Grand Haven Shipwrecks

Grand Haven Shipwrecks, photo by Kevin Ryan

mLive has a feature on how our historically low water levels have revealed a number of shipwrecks in Grand Haven:

Maritime archaeologist and director of the Tri-Cities Historical Museum Kenneth Pott said the area around Harbor Island was an apparent dumping zone for abandoned vessels and 1930s aerials held by the museum and the city of Grand Haven show that additional wrecks exist there. If the water line were to recede even more, then more vessels may be exposed.

“We’re quite sure that there are more in the area,” Pott said. “This is something akin to a graveyard for vessels. This is very unusual.”

The wooden sections of the 290-foot steamer Aurora, once the largest wooden steamer on the Great Lakes, and parts of at least four other shipwreck hulks were exposed recently by the low water levels and area residents alerted maritime historians to the find. The Aurora was identified by members of Holland-based Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates and local historians earlier this week.

Read on for more info including the publicly-accessible location. You can also read more about the Aurora right here and see a photo gallery.

Check this out background big and see a couple more views including a nice one of the rough outline of the wreck in Kevin’s slideshow.

More Michigan shipwrecks on Michigan in Pictures.

Whitefish Point Lighthouse

Whitefish Point Lighthouse, photo by heidigoseek.

Heidi writes This light, the oldest active on Lake Superior, began operating in 1849, though the present tower was constructed later. Early a stopping place for Indians, voyageurs, and Jesuit missionaries, the point marks a course change for ore boats and other ships navigating this treacherous coastline to and from St. Mary’s Canal. Since 1971 this light, fog signal, and radio beacon have been automated and controlled from Sault Ste. Marie.

The Whitefish Point Lighthouse & The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum form the premier destination for lovers of Great Lakes maritime lore. You can get much more information and many more photos at Destination: Michigan Whitefish Point Lighthouse & Museum on Absolute Michigan.


NovemberGaleGrandHaven-2, photo by Rich Wyllis

100 years ago today the most devastating storm in Great Lakes history began. It raged across the Great Lakes from November 7-10, 1913. As NOAA’s commemorative website explains:

In November of 1913 the Great Lakes were struck by a massive storm system combining whiteout blizzard conditions and hurricane force winds. The storm lasted for four days, during which the region endured 90 mile per hour winds and waves reaching 35 feet in height. With only basic technology available, shipping communication and weather prediction systems were not prepared for a storm of such devastating force. When the skies finally cleared, the Great Lakes had seen a dozen major shipwrecks, an estimated 250 lives lost, and more than $5 million in damages (the equivalent of more than $117 million today).

Nicknamed the “White Hurricane” and the ‘Freshwater Fury” the 1913 storm remains the most devastating natural disaster to ever strike the Great Lakes. One hundred years later, NOAA commemorates the Storm of 1913 not only for the pivotal role it plays in the history of the Great Lakes but also for its enduring influence. Modern systems of shipping communication, weather prediction, and storm preparedness have all been fundamentally shaped by the events of November 1913.

Head over to NOAA for more on the weather technology of 1913 and today and definitely check out more on the Freshwater Fury on Michigan in Pictures!

Check Rich’s photo out bigger and see more in his slideshow.

Big Sable Point from 2,000 feet

Big Sable Point from 2,000 feet, photo by Innerspacealien

The Detroit Free Press recently had a fun article by Ziati Meyer titled Michigan Lighthouse Trivia that related:

LIGHT AFTER DARKNESS: The deaths of 48 people in one year prompted the building of the Big Sable Point Lighthouse. The stretch of water between Big Sable Point and Ludington saw 12 shipwrecks in 1855, so Congress was asked to send money to help. The result — after a Civil War delay — was a $35,000 lighthouse to help ships navigate that area of Lake Michigan

Read on for more fun facts and definitely check out Terry Pepper’s Seeing the Light and our Michigan in Pictures archive for more info and photos of this iconic light north of Ludington.

Check this out background bigtacular and see some more aerial views of the area in Craig’s slideshow.

More great aerial photos on Michigan in Pictures.

Chipping Ice on the City of Flint, photo by Captain John Meissner

Wikipedia explains that the Armistice Day Blizzard struck November 11  (Armistice Day) and November 12, 1940. The intense early-season “Panhandle hook” winter storm cut a 1,000-mile-wide path through the middle of the country from Kansas to Michigan. has a great article on The Armistice Day Storm of 1940 that begins:

The “storm” of November 11, 1940 was one of the worst storms in the recorded history of Lake Michigan. In all, the storm claimed 5 vessels, and 66 lives. The storm occurred on Armistice Day, which celebrated the end of World War I in 1918.

