After serving as the hard-charging flagship of a Great Lakes fleet of shipping vessels, as well as a luxury transport for company guests, the S.S. William A. Irvin is now moored to its fate as a tourist attraction and (seasonally) haunted house.
Launched in 1937 in Lorain, Ohio, at the cost of $1.3 million, the ship soon became the flagship of the U.S. Steel company’s Great Lakes fleet. The massive-for-the-time vessel was a shining example of American industrial development and labor, famously setting an unbeaten record for unloading 13,856 tons of iron ore in just two hours and 55 minutes, without the use of automatic loaders.
In addition to its prestige as proud workhorse of a vessel, the Irvin was also used as posh transport ship for company guest. To this end guests that boarded the ship were wined and dined among the oak panes and brass railings of the richly appointed dining room before being assigned to one of four private luxury cabins. The high-class decorations even extended to other portions of the ship such as the shining brass railings adorning the engine room and bedrooms featuring mirrors tinted in pink (to counter any greenish sea-sick visages). Guides tell of services provided to the VIPs vacationing on the Irvin like the time a guest requested blueberry pancakes for breakfast and the Captain sent two crewmen ashore to pick fresh blueberries. This combination, shipping-pleasure vessel was one of the only of its kind, but by the time of the ship’s retirement in 1978, it had been outsized by newer, larger ships and the Irvin was one of the smallest in the fleet.
Today the S.S. William A. Irvin sits in Duluth’s bay as a part of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC) and is open for tours, and in October the interior of the ship is covered in blood and shadows to turn it into a haunted attraction. The Irvin’s empty cargo holds are sometimes used to stage theatrical productions; in 2000, the musical ‘10 November’ about the infamous sinking of the Irvin’s fellow ore-carrier, the Edmund Fitzgerald, provided an eerie setting. Not the most prestigious fate for such a unique vessel, but it does ensure that its place in America’s industrial history is not forgotten.