Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Shipwreck of the "Silver Spray" rests a stone's throw from Hyde Park's 49th street beach in Chicago.

On July 15, 1914 -- almost exactly a year before the SS Eastland disaster -- the Silver Spray, a 109-foot-long ferry, set sail to pick up 200 University of Chicago students and take them to Gary, Indiana, to tour the steel mills.
Unfortunately the trip never came to pass as the Silver Spray ran aground on Lake Michigan's Morgan Shoal, a massive underwater rock formation that was formed millions of years ago by glacial activity. 
Morgan Shoal is a million square foot dolomite shelf left over from glacial action millions of years ago near what would eventually be Lake Shore Drive at 49th Street. The wave action at this unique spot along the shoreline creates the city’s only pebble beach and a tricky navigational spot for boats.
Once it was apparent that the ship was doomed, the captain and the seven-man crew decided to remain with their ship, not even halting the preparation of the evening's stew.

Three days later, after various vessels attempted to pull the Silver Spray free of the limestone reef, the crew was taken ashore. Attempts to salvage the ship only caused it to slam against the rocks, and the wooden steamship quickly broke in two.
A Chicago Examiner comic from July 16, 1914, the day after the Silver Spray hit Morgan Shoal and two days before waves finally broke the ship apart.
In addition, the boiler had been left on and the ship caught fire as it sank, making for quite the spectacle. Groups of spectators on shore began collecting the wooden debris as it floated in and burnt them in large bonfires. It must have been a delightful time.
The remains of the Silver Spray can still be seen peeking out of the waters of Lake Michigan. While most of the wooden structure is long since gone, the ship's metal boiler still juts out of the water.
The boiler of the Silver Spray.
The Silver Spray is the closest shipwreck to the shoreline of Chicago and is thus a popular diving spot, along with Morgan Shoals in general.
Some swimmers even paddle out to the wreck and sunbathe on its exposed angle. For better or worse, the Silver Spray seems to be bringing more joy to people in its death than it ever did during its operation.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. That's fantastic! We've boated on Lake Michigan for decades in that area and neither never heard of this, nor ever saw it! Thanks Neil!

  2. We members of Jackson Park Yacht club know it well. At least once a year some boat, usually from downtown, hits the boiler. Every few years, one gets badly damaged; a couple have sunk.


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