The Lake Michigan Triangle
by Jeff Wagg
The Great Lakes Region has had many planes, ships, and people go missing. Some have suggested that a "triangle" exists here, causing strange things to happen to ships and planes alike. Could there be another region like the Bermuda Triangle in America's heartland?
Yes, let's dispense with the Bermuda Triangle right away. As has been reported in detail on Skeptoid before, the Bermuda Triangle was the creation of Charles Berlitz, and it has been established beyond a doubt that there is nothing statistically anomalous about the region. Lloyd's of London provides pretty strong evidence that this heavily travelled sea corridor is no different than many others, because they don't charge any insurance surcharge for the ships plying those waters. They do charge more for ships sailing near Somalia, where pirate attacks account for most missing ships.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the Bermuda Triangle remains one of the most recognized paranormal regions in the world. But it's far from the only one. There are many other triangles, some on land, some on sea, and all as dubious as the one Berlitz made.
The Lake Michigan Triangle is not nearly as well known, but it has been featured in many articles, books, and in the official register of the paranormal, the In Search Of… television program. The late Leonard Nimoy narrated the episode entitled "The Great Lakes Triangle" which aired on November 2, 1978.
The earliest reference I can find to a Great Lakes Triangle is the book The Great Lakes Triangle by pilot Jay Gourley. Released in 1977, it advertised that this triangle was "Deadlier Than The Bermuda Triangle." In the first chapter, Gourley reveals that the number of incidents recorded in this region is greater than in the Bermuda Triangle, according to a Rear Admiral of the US Coast Guard.
This isn't a surprising statistic. As busy as the region described by the Bermuda Triangle is, it's mostly water. Gourley's region includes a large amount of land, including a number of major cities such as Toronto and Chicago. There is simply more activity here, and much of it is private aviation.
The introduction to Gourley's book describes an area..
…principally between longitudes 76° west and 92° west and between latitudes 41° north and 49° northin which
several hundred peculiar events have been recorded.The cartographers amongst you probably recognize those coordinates as describing a rectangular shape, rather than a triangle. I was surprised to learn that Gourley did not include a map of the region, at least in the first printing of the paperback. It seems he's using the word "triangle" to mean a paranormal area, rather than just a shape. The Great Lakes Rectangle just doesn't have the same ring, especially when one is trying to sell a book just a few years after Berlitz's effort hit the bestseller's list.
Gourley's work is basically a compilation of air and sea accidents that have been somehow mysterious. He went through the newly computerized lists of incidents, and pulled out dozens that had some element of mystery. A ship completely disappeared, a plane's compass or radio stopped working, a rogue wave was reported—and of course, these things have happened. But until Gourley, they were just stories of things that happen in open water.
One of the books Gourley references is Strange Adventures of the Great Lakes by Dwight Boyer. This book is your standard sea stories book, chronicling some of the harrowing tales of life on the Great Lakes. For those who may not realize, these lakes truly are "great." They can be properly referred to as inland seas, and though their water is fresh, they have the same hazards as the ocean. Sudden storms, rapidly changing conditions, hidden obstructions—all these have claimed their share of craft.
Boyer's book is entertaining and while it's not a scholarly work, it contains no mention of triangles, vile vortices, ley lines, or anything else paranormal. Of interest is the fact that it was published in 1974, the same year as Berlitz's Bermuda Triangle and just three years before Gourley's work. Of further interest is how differently the same stories are told.
Here is the version of the story of the William B. Davoc, as described on page 86 of The Great Lakes Triangle:
The William B. Davoc similarly disappeared without a trace on November 11, 1940. No one knows for sure what happened to the William B. Davoc…and later in the same paragraph
Presumably she sank after a collision with the Anna C. Minch, a 1880-ton steamer also lost on November 11 in Lake Michigan.That's a solid hypothesis, but lets look to see what the source that Gourley used, Boyer's Strange Adventures, says on page 101:
Although experienced marine men know that radio-telephone aerials are frequently among the casualties in a really stiff blow, there should have been word or a sighting by now.Well, it seems that there was a storm. What else can we find?
…the first inkling of disaster was a telephone message from an Associated Press reporter, advising marine superintendent Captain Thomas E. Zealand that the Davock had apparently foundered; bodies were even then coming ashore in the vicinity of Ludington.Later, several of those bodies were identified as crew members of the Davock. Also found were the ship's lifeboats, life rings, and a specific wicker chair. I'm at a loss to ascertain how Gourley didn't consider these artifacts "traces."
