The Proteus is a 406 foot long passenger-freighter that is in 120 feet of water with the highest part rising to about 90 feet. The wreck lies upright with most of the stern section intact. A large brass wheel that is attached to a long shaft is on the stern deck. The rudder is still in place and 4-blade 18-foot propeller is sticking up out of the sand. Three boilers and the condenser are in the midsection of the ship.
During the summer, the water temperature ranges from the upper 70's to the low 80's. Visibility averages 60 feet but can get up over a 100 feet. Large schools of amberjack can be seen swimming around the wreck. Sea bass, pompano, and tropical fish, such as the Queen Angel can also be seen regularly.
The Proteus was named after one of the mystical society organizations that take part in Mardi Gras in New Orleans. In mythology, Proteus was the son of Neptune and Phoenice or Oceanus and Tethys, depending on the version you are using, either Greek or Roman. The Proteus was built in Newport News, Virginia and launched on December 16, 1899. She was considered one of the safest ships of their time. She had 46 staterooms for 78 first class passengers, 30 staterooms for 50 second class passengers, and 50 berths for third class passengers. The apartments were elegant and were equipped with electric fans and lights, and very comfortable chairs. There were enough chairs and lounges for every passenger to be seated at one time. The main dining room could hold 56 passengers at one sitting.
On January 27, 1916, the Proteus left New Orleans bound for New York with 95 passengers and crew. Captain John Nelson was in command of the ship. While heading down the Mississippi River in a dense fog, the Proteus hit the oil tanker Brabant. The Brabant had a hole above the waterline, but the Proteus was undamaged and proceeded to sea.
Captain Nelson was later replaced with Captain H. C. Boyd. On August 14, 1918, the Proteus left New Orleans bound for New York with 75 passengers and crew. On August 19, 1918, the Proteus was in a heavy fog 34 miles southwest of Diamond Shoals. Also in the heavy fog was the Cushing, an oil tanker. Both ships were running at reduced speed when the Cushing appeared out of the fog and hit the Proteus amidships. The Proteus had a large hole beneath her waterline and Captain Boyd gave the order to abandon ship. The ship was abandoned in less than an hour. Only one person died in the collision, which was a fireman aboard the Proteus that panicked and jumped into the water at the time of the collision and drowned. The Cushing was undamaged and picked up all of the survivors. Six hours later, the Proteus sank to the bottom.