The Marine Angel's Historic Journey Through the Chicago River in 1953

The Marine Angel was a large vessel that made a historical journey through the Chicago River in 1953. The Chicago River is a system of canals and channels that runs through Chicago, Illinois. The river is used for transportation, recreation, and as a source of drinking water. Many bridges cross the river, including the Kinzie Street Bridge, which is a bascule bridge that allows boats to pass through.

The freighter was nearly 634 feet long and 70 feet wide and had only seven inches of clearance on each side at Van Buren Street. The vessel was built in 1945 as a fast troop transport by Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. and was later acquired by American Steamship Co. and Boland & Cornelius for Great Lakes use. The ship underwent a retrofit, including a lengthening of 123 feet and a new bow completed at Maryland Drydock Co.

On March 5, 1953, the Marine Angel was towed down the Chicago River, through the heart of the city and its many bridges, and into Lake Michigan. The journey was described as a “routine tow” by officials, but the ship faced one final obstacle when it reached the lock that separated Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. The lock was only 600 feet long, while the Marine Angel was 634 feet, and standard lock procedures would not work.

The lockmaster opened the riverside gate to accommodate the large vessel, and the Marine Angel was eased in until its bow nearly touched the lakeside gate. Large hawsers ran from the ship’s winches to mooring posts, and the lakeside gate was opened. The vessel winched against the onrushing water until the riverside gate could be closed, allowing the Marine Angel to continue to Lake Michigan. Sailing the vessel to the heart of Chicago via the river was remarkable.

#5 Passing through Michigan Ave. Bridge, March 6, 1953. At the time, it was the largest vessel to ever travel the Mississippi River and Illinois waterways.

#8 Approaching downtown Chicago, March 6, 1953. (Peter Worden collection).

#9 Steamer Tug Reiss towing the Marine Angel through to Manitowoc Bridge, 1953.

#10 Passing through the Ciecero Ave. Bridge on the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal, March 4, 1953. (Photo by Bill Qunn, Peter Worden collection).

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Written by Aung Budhh

Husband + Father + librarian + Poet + Traveler + Proud Buddhist. I love you with the breath, the smiles and the tears of all my life.

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