dishes, crocks, and a large grindstone. Farnquist, who is an expert on making lamps, book ends, and tables from wreck material, refinished the wheel. He mounted it against blue velvet with a polished frame of wreck wood. It is displayed at the Lake Superior College and will be donated to their future marine museum. The eagle also was refinished and donated to the museum ship, Valley Camp.[5]

Michigan’s Antiquities Act of 1980 prohibited the removal of artifacts from shipwrecks on the Great Lakes bottomlands.[10] The Michigan Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) 1992 raid on the GLSHS offices and Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum included seizure of artifacts that were illegally removed from the Vienna.[10][11] Artifacts from the Vienna’s wreck are on display in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum as a loan from the State of Michigan by a 1993 settlement agreement with the GLSHS following the DNR raid on the museum in 1992.[11][12] The Vienna’s wreck in now protected by the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve as part of an underwater museum.

Wreck diving

The Vienna’s wreck lies in 120 to 148 feet (37 to 45 m) of water at 46°44.46′N 84°57.91′W / 46.741°N 84.96517°W / 46.741; -84.96517. The Vienna’s wreck is one of the more accessible wreck dives in the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve because she is about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from shore.[13] She is known as a “blow-off” wreck dive because she closer to shore and extended-range divers go to this wreck during high winds and rough seas or when they have limited time. Her wreck is moored to protect her remains and enhance the safety of divers.[2][13] However, the greater accessibility of the Vienna’s wreck belies her ability to ensnare even technically skilled, experienced scuba divers. The 4 diving fatalities on her wreck are the most of all the wrecks in the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve. Her remains are intact and upright and divers especially enjoy exploring her intact bow cabins.[13] In 1994, 102 years after the Vienna sank, an experienced male diver who was a member of the Chippewa County Sheriff's Department died while diving her wreck.[14] In 1995, an experienced male diver died of massive emboli after deeply penetrating the wreck, likely running out of air, and attempting an uncontrolled ascent without staged decompression.[15] In 1996, an inexperienced female diver’s body was recovered from the wreck of the Vienna in 147 feet (45 m) feet of water when her companion diver who was her fiancé was unable to rescue her.[16] A fourth diving fatality occurred at the wreck of the Vienna in 1998 but details of the accident are not available. [17]


  1. "The Great Lakes Shipwreck File". Dave Swayze’s Great Lake History. Retrieved 03 March 2009. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Wreck of the Vienna: Blow-off Dive or Great Wreck Dive?". Global Underwater Explorers. Retrieved 03 March 2009. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 ""Vienna"". Alpena County Public Library. Retrieved 03 March 2009. 
  4. ""Vienna",(Prop.), 1887 C85768". Maritime History of the Great Lakes. Retrieved 03 March 2009. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Gerred, Janice H. “Wreck of the Vienna, "Great Lakes Shipwrecks", p.10. Voyager Press, Grand Maria, Michigan, 1978. G 525.G74 1978.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Stonehouse, Frederick (1973). "The Great Wrecks of the Great Lakes: A directory of the shipwrecks of Lake Superior", pp. 68–70, The Book Concern, Printer, Hancock, Michigan, USA. LCCN 73-75623.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Wolff, Julius F. (1979, 1990). "The Shipwrecks of Lake Superior", p. 67. Lake Superior Port Cities Inc., Duluth, Minnesota, USA. ISBN 0-942235-01-0.
  8. 8.0 8.1 (1892 September 19.) “Sent her to the bottom.” The Mining Journal, p. l.
  9. "Steam barge sunk" (PDF). York Times. Retrieved 03 March 2009. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Michigan DNR 1992 Affidavit and Search Warrant and Investigation Report of GLSHS". Whitefish Point Watch. Retrieved 03 March 2009. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Storey, Jack, (4 December 1992). "Shipwreck artifact dispute simmers". Evening News, p. A1.
  12. "State of Michigan Settlement Agreement with GLSHS". Whitefish Point Watch. Retrieved 03 March 2009. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Harrington, Steve (1990, 1998), p. 328. Divers Guide to Michigan, p. 321, Maritime Press & Great Lakes Diving Council, Inc., St. Ignace, Michigan, U.S.A. ISBN 0-9624629-8-5
  14. (08 August 94). "Sault Man Killed in Lake Accident." Evening News, p. A1.
  15. "Vienna fatality 1995". Brendon Bailloid’s Great Lakes Shipwreck Research. Retrieved 03 March 2009. 
  16. "Vienna fatality 1996". Brendon Bailloid’s Great Lakes Shipwreck Research. Retrieved 03 March 2009. 
  17. "Vienna fatality 1998". Brendon Bailloid’s Great Lakes Shipwreck Research. Retrieved 03 March 2009. 

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