The Deadbeat Doppelganger of the SS James Carruthers

The SS James Carruthers was a Canadian Great Lakes freighter built in 1913. The Carruthers was built at Collingwood, Ontario by the Collingwood Shipbuilding Company. The ship was owned by the St. Lawrence & Chicago Steam and Navigation Company of Toronto, Ontario, with the official registry number 131090. The hull number for the Carruthers was 00038.

The James Carruthers was a steel hulled, propeller driven lake freighter. She was 529 feet in length, 58 feet wide and 27 feet deep. The gross tonnage was 7862 and the net tonnage 5606.

The Carruthers was lost 9 November 1913 on Lake Huron during the Great Lakes Storm of 1913. The crew of 22 perished with the vessel.

By the evening of Tuesday, November 11, there were still several unidentified bodies in the Goderich morgue from a few different vessels. Thomas Thompson of Hamilton, Ontario scanned the corpses for signs of his son John, a crewman aboard the James Carruthers. Thomas saw one body who looked a lot like his son. The facial features and hair color were identical. The corpse was missing an eyetooth like his son and had a tattoo of J.T. on the left forearm. Several scars and a birth defect (the second and third toes of the feet grew together) convinced Thomas Thompson that he had finally found his son John. He arranged to take possession of the body and notified his family.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, John Thompson read newspaper accounts of the great storm and saw his name on a list of the known dead. Thompson had not accompanied the Carruthers on its final voyage. Instead of immediately wiring his family, young Thompson leisurely took a train to Hamilton to explain what happened in person. While John dawdled, his father Thomas had purchased a coffin, somberly watched as a grave was dug, and made funeral preparations for his dead son. Once in Hamilton, John still inexplicably wandered around town, visiting a friend who advised him to return home at once. Young Thompson walked into his family’s house while the wake was in progress. Mrs. Thompson, after the tremendous shock, was overjoyed that her son was still alive. Thomas Thompson was angered beyond belief at the debts incurred and shame, and yelled “It’s just like you to come home and attend your own wake, and you can get right out of this house until this thing blows over!” The young man whom Thomas Thompson mistook for his son remains unidentified to this day; he rests with four other unknown sailors in Goderich, Ontario.

-Dwight Boyer, True Tales of the Great Lakes. Cleveland: Freshwater Press, 1971.

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