Do You Know When These U.S. Shipwrecks Sank?

By: Zoe Samuel
Image: Image by Erik Pronske Photography / Moment / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Shipwrecks have been happening since the first sailor took the first boat into the water. Thousands of years have passed since those early days, but somehow we still haven't made a truly unsinkable ship!

In the case of many small vessels, shipwrecks are the result of bad weather or even gas bubbles in the water, which negate the buoyancy of many boats, even larger ships, causing them to sink. Ships sink because of colliding with a solid mass, be it an iceberg or simply running aground. Many shipwrecks are the result of negligence on the part of the ship's crews or the people who build and maintain them. Others are the result of rogue waves; that is, waves so huge they can swallow whole oil tankers.

The waters in and around the U.S. have been home to shipwrecks since the first sailboats came here centuries ago. Even today, we sometimes lose tugboats, yachts, cigarette boats, and more. Some of these subterranean wrecks exist as tourist attractions, while others are off limits — either due to the sensitivity of the site and the possibility of its destruction, or due to dangers such as radiation.

How much do you know about when ships went down in U.S. waters? Take this quiz and find out!

Looking, ironically, to Hawaii, when did the famous USS Arizona sink?

On December 8, 1941, FDR made his immortal statement, "Yesterday, December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan." The USS Arizona was one of the Pacific Fleet sunk in the Pearl Harbor attack, beginning the US engagement with World War 2.

When did the shuttle vessel Island Lady sink in US waters?

The Island Lady was a short range vessel ferrying 36 passengers to an offshore casino near Florida. A fire broke out in transit, causing the ship to sink. One passenger died and many were hospitalized.

This wreck was recovered and put back into service! When did the infamous Exxon Valdez oil tanker run aground?

The Exxon Valdez is best known for running aground in 1989 and spilling a terrific amount of oil off the coast of Alaska, resulting in a long and expensive cleanup lasting years. The vessel has since gone through many iterations, most recently being named the Dong Fang Ocean, a name it took to its grave in India, where it was deliberately beached in order to be dismantled.

Lakes can be dangerous too! When did the ship Admiral sink?

Lake Erie consumed the Admiral on December 2, 1942, almost exactly a year after Pearl Harbor. Admiral was towing a barge when powerful winds overcame the ship. Lake Erie is home to many shipwrecks, since, as a great lake, it has weather phenomena similar to that found on the ocean.

Let's go big with this one. When did PS Atlantic head to Davy Jones's Locker?

The paddle steamer Atlantic (hence the PS) went down following a collision, killing somewhere between 150 and 300 passengers. While other incidents on the Great Lakes have resulted in more deaths, this one constitutes the single greatest disaster in terms of loss of life in the history of the Great Lakes.

Steaming ahead, when did the PS Anthony Wayne go down?

PS Anthony Wayne was a steamship with two paddle wheels, one on each side. As a steamship, she had boilers. Those boilers were, tragically, the cause of the disaster. Two exploded, causing the ship to take on water rapidly off the coast of Ohio.

What's the date of the sinking of the SS G. P. Griffith?

While the name may sound like something from Hollywood, the SS G. P. Griffith is a ship that sank in Lake Erie, killing as many as 289 people; though, of course, in the mid-1800s, that sort of record-keeping wasn't very good. It wasn't a small ship at 193 feet long, and being a steamer, its destruction was very likely spectacular.

When did the massive SS James Carruthers freighter sink?

What does 7,862 tons of steel and cargo look like when it sinks in Lake Huron? Ask anyone who was around for the November 9, 1913 sinking of the SS James Carruthers, a huge freighter that went down in a then-much-talked-about "Great Lakes Storm of 1913."

We hope you know what a schooner is. When did the Minnedosa go down in Lake Huron?

Minnedosa was a schooner, which is a kind of four masted sailboat. Sailboats are an interesting departure from, say, steamboats in that while many steamboat disasters tend to result from mechanical failure, sailboats can run into trouble because their method of propulsion requires they maneuver a certain way, exposing them to greater risks of running aground or falling prey to the weather.

Let's parse out one ship with a popular name. When did the 1809 USS Hamilton sink?

The USS Hamilton wasn't named for Alexander, but Paul Hamilton, a Secretary of The Navy — today we call it Secretary of Defense — which happened after the US Navy acquired it in 1912 for use on Lake Ontario. Before it was a Naval vessel, it was a private ship used for transporting private goods. In the early morning of August 8, 1813, the ship was in a squall (a small, fierce storm) and sank, killing more than 40 men.

It may sound Egyptian, but it wasn't! When did Cleopatra's Barge sink off the coast of Hawaii?

