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Type: Lake Michigan Triangle
Date: April 28, 1937
Source: UFO Roundup, Volume 3, Number 17
1937: STRANGE CRUISE OF THE O.M. McFARLAND
One of the weirdest disappearances in the history of the Lake Michigan Triangle
occurred on April 28, 1937, sixty-one years ago.
According to the
Cleveland Press, "A new mystery of the Great Lakes was unfolded today when
the freighter O.M. McFarland docked in Port Washington, Wisconsin and crew
members reported the disappearance of the ship's master."
It was a big
day for the McFarland's skipper, Captain George R. Donner--his fifty-eighth
birthday. Born in 1879, Donner "had sailed for ten years on the old Valley
Camp Steamship Company boats until the firm was taken over by Columbia
(Transportation Company). It was his first command under the Columbia house
flag, although he had been on the lakes for years and had served as a
skipper for several of them."
Days earlier, the McFarland had picked up
9,800 tons of coal at the dock in Erie, Pennsylvania. The vessel sailed out
of Lake Erie, across Lake Huron, and through the Straits of Mackinac into
"At 10:15 p.m. on the night of April 28, 1937," Captain
Donner "left the pilot house, giving instructions to the second mate to
call him when the McFarland was off her destination of Port Washington,
Wisconsin, some three hours hence. Stating that he wanted to get a couple
of hours sleep, he went below, out of sight of the mate and the wheelman.
The desire for rest was understandable, for the McFarland, on her first
trip of the season, had encountered the usual heavy ice in the Straits of
Mackinac, losing considerable time. And, once in northern Lake Michigan, a
sharp watch had to be kept for roving ice fields."
"After leaving the
pilot house, Captain Donner must have busied himself with paperwork before
retiring, for he was later heard moving around in his room."
a.m. (April 29, 1937--J.T.) as the McFarland neared Port Washington, the
mate, as instructed, descended to the captain's room to summon him. There
was no response to his knocking on the door, so the second officer opened
it and peered in, assuming that the captain was merely sleeping heavily.
But Captain Donner was not in the bed or anywhere else in sight."
possibility that the captain had walked aft to get coffee or partake of the
night lunch, the mate hurried back to the galley, but except for a couple
of off-duty firemen finishing a midnight snack, it was deserted. Quickly
summoning the other mate and the chief engineer, he organized a thorough
search of the McFarland, crew members combing every nook and cranny of the
thirty-four year-old vessel. Without a doubt, Captain Donner had
Yes, indeed, Captain Donner had vanished from his locked
room. There was no other hatch except the one leading into the
companionway, and he was too large to pass through the room's two
portholes. No one had seen him in the companionway between midnight and
1:15 a.m., when the mate knocked on his door.
Interestingly, during this
critical hour, the McFarland was 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of
Ludington, Michigan. Ludington is reputed to be the nexus of the Lake
"Ships along the McFarland's route were asked to keep
a watch for Donner's body, and the same request was passed on to
communities along the shore."
"Captain Donner's body never did turn up,
and his disappearance from his cabin aboard ship is as much a mystery now
as it was in 1937."
(See STRANGE ADVENTURES OF THE GREAT LAKES by Dwight
Boyer, Freshwater Press, Cleveland, Ohio, 1974, pages 223 to 225. Also THE
GREAT LAKES TRIANGLE by Jay Gourley, Fawcett Publications, Inc., Greenwich,
Conn. 1977, page 176. Also GATEWAY TO OBLIVION by Hugh Cochrane, Avon
Books, New York, NY, 1980, pages 34 and 35. And the Cleveland (Ohio) Press
for April 29, 1937.)
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