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September 28, 2007

The Cyprus Coincidence a Century Later


In February 2003 I wrote an article in Community Voices about the mysterious sinking of the Great Lakes ore carrier the Cyprus on October 11, 1907.  One of the crew on the 440 ship was Lee Spencer, the son of my maternal grandmother's sister.  Lee was a talented musician and ambitious young man who loved the boats on the Welland Canal in our hometown of Port Colborne.  At age 17 he got a summer job on the Cyprus in Lorain, Ohio where he had to wait for it to be launched on August 17, 1907.  On a trip from Superior Wisconsin to Buffalo New York On October 11 the ship mysteriously sank in a storm.  One man made it to shore alive.  Lee's body was never found.  Where the boat sank and why it sank has always been a mystery. 

The Cyprus ore carrier, 1907

Coincidentally Don Spencer whose father was a brother to Lee and lived to be a 100 recently wrote a family history.  The story included a letter Lee wrote on September 18, 1907, 100 years ago and probably received about 100 years ago today telling about his adventure and future plans and promising to get his brother George a job the next summer. 

Another coincidence is that the book prompted a reunion in Waterloo and the Elora Gorge on September 8 of all the many Spencers.  My 2 brothers and I were involved and attended.  The following Monday morning September 10 newspapers and television announced that the wreck of the Cyprus had been found in 130 metres of water in Lake Superior.  It was 10 miles from where it was thought to be and facing in the opposite direct to where it was going. 

The Press Release stated that the wreck was discovered by a team of explorers from the Great Lakes Shipwreck Society.  In August 2007 the crew of their ship was scanning with a sonar unit out of Grand Marais, Michigan on Lake Superior's Shipwreck coast.  On their second day, to make a long story short, they saw a target.  They soon had an excellent sonar image of a wreck.  They thought it was another ship.  A week later they came back and using their Phantom 84 remotely operated vehicle found the wreck.  Tom Farnquist operating the controls cruised the ship at 440 feet and eventually picked up a name.  Everyone gasped "Cyprus, it's the Cyprus" "No, it can't be - what's it doing here?"  the news was reported on September 10 - two days after our reunion. 

Sonar image of the Cyprus

I was contacted in 2003 by a may who read my article online and had a connection with the ship.  He emailed me on September 10, 2007 about the current discovery and I thanked him.  I was soon included in a series of emails where other relatives of victims and people interested in shipwrecks began planning for a DVD and further study of the wreck.  The large ship should not have gone down.  Leaking hatches were a possibility as were hull damage and possible rudder or engine troubles.  The cameras showed that half of the pilot house was missing and miscellaneous wreckage is spread about. 

The team will approach the wreckage again for further exploration. 

When I found out I contacted Don Spencer and others about the remarkable coincidence of its being found almost 100 years after the event.  We will follow other developments and add them to the family history and take a moment to remember Lee on October 11. 

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