One of the strongest stories of Great Lakes incidents is of a 727 flying into Lake Michigan instead of leveling off, despite having three experienced pilots on board looking at the altimeter. Though the flight data recorder was not recovered, everything indicates that the plane was operating normally. In fact, at the very moment of impact, the captain was talking with the control tower about his altimeter.
Gourley cites a line from the National Transportation Safety Board report which reads:
The Board is unable to determine the reason for the aircraft not being leveled off at its assigned altitude of 6,000 feet.NTSB incident reports are available online, and I was able to pull up the exact document he was referencing. And he's right, it says exactly that. However, it also says on page 36 that it's possible the pilot was reading the altimeter wrong. Due to a quirk on this aircraft, if you viewed the altimeter from the side, it was easy to make an error of 10,000 feet. The first digit of the attitude was obscured by the bevel. Pictures were included in the document that illustrate how easy this mistake is, and it had caused another 727 to crash earlier in the year. Gourley cited this document, but didn't mention this very plausible explanation.
These are examples of how stories are told when one wants to foster the idea that there is something strange going on. Two ships colliding in a storm is a good sea story, a ship simply vanishing is a good ghost story. Gourley is careful to say that he doesn't know what happened to his list of missing vessels, but he's not shy about offering suggestions. These include some natural phenomena such as rogue waves, seiche waves (which could have their own article), and magnetic anomalies. But he's not shy about offering UFOs and the whole panoply of explanations found in Berlitz's book. In fact, Berlitz is referenced heavily throughout The Great Lakes Triangle, and Gourley's later work often deals with UFOs and other such phenomena.
Author Hugh Cochrane thanks Jay Gourley in his own book, Gateway To Oblivion: The Great Lakes' Bermuda Triangle. And from there, he expands upon the idea that the Great Lakes are host to vile vortices, UFO hotspots, Earth energies, and an entire catalog of unproven phenomena. Not to be outdone, Cochrane also created his own area, the "Marysburgh Vortex," where over 100 ships have disappeared. How could Gourley have missed this?
He didn't, he simply included it in his squarish triangle. It's not difficult to create your own square, triangle, or vortex. Simply pick three or more points on the Earth, research all the disappearances and accidents in the area, and list them using only the bits of data that fit the idea that something strange is going on. I've managed to do this in my own kitchen, where I've cut myself badly three times in an area of roughly three square feet. It also happens to be where I do the chopping for cooking, but that's not useful data in my "Kitchen Triangle" hypothesis.
You may be wondering why this episode is called the "Lake Michigan Triangle," and not the "The Great Lakes Triangle." That's because someone has created a new triangle in Lake Michigan, and that's the one that's getting the most attention these days. This triangle uses the corners of Benton Harbor and Ludington, Michigan, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin. It will not surprise you to learn that this area includes more than half the lake, and includes nearly all the major shipping routes. It also includes many of the most dramatic disappearances from the other books, such as the 727 incident mentioned earlier. Though the plane didn't crash in the triangle, it flew into it, and that's good enough.
The Lake Michigan Triangle has been mentioned on Willian Shatner's Weird or What?, it has a place entry on the Atlas Obscura, and the Travel Channel's Mysteries at the Museum reported on it, using material that seems in line with Gourley's work. But they added a fact.
In 2007, underwater archeologist Mark Holley found a "mysterious pattern of stones" forty feet under the lake in Grand Traverse Bay. And to add intrigue, one of the stones supposedly bears a carving of a mastodon. The Travel Channel's program quotes them as being a "North American Stonehenge" and suggest that it's possible that these stones are responsible for the disappearances. While Holley's discovery remains unconfirmed, I find it safe to say that these stones have not caused any shipwrecks, unless a ship with a very deep draft happened to hit one.
So while I wasn't able to determine who came up with the current Lake Michigan Triangle, I have crossed the region by plane and ship, and every time I emerged on the other side unscathed. There was a very thick fog during a ferry crossing, which I interpret to be just that… a very thick fog. If I were writing a book about paranormal places, I'd refer to it as a "sudden," "mysterious," or "unexplained" fog. But I'm not. I'm writing a skeptical piece for Skeptoid. And as such, my skepticism says that the Great Lakes and Michigan Triangles are more about selling books than about describing any real phenomena.
You can reach me at collegeofcuriosity.com.
By Jeff Wagg
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