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With Captain Fred McDonald in command, the Louisiana departed Lorain, Ohio, on November 2, 1913, loaded with coal and headed for Milwaukee. After delivering her cargo in Milwaukee, she departed light for Escanaba, Michigan, to pick up a load of iron ore. Around midnight of November 8, the ship passed through a channel between the Bay of Green Bay and Lake Michigan known as Death's Door .

thumbnail of Death's Door map See a map of Death's Door

A severe snowstorm greeted the Louisiana and her crew as they negotiated the rocky passage. With winds over 70 miles per hour, it whipped the waves into huge, crashing breakers. Captain McDonald sought refuge from the dangerous conditions in Washington Harbor on Washington Island, but the Louisiana's anchors could not hold in the heavy seas and howling wind. The fierce storm drove the ship aground, perilously close to the rocky southeast shore of Washington Harbor.

With the seas pounding on the rocks, the Louisiana's small lifeboat offered little chance of getting ashore safely. Rather than braving the heavy seas and surf in the tiny boat, the crew elected to ride out the storm aboard the grounded steamer. By morning, however, the grave situation had grown worse. The storm was still raging, the ship was still helplessly caught on the rocks, and the cargo hold was now ablaze in a fire the crew could not extinguish. Capt. McDonald and the desperate crew had little choice but to board the lifeboat and take their chances in the surf, leaving the Louisiana to suffer the ravages of the fire and the storm. 

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