The Tragic Loss of the Hippocampus

Lost Ship of the Month

This rare, original woodcut engraving has been in my collection for about 20 years. It is an excerpt from Harper’s Weekly, a popular illustrated newspaper, dated September 26th, 1868. It shows an artist’s conception of the haunting final moments of the long-lost steamer Hippocampus. No known photograph of the Hippocampus has ever been found, likely due to her short career. She is my Lost Ship of the Month for January.
The Hippocampus was a stout little passenger and package freighter at only 100 feet in length. She was built at St. Joseph, Michigan in 1867 for the fruit trade with Chicago. Her name in Greek means Sea Horse. She had only been on the Lakes for 14 months when she was lost on September 8, 1868 with 55 souls in a frightful September squall somewhere between St. Joseph, Michigan, and Chicago.
The Hippocampus had been overloaded by all accounts, with her hold and decks stacked high with crates of peaches. Onlookers noted as she was towed up the river from Benton Harbor to St. Joseph, that she seemed to wallow, but given that it was a calm late summer day, little concern was felt.
Later that day, an ominous squall line passed over Lake Michigan pushing an intense gust front ahead of it. Other boats on the Chicago route noted its intensity but none saw what befell the unlucky Hippocampus. When she failed to arrive at Chicago, boats were sent to look for her, eventually finding hundreds of crates of peaches as well as portions of decking and pilot house floating about the Lake 20 miles from St. Joseph. The loss was the worst tragedy in the history of the southwest Michigan fruit trade causing shippers to re-evaluate deck loads.
Nearly ten years later, in April of 1877, some commercial fisherman reported snagging their nets on a wreck in 100 feet of water about 20 miles from St. Joseph. The snag was believed to be the wreck of the Hippocampus and plans were announced to raise her, but it seems the identity of the snag could not be confirmed and the wreck faded into history.
The Hippocampus is rarely searched for due to her distance from shore and the poorly known location of her final plunge. She is believed to lie somewhere along the courseline between St. Joseph and Chicago.
For more info about this lost vessel and her disappearance see:


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