Saturday, February 27, 2016

Marine Angel --- largest ship on Chicago River as of 1953

Bowling Green Statue University
Chicago, IL; Western Ave. Bridge, 1953
From CALUMET 412 I learned about the ship Marine Angel. From BGSU, I learned the dimensions were originally 496x72x26.  It was built in 1945 as a troop transport. In 1952 it was converted to a bulk carrier. Then in 1953 it went up the Mississippi River to Manitowoc, WI to be converted to a self-unloader with "a 250-foot bow-mounted self-unloading boom that can be swung 120 degrees to port or starboard." (BoatNerd) When it made this trip in 1953 it was the largest ship to use the Chicago River. (The St. Lawrence Seaway was not opened until 1959.)

A comment for a reposting of the CALUMET 412 link:
Timothy Hinsdale The largest ship was the Medusa Challenger. It was specially built to navigate the Chicago River.
The Madusa Challenger was 551x56x31.

1953 might have been the last time the railroad swing bridges along the Sanitary and Ship Canal were turned.
University of Detroit Mercy
After its conversion to a Laker, it was rechristened McKee Sons. The conversion in Baltimore added 123 feet, so its length when it went through the canal and Chicago River was 620.4 feet. (UDmercy) But the locks on the Illinois River are just 600 feet long. So I'm confused.

The stern of this boat is built up higher than the stern in the other photos.

The bridge in the foreground was the Metropolitan L Bridge.
Original Chicago also posted the above photo
Patrick King The Medusa was even longer, at 551 feet... the Marine Angel was 496 feet.
Frank Smitty SchmidtFrank and 838 others joined Original Chicago within the last two weeks. Give them a warm welcome into your community! This was in 1953. The St Lawrence Seaway didn't open until 1959. To get big ships in and out of the Great Lakes, they took via the Illinois Waterway and the Mississippi River. 
The pilot houses were often removed, or not installed yet. They were not loaded with cargo. Sometimes they were even raised on pontoons for the bottoms to clear the 9ft pool depth of the Illinois Waterway.
The Marine Angel was an ocean going ship that was moved to the Great Lakes.
MaryCarol Audy The Edmond Fitzgerald used to take on cargo at the old Rail To Water Transfer Corp. at 100th Street and the Calumet River. She would shift back and forth on the south dock while being loaded to stay in trim. I used to work there and clerked every time she was in town. She took petroleum coke blended with coal...depending on which steel mill or power plant she would be off-loading her cargo.

Jeff Bransky shared the above photo.
Jeff Bransky The construction project in the original photo was taking place on the east side of the river so the view was taken looking northeast.
Dennis DeBruler This photo was taken in 1953 when the Marine Angle made its trip from the oceans to the Great Lakes. The pilot house was removed to clear bridges along the Illinois Waterway and it is being towed backwards.
Historic Photographs posted
In 1953 , the 600-foot-long, 70- foot-wide Marine Angel transited the Chicago River.
Steven Phillips: Ok, I just read about it. The short version is, it was working as a bulk cargo hauler on the Mississippi and was switching to the Great Lakes. The St. Lawrence Seaway didn't open till '59, so up the Illinois river to the Chicago river it was. It was also 620' and had 7" of clearance on each side in this turn.
Bill Meech shared
Historic Photographs posted a B&W copy of this photo
March 5, 1953: The 600-foot-long, 70-foot-wide Marine Angel transited the Chicago River. The freighter had only seven inches of clearance on each side at Van Buren Street, and was the largest ship to ply the river. More photos and backstory:
[This has a lot of photos of the freighter going through Chicago.]
James Stark: Over 100 years ago, the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal was blasted out of rock to change the course of the Chicago River so that commercial vessels could transit from Lake Michigan down the Illinois River to the Mississippi River just above St Louis; Mainly this was done to keep the Chicago River’s pollution from flowing into Lake Michigan (where raw sewage had been diverted to), & the Sanitary processing plant effluent/storm runoff was built alongside this canal; I worked on tanker & coal river barges tows up there between ‘77-‘83; Back then your vessel could not be over 17 feet tall from the waterline to its highest structure, because all of the many drawbridges just north of Joliet @ Lemont had been permanently locked down for highway & rail traffic; Once you passed Brandon Road Lock & Dam (where Interstate 80 crosses @ Joliet), you could not turn your “tow” around until you got to a turning basin near downtown Chicago on the Chicago River; There used to be warning signs up there telling you to get a tetanus shot if you fell overboard, & to not allow open flames near the oil sheens on the water surface; Fun fact; The sewage processing heat would cause condoms to swell up to the size of baloney sticks & float near the water surface like schools of jellyfish, near Brandon Road…
Brandon Jakubik shared
Nick Bettes: Still around today as the McKee Sons barge!
Aaron Nelson
[The Marine Angle segment is at 54:09 in the full video, and it is part of a discussion of Chicago bridges that starts at 50:10. (Chicago has 122 bridges.)]
Jay B. Hornocker posted
On March 5, 1953, The Marine Angel freighter, became the largest vessel to transit from the Gulf of Mexico, north via the Mississippi River, and the Illinois Waterway, through downtown Chicago on the Chicago River, and out onto Lake Michigan, en route to her destination of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, to be retro fitted with “self-unloading” equipment, and converted from a 
Salt water vessel to a Great Lakes freighter. 
This Library of Congress photo shows the Marine Angel passing under an upraised Michigan Avenue Bridge, and executing a tight right hand turn at the Wrigley Building.  
As the freighter navigated the relatively narrow Chicago River, it passed Van Buren Street with a mere seven inches of clearance on each side.  
(See other historic photos in comments)
The Marine Angel, a 634 foot, 
70 foot wide converted World War II freighter was built in Chester, Pennsylvania in 1945 as a type C4-S-B2 fast troop transport ship. 
During WWII, the ship customarily carried about 250 Army troops, and housed a 100 bed Naval hospital, making regular runs from the East Coast ports to Bombay and back.  Like many war veterans, the ship settled into more domestic responsibilities post war, 
Transporting grains and ore. 
After passing through Chicago, The Marine Angel arrived at Manitowoc Shipbuilding in Wisconsin on March 13, 1953.  Retrofitting was completed and the boat, renamed “McKee Sons”, (after the 11 McKee sons of the owner), and departed Manitowoc in October 1953.
The “McKee Sons” sailed as a Great Lakes steamer until 1979, and in 2014, she was moved to long-term storage at Muskegon, Michigan, where she sits today, and no doubt dreaming of that one day she passed through Chicago in 1953.
Alan Follett: So, how did they get a 634-foot ship through the 600-foot Chicago River Controlling Lock? Answer: they opened the west lock gate, took her as far forward as possible, then opened the east gate and winched her forward against the inward rush of lake water, closing the west gate behind her once her stern had cleared it. I was living in Chicago at the time, but, being six years old and deeply involved in First Grade at Nettelhorst, missed my chance to see this rare (perhaps unique) operation.
[The comments discuss how would a 600'+ ship get through the 600' locks of the Illinois Waterway with no resolution.]

