Painting of a two-masted schooner in full sail, black and white image

Mystery of Lake Michigan

The Bermuda Triangle of the Great Lakes
5 Dec 2022

Most people are familiar with a region of the western part of the mid-Atlantic Ocean known as the Bermuda Triangle, where ships, planes, and people allegedly disappear without a trace. There is a section of our Great Lakes that produces the same level of mystery, our own Lake Michigan Triangle. The Triangle stretches from Ludington to Benton Harbour, Michigan, to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The Michigan Triangle has a history of ships, planes, and people disappearing within its borders.

One of the earliest disappearances in the Michigan Triangle was of Le Griffon in 1679. The vessel was built for the fur trading business and was sent into Lake Michigan. The Griffon was heading towards Fort Frontenac (present day Kingston), a trading post and military fort on the Cataraqui River where the St. Lawrence River leaves Lake Ontario. The ship was loaded with furs and new supplies to be delivered at the southern end of Lake Michigan. The Griffon headed through what is known as the Michigan Triangle, while those waiting for the vessel’s arrival found themselves waiting for nearly a month. After the ship never arrived, the Griffon was considered lost and was one of the Great Lakes’ earliest shipwrecks. Although some claim to have found the shipwreck in multiple locations across Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, none have had enough evidence to claim it was, in fact, the lost Griffon.

1988 0068 0008Other ships have disappeared since the Griffon, such as the Thomas Hume, but ships are not the only disappearances in the triangle. Captain George Donner’s disappearance remains a mystery to this day. In 1937, Captain Donner was headed towards Port Washington, Wisconsin, with a cargo full of coal. One night, the captain decided to retire to his cabin for the night and instructed his first-mate to wake him when they neared their destination. When Donner entered his cabin, he locked the door from the inside. The crew had not heard or seen from the captain in some time and decided to break down the locked cabin door. However, when they entered the cabin, the captain was nowhere to be found. The crew searched the ship and found no explanation for the captain’s disappearance.

Fast forward to 1978, Steven Kubacki, a student at Hope College located on the southeastern side of Lake Michigan, went missing. He went on a cross-country skiing excursion intended to last a few days. He left a footprint trail in the snow that stretched along the waterfront past the Great Lakes' edge. However, the path of footprints abruptly stopped near the lake’s edge on the beach. It was assumed he fell into the lake until they discovered no broken ice. Search and rescue scoured the region and found no trace of Steven, as if he had just vanished into the Triangle. Just over a year later, Steven showed up at his father’s home with zero memory of where he had been or what had happened to him.

Now we have seen the disappearance of ships and people, but there was also a famous disappearance of a plane - Flight 2501. In 1950, this flight was intended to travel from New York to Seattle but never made it to Seattle that day. The plane and its 58 passengers disappeared over Lake Michigan. The next day, a full-scale search was launched; small debris from the plane was found in the water, but there was no sign of the actual plane. The Coast Guard continued to search throughout the water, but after some time, it was declared that there was not enough evidence to determine what happened to the flight since nothing could be found. The Michigan Shipwreck Research Association has held an annual search for Flight 2501 since 2004, but the plane has still not been found.

The Lake Michigan Triangle has left us confused and mystified by its history. The only question is, would you enter the triangle?



Avery SpoelstraBy Avery Spoelstra

Research Assistant, Autumn 2022


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