King Kamehameha II of Hawaii loved his ship, Cleopatra's Barge, but when he decided to visit the King of England, he said goodbye to it for the final time. While he was in England having transported himself with a better royal vessel, his beloved Cleopatra's Barge was used to scout a potential rebellion in one of the Hawaiian islands, rumored to be in the planning stage by the son of an exiled king. The ship ran aground, and all efforts to right the ship and salvage it failed, until much later when some canon and hull fragments were found.

The PS General Slocum disaster was the single greatest loss of life in New York history until 9/11. When did it happen?

The General Slocum is a name carved into the skin of New York. A paddle steamer used to ferry people from Manhattan to Long Island, it caught fire shortly after leaving Manhattan on June 15, 1904, but the captain refused to dock for fear of being blamed if the fire spread. The life preservers were rotten and useless. The captain tried to get close to North Brother Island, where the ship ran aground, and burned in waters with a dangerous undertow. The 1,021 dead accounted for most of the women and children of the German immigrant community in New York.

When did Queen Anne's Revenge meet her fate in North Carolina?

Queen Anne's Revenge was a pirate ship under the command of William Teach, AKA Blackbeard. At the height of his powers — with the British government hot to stop piracy by any means necessary, including pardoning Blackbeard should he surrender — he deliberately ran his flagship aground in order to disperse the cargo and make it easier to escape. He took the chance to maroon several unruly crewmen in the process.

When did the unfortunately named SS Robert E. Lee sink with a belly full of gold?

The SS Robert E. Lee fell victim to U-166, a Nazi U-Boat prowling the mouth of the Mississippi in 1942. German submarines were a major trump card for the German navy, used to torpedo both military and civilian vessels without warning. It was later revealed that U-Boats even visited the harbor of New York during the war.

When did the US deliberately sink USS G-1?

The USS G-1 was an older sub, once used as a training ship, and the US navy decided its best use was as target practice. So on June 21, 1921, the navy placed it in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. There, the navy used new kinds of depth charges on the sub to see how well they worked on a target in a real world test.

When did the Peter Iredale meet its end off the coast of Oregon?

The Peter Iredale ship was named for Peter Iredale, its owner, a Liverpudlian shipping magnate. It was a steel-bodied sailing ship with mostly square sails resembling what most people would think of when they think of a wooden ship. It ran aground on a beach in Oregon thanks to a terrible storm and was never salvaged. It is visible to this day, with the very tip of its bow still standing on the beach.

It may sound like a sitcom, but it's not! When did New Carissa run aground?

New Carissa was a massive cargo ship waiting out a storm off the coast of Oregon when a storm hit. The crew's anchor chain was too short and the crew's navigational methods, watch attentiveness and response speed were all substandard. The result was the ship running aground, leaking oil and breaking in half. The bow section was towed out to sea and sunk deliberately. The stern was slowly dismantled, finishing in 2008.

Going to the US Minor Outlying Islands, when did the Kisaragi become entombed in the sea?

It was the early days of World War 2 when the US Marines sank the Japanese Destroyer Kisaragi near Wake Island, in the South Pacific. Kisaragi, meaning February, was the second Japanese warship sunk in the war, following its companion in the same battle, Hayate, also a destroyer, which was the first.

When did the US Revenue Cutter Service's USRC Mohawk sink off the coast of New Jersey?

USRC stands for United States Revenue Cutter in naval terminology. The USRC Mohawk was struck by SS Vennacher, a British naval vessel. The Mohawk's crew were rescued, but the ship could not be saved and was left to be consumed by the sea.

When did USS Hatteras meet her fate off the Texan coast?

USS Hatteras was a Union warship during the American Civil War. She was a steamship, which had its advantages, but also meant that getting up to speed could take longer than a sailing ship, depending on the weather. In 1863, she encountered what she thought was a British vessel (it was flying the Union Flag) but upon trying to identify the ship, the response was "CSS Alabama" and the firefight commenced. The USS Hatteras was turned into kindling.

When did the SS Admiral Sampson meet its demise in the shipping lanes of Puget Sound?

SS Admiral Sampson was a passenger ship, and on the morning of August 26, 1914, she was moving at an incredibly slow 3 knots due to the thick fog in Puget Sound. Despite taking every precaution, she was rammed by the steamship Princess Victoria. The captain of the Victoria kept the engines going, using his bow to plug the hole he had just smashed, T-boning the Sampson. As a result, many of the passengers and crew survived.

Looking to one northern border, when did the SS Catala go down in Washington State's waters?

The SS Catala survived a terrible grounding in Canada — being used as a temporary hotel in Seattle — only to die on the beaches of Damon Point, Washington as a rusting hulk that sat, leaking fuel, for decades. When a beachcomber discovered the leaks in 2006, the ship was drained of fuel and scrapped.

