In the last column, the schooner, Thomas Hume was described in the historical context of the lumber industry. It is known that the Thomas Hume vanished on May 21, 1891. Lake Michigan was successful in concealing her secret for 115 years.
The disappearance of the Thomas Hume without a trace set off all kinds of speculation about what might have happened to the ship. In her book, “Lost and Found: Legendary Shipwrecks of Lake Michigan,” Valerie Van Heest observed: “The mystery thickened. A wild and woolly suggestion originated that the Hume might have sailed to some obscure port, been repainted, and renamed. Others, including Charles Hackley, presumed that a steamer had rammed and sunk the schooner and the captain, fearful of repercussions, sailed away.”
Other kinds of speculation were noted by the website Ancient Origins: “Others have suggested that the ship was a victim of paranormal phenomena and that it sailed unknowingly into the so-called Michigan Triangle, an area likened to the Bermuda Triangle in which many ships went missing.”
The Michigan Triangle is generally thought to be an area defined as space between Manitowoc, Wis., and the Michigan cities of Ludington and Benton Harbor. The magazine Lake Effect Living describes the Triangle as: “Known fittingly as the Michigan Triangle, this area is said to cause time to speed up or slow down and to be responsible for the disappearance of several lake vessels and aircraft.”
The Thomas Hume would remain a mystery, if not, like the Flying Dutchman, occasionally seen in the dim light or a fog, sailing on. Others held that she sailed through a crack in the lake. The complete and total disappearance baffled sailors and Great Lakes historians for 115 years.
One can be certain that in 2006, as he searched for old navy aircraft in Lake Michigan, Taras Lyssenko of A&T Recovery did not have the mystery of the Thomas Hume in the forefront of his mind. Lake Effect Living wrote: “Working on behalf of the National Museum of Naval Aviation, this Chicago-based company has recovered over thirty WWII planes from Lake Michigan. Instead of an aircraft, Lyssenko’s sonar picked up the contours of a large schooner shaped vessel. When a team of divers went down to investigate, they were amazed to discover an almost completely intact vessel.”
The schooner was located in southern Lake Michigan in 150 feet of water. The cold, clear water had actually preserved the wreck. Yet nowhere could anybody find absolutely clear markings that the wreck was, in fact, the Thomas Hume. The wreck was turned over to a group of Chicago-based professional divers and the Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates, both of whom began the adventure of positively identifying the ship that bore every similarity to the long-lost Thomas Hume.
Valerie Van Heest of the Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates writes: “The first dives on the wreck, located just a quarter-mile west of the Michigan-Illinois border revealed its extraordinary condition. Visibility provided ambient light down to the bottom and divers could see the entire length of the wreck.”
It took many dives and much exploration before the wreck was, in fact, proclaimed to be the Thomas Hume. Van Heest describes the similarities between the wreck and the Thomas Hume: “The wreck is 126 feet long and 25 feet wide, which matches the enrolled dimensions of the Hume. Metal rigging lies in the sand off the starboard side of the wreck confirming what was known of the Hume’s construction. There is no cargo on board the vessel, which is in keeping with the Hume’s last trip. Name boards affixed to the starboard and port hull are the right length to carry the name Thomas Hume, but the paint has worn off.”
The Michigan Shipwrecks Research Association concluded from its survey that the ship was overwhelmed by the same storm that forced the Rouse Simmons to return to Chicago. It was too intact to have been involved in a collision, as Hackley had presumed.
The ship rested on a clay surface at the bottom of Lake Michigan. It constituted an archaeological find of great significance. Numerous items were found intact — galley items, shoes and fabric that had been preserved by the cold, motionless water at the bottom of Lake Michigan. There was another interesting find in the stern quarter of the Thomas Hume: a good, old-fashioned set of brass knuckles. Van Heest has speculated this may have been a way to maintain discipline among the crew or may be evidence of a crew that might have defied the skipper’s authority. That part we will not likely ever know.
We do know that the MSRA and teams of professional divers have found enough evidence to comfortably proclaim the wreck as the long lost Thomas Hume and to add another historical treasure to our inventory of Great Lakes shipwrecks.