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W-File: tr370428

Type: Lake Michigan Triangle
Date: April 28, 1937

Source: UFO Roundup, Volume 3, Number 17


One of the weirdest disappearances in the history of the Lake Michigan Triangle occurred on April 28, 1937, sixty-one years ago.

According to the Cleveland Press, "A new mystery of the Great Lakes was unfolded today when the freighter O.M. McFarland docked in Port Washington, Wisconsin and crew members reported the disappearance of the ship's master."

It was a big day for the McFarland's skipper, Captain George R. Donner--his fifty-eighth birthday. Born in 1879, Donner "had sailed for ten years on the old Valley Camp Steamship Company boats until the firm was taken over by Columbia (Transportation Company). It was his first command under the Columbia house flag, although he had been on the lakes for years and had served as a skipper for several of them."

Days earlier, the McFarland had picked up 9,800 tons of coal at the dock in Erie, Pennsylvania. The vessel sailed out of Lake Erie, across Lake Huron, and through the Straits of Mackinac into Lake Michigan.

"At 10:15 p.m. on the night of April 28, 1937," Captain Donner "left the pilot house, giving instructions to the second mate to call him when the McFarland was off her destination of Port Washington, Wisconsin, some three hours hence. Stating that he wanted to get a couple of hours sleep, he went below, out of sight of the mate and the wheelman. The desire for rest was understandable, for the McFarland, on her first trip of the season, had encountered the usual heavy ice in the Straits of Mackinac, losing considerable time. And, once in northern Lake Michigan, a sharp watch had to be kept for roving ice fields."

"After leaving the pilot house, Captain Donner must have busied himself with paperwork before retiring, for he was later heard moving around in his room."

"At 1:15 a.m. (April 29, 1937--J.T.) as the McFarland neared Port Washington, the mate, as instructed, descended to the captain's room to summon him. There was no response to his knocking on the door, so the second officer opened it and peered in, assuming that the captain was merely sleeping heavily. But Captain Donner was not in the bed or anywhere else in sight."

"On the possibility that the captain had walked aft to get coffee or partake of the night lunch, the mate hurried back to the galley, but except for a couple of off-duty firemen finishing a midnight snack, it was deserted. Quickly summoning the other mate and the chief engineer, he organized a thorough search of the McFarland, crew members combing every nook and cranny of the thirty-four year-old vessel. Without a doubt, Captain Donner had disappeared!"

Yes, indeed, Captain Donner had vanished from his locked room. There was no other hatch except the one leading into the companionway, and he was too large to pass through the room's two portholes. No one had seen him in the companionway between midnight and 1:15 a.m., when the mate knocked on his door.

Interestingly, during this critical hour, the McFarland was 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of Ludington, Michigan. Ludington is reputed to be the nexus of the Lake Michigan Triangle.

"Ships along the McFarland's route were asked to keep a watch for Donner's body, and the same request was passed on to communities along the shore."

"Captain Donner's body never did turn up, and his disappearance from his cabin aboard ship is as much a mystery now as it was in 1937."

(See STRANGE ADVENTURES OF THE GREAT LAKES by Dwight Boyer, Freshwater Press, Cleveland, Ohio, 1974, pages 223 to 225. Also THE GREAT LAKES TRIANGLE by Jay Gourley, Fawcett Publications, Inc., Greenwich, Conn. 1977, page 176. Also GATEWAY TO OBLIVION by Hugh Cochrane, Avon Books, New York, NY, 1980, pages 34 and 35. And the Cleveland (Ohio) Press for April 29, 1937.)

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