Things have changed a lot! When did the USS General M. C. Meigs run aground, only to bleed out over years?

The USS General M. C. Meigs was an important troop carrier in the second world war, and in several conflicts thereafter. But when it was being towed in 1972, her tow line broke. As a result, she ran aground off the Washington coast, where she was left, leaking fuel and slowly going to bits as the weather reduced the vessel to its essential elements.

When did the Success meet its doom in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin?

The Success was a simple ship for transporting lumber on the Great Lakes. During a storm, the captain decided to anchor well away from shore to avoid destruction. This strategy failed. The ship took on water and was smashed into solid ground as the weather pushed it to shore. Its crew survived, as did its cargo, but the ship was gone.

This is an odd sounding one. When did the USS Algol sink forever?

This ship served from World War 2 to 1970, after which it was made a "reserve" ship, and then turned into an artificial reef off the coast of New Jersey in 1991. Many old military ships are turned into artificial reefs, as are old train cars and retired New York subway cars. Just imagine: You can take the L train to a World War 2 battleship!

Can you nail down a date for the sinking of the Morania #130?

The tragically named Morania #130 was a motorized barge. She was being maneuvered by a tugboat in Buffalo, New York when a steamer hit her. Things were okay, but when the steamer backed off, there was a spark, and the 800K gallons of gasoline on the Morania caught fire. The explosion killed 11 crewmen on the steamer and burned for days, the worst single maritime disaster in the history of Buffalo.

What was the day the Sea Bear became a stationary submarine off the coast of New York?

The Sea Bear was a tugboat operating from Fire Island. The boat was headed to Connecticut for maintenance when the need for the maintenance became apparent. The Sea Bear took on water so fast, the crew of three could not even make a distress call. The skipper was not wearing a survival suit, so while his two crewmen lived, the skipper perished.

Can you name the date the HMS Hussar met the bottom of the sea?

The Revolutionary War began to favor the Americans. Evacuating Manhattan, the captain of HMS Hussar made the fateful decision to escape via Long Island Sound, requiring passing through the infamous Hell Gate between Randall's Island and Queens County. The Hussar hit a rock formation called Pot Rock and sank. The crew survived, and everything valuable was removed, but legends of riches persist.

When did things get hairy for Harold?

The barge Harold isn't as well known as its cargo. It left Manhattan loaded with lead and silver bound for New Jersey, much of it owned by the Guggenheim family. En route, the barge tipped, wrecking near its destination, and limping to its end in Perth Amboy. The crew thanked their lucky stars they didn't lose any cargo, only they did — all the silver. 85% was recovered, but the balance, worth $20 Million today, remains underwater near Staten Island.

When did Nevada's only shipwreck happen?

The SS Tahoe was scuttled August 29, 1940. She was a steamship, and her time was up. More ships have operated in Lake Tahoe since then, but this one ship, the only wreck in the state, is a part of the National Register of Historic Places.

When did the USS Cairo go down, after going down to Mississippi?

The USS Cairo struck a naval mine in the Yazoo River in 1862, sinking her. She was a cutting edge ironclad warship, one of the first of her kind. She was raised in the 1960s and put on display, which is great because she was a historical milemarker.

Here's a tricky question! When did the Mayflower sink?

This Mayflower was built in 1887 and was a modern sort of ship: a scow schooner. This meant she could sail under her own power or be towed by a motorized vessel. It's unclear as to exactly why she capsized, but on a journey carrying sandstone for Duluth's Central High School, her cargo shifted in the hold, and the ship went down.

When did the USS Abeona, which just missed Civil War service, fall into the deep?

The USS Abeona was commissioned right after General Lee surrendered. The Abeona was a lightly armored gunboat, and when she retired from military service, she continued to work on the Mississippi River as a civilian transport until she caught fire and sank near Cincinnati.

When did USS Moody become a Hollywood immortal?

The USS Moody was a retired naval vessel looking to begin a second career. It had its moment in the spotlight, but it was brief. The USS Moody had a walk-on part in "Hell Below," a film starring Robert Montgomery, a Hollywood star in the 1930s. The ship wasn't heroic, though. The script called for its destruction, just off the coast of California.

When did the ice-shipper Zenobia ironically hit something that sank the artificial iceberg?

The Zenobia was a shipper, transporting ice from Alaska to San Francisco. But in 1858, with no pilot ship to guide it in heavy fog, she cruised into a rock just outside of San Francisco with tremendous force, shattering the ship. Ironically, this man-made iceberg's fate was to sink.

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