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The steambarge Vienna, downbound with a load of iron ore, was struck by the upbound steamer Nipigon on September 16, 1892 off Whitefish Point in Lake Superior. Both steamers were towing barges, cut down schooners, at the time, which they dropped after the collision to allow the Nipigon to tow the Vienna onto the beach. They fell about a mile short; the Vienna plunging into what was said to be really deep water at the time of the sinking. The Vienna actually rests about a mile outside the harbor of refuge at Whitefish Point in 145 feet of water. Because it is the closest wreck to the harbor, and the most protected in bad weather, it is the most dived shipwreck in the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve.
The Vienna is largely intact, though unlike in the case of the Mather, the rear cabins are missing. The remains of the octagon forward pilot house can be found off the bow on the starboard side, which is pretty rare. These pilot houses usually blew off and drifted away during sinking. This is also the area where the pilot house eagle was found, out in the sand, in the 1970s. Gold painted eagles were mounted on the roof of the forward pilot house on early lake steamers, perhaps the steamer version of a figurehead. This eagle can now be viewed at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point, a couple of miles from where it was discovered on the lake bottom. With in house office cleaning at the museum everyone can now see that some of the gold paint is still on the eagle today..
A life boat was found out in the sand a few years ago, and divers brought it up and set it on deck next to the broken stump of the aft mast. The rear crew area is open from the cabins blowing off. It is possible to drop down and explore the old capstan, the large towing bitt which was used to tow barges, and the privy.
Under the stern by the rudder and prop painted load markings are still visible after 118 years under water.
Story and photos ©2005 J.R. Underhill Communications