Jeff Rueckert posted
Flash Back: Steamer Tug Reiss towing the Marine Angel through to Manitowoc Bridge 1953
[Since it is probably headed to the Manitowoc shipyard, that would be 10th Street in the foreground and 8th Street in the background.]
The first photo in this posting by Eric Dudi Huebner appears to be a copyright violation. So I'm not making copies. Please click the link to see the photos.

Michael Brandt posted
[The comments discuss the tugs. You can see the prop wash of the bow tug and the lead from the stern to another tug. The building with the BEAM advertisement on the wall is a Kraft building. As usual, the Wrigley Building is white, but the Tribune Tower seems to have a lot of coal soot.]

Lisa Binkowski-Stolt posted
The Marine Angel in Chicago River 1953. This 600 feet long, 70 feet wide freighter had only seven inches of clearance on each side at Van Buren Street and was the largest ship to ply the river.
Judith McGee I worked at the corner of Wacker and LaSalle and would watch the Medusa Challenger make that very tight turn. That was in the mid-1970s.
From my experience it usually took place on Friday afternoons in the summer.
Neil Gale At 634 feet, the MARINE ANGEL is the longest vessel ever to transit the Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway in one piece. Renamed McKEE SONS, she sailed the Great Lakes as a steamer until 1979.
Beth Finley What kind of cargo might she have carried?
Neil Gale She was a self-unloading barge built in 1945 as a type C4-S-B2 fast troop transport.
Chris Carson Where would it turn around???
Terry Suerth Chris Carson North Ave. Turning basin . North end of Goose Island.

Mike Harlan shared
Ian Ross Today shippers would see too much wasted space not used for cargo.

Steve Rowan shared
A different exposure.
Steven Neinke posted
Marine Angel. 600 Ft long 70 Ft wide. In transit on the Chicago river, 1953.
It missed the Van Buren bridge by 7 inches.

John Bell added four photos as comments on Steven's post




Frank Smitty Schmidt commented on a posting
This photo claims to be the Marine Angel in 1953. Note, no wheel house.
Now CBS Chicago has in it's archives some photos that label it as a barge in 1953, but this is not true. The pilot house was removed for bridge clearance but the engines were still intact and used up til 1990.


  1. My dad was a merchant marine all his life--since the early 40's he had been a galley chef on Great Lakes ore boat's-Pittsbugh Steamship Lines--steamer's Sloan and Benjamin Fairless-(Sloan apparently still afloat in year 2000--with some deck plate stiffening repair's due to crack's)--In 1953 he bought a farm for me and my brother---but he couldn't stay away from the water---so went back to to the lakes until 1959-with-Midland steamship lines-Carl A. Helsing----Crown Point-Indiana--(near Lake Michigan--my mother used to pick him up inher 1937 Oldsmobile at the dock's either in South Chicago or Gary when I was kid in the 40's-enjoyed your longest river running ore boar story-

  2. It was a dangerous operation for the Marine Angel to go thru the river locks as the locks are only 600 feet long and the Marine Angel was 634 feet. They accomplished moving thru the locks by bringing the ship into the lock as far as it would go, and then pulling it through with winches when they opened the second lock against the on rushing water of Lake Michigan which is 2 feet higher than the river. When they inched forward 34 feet, then they could close the first lock.