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Medusa Challenger En Route To Wisconsin To Become Barge

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The St. Marys Challenger navigates the Chicago River. (Credit: Facebook)

The St. Marys Challenger navigates the Chicago River. (Credit: Facebook)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – The ship best known as the Medusa Challenger is en route to her date with a Wisconsin shipyard, to be cut down to a barge. But the oldest freighter on the Great Lakes had one last jinx to cast before leaving Chicago for the last time.

If ships were living, breathing objects, you could say the ship, now known as the St. Marys Challenger, invoked every delaying tactic she could muster.

First, high winds and waves kept her in port an extra day.

Then, when she weighed anchor Sunday afternoon, she didn’t get far. The ship that gained infamy for leaving the bridges in her wake stuck in the up position on the Chicago River worked her jinx one last time. She ground to a halt because a railroad bridge on the Calumet River refused to raise. The problem took two hours to remedy.

Families of crew members were denied passage on this final trip, but several avid enthusiasts are aboard. They said the mood is melancholy, and said the bulletin board in the engine room that gives details of her next trip reads simply, “the end.”

The ship hugged the north suburban shore line Sunday night and could be seen from beaches as she passed, going a steady 9 knots despite moderate waves and wind.

The Challenger is 107 years old and by more than 35 years the oldest active freighter on the Great Lakes. As enthusiasts are fond of pointing out, she was built six years before the Titanic and two years before the first Model T Ford. She has been in continuous operation since first built, and was transformed into a powdered cement carrier in 1967-68. Since 1979, she has called on the South Chicago Terminal in Lake Calumet to unload.

On her next visit to Chicago, she is expected to be a mere barge — shorn of her pilot house, stern and engine room, and pushed by a tug. As one enthusiast put it, “She won’t be so special anymore.”

She was expected to arrive at Bay Shipbuilding, in Sturgeon Bay, at approximately 4 p.m. Monday.

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