The storm hit late Monday afternoon, November 11th, with winds of hurricane proportions. The winds struck suddenly from the southwest at about 2:30 P.M. and were accompanied by drenching rain, which later changed to snow. The winds reached peak velocities of 75 miles per hour, the highest in local maritime history. Telephone and power lines were down by the hundreds around Mason County. Several local firms had “gaping” holes where roofs once were. Trees were uprooted, small buildings were overturned, and brick walls were toppled, causing at least 1 serious injury. Very few places escaped without damage. Ludington, on the morning of November 12th, appeared to be a deserted city.

The Pere Marquette carferry City of Flint 32, attempted to make the harbor but wound up on the beach about 300 yards from the shore. She was ordered by her relief captain, Jens Vevang, to be scuttled to avoid being pounded by the incoming seas. On November 12th, a breeches buoy was strung and 27 year old crewman Ernest Delotowski of 406 First Street, Ludington, was brought ashore. Delatowski made a good portion of the trip in the icy waters of Lake Michigan. As a precautionary measure, he was taken to Paulina Stearns Hospital and was released later that day. He said he carried a message with him, but it got lost in the water. Later the buoy was used to carry a message to the ship, and then crewman Luther Ryder of S. Washington Avenue (Ludington) was brought ashore.

You can read more including first-hand recollections of the storm and also see more photos taken by Captain John Meissner and also photos of the grounding and other wrecks as a result of the storm at

More shipwrecks on Michigan in Pictures.

The U.S. Life Saving Station, early 1900s, photo courtesy Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse Society

Glen Willis of the Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse Society has an excellent article on The Great Storm of 1913 that explains that most historians agree that the most significant and most dreadful storm on Lake Huron took place over the weekend of November 8-10, 1913. Known by all mariners simply as “The Storm”, it was first detected on the western end of Lake Superior on Thursday, November 6th then progressed rapidly south and east, dropping temperatures and spawning marine warnings.

At Pointe aux Barques as the temperature dropped, it began to rain. As the wind picked up the rain turned to sleet. The sleet began to ice up everything it touched. The waves offshore quickly reached 10 to 12 feet, and then more. Then the snow came, thick and wind driven. Shipmasters out on the lake were finding sailing conditions that were unlike any they had seen before. The sleet that had coated their vessels turned the pilothouse windows opaque. It sealed and froze the doorways. To step outside a cabin meant that the skin would be painfully pelted by frozen bits of sleet & snow…

By midday Sunday at Pointe aux Barques, the snow was so thick and so heavily driven by the wind that vessels out on the lake could not see the rays of the light. At nearby Harbor Beach waves had already destroyed some lakefront buildings and had run the 552-foot D.O. Mills ashore. At mid-lake the wheelsman on the 500 foot Howard M. Hannah, Jr. found that the forward motion of the ship had ceased and that the bow had fallen off into the trough of the waves. Without enough power to drive it the ship was at the mercy of the elements. Waves were higher than the ship is tall and as they crashed down upon the ship the windows and the cabins were stove in. The ship was not under command and as it drifted into Saginaw Bay the master could see the flash of the Port Austin Reef Light. He then knew that his ship would not be saved.

Read on for much more and also check out several articles on the deadliest storm in Great Lakes history on Michigan in Pictures and Freshwater Fury on Absolute Michigan.

Pointe aux Barques is the oldest continuously operating Light on the Great Lakes, and the Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse Society preserves the light and operates a museum. Visit them for more!

More shipwrecks on Michigan in Pictures.

F.T. Barney exploration, photo courtesy Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is the only federally protected national marine sanctuary in the Great Lakes. It encompasses 448 square miles of Lake Huron’s bottomlands off Alpena. It was established in 2000 to protect a nationally significant collection of nearly 200 shipwrecks, spanning over a century of Great Lakes shipping history. It draws over 70,000 visitors every year and is a haven for protection, education and research for shipwrecks and our maritime heritage.

Now Thunder Bay is poised to grow almost tenfold to over 4,000 square miles including waters off Alcona and Presque Isle counties. The Great Lakes Echo notes that today is the last day for public comment for or against the expansion. You can email your comments to Carolyn Sundquist of the Echo explains that vessels can pass through it without restriction and that:

The proposed expansion includes an estimated 200 shipwrecks and would connect the underwater sanctuary from Michigan to the shores of Canada. No public funds are allotted as part of the approval.

“Very positive support has been received from the public comment sessions and many of the local governments have passed resolutions supporting the expansion,” said Jeff Gray, the sanctuary’s superintendent.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, various state senators and officials of adjacent cities have written letters of support. So has the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Sanctuary explains that the 126′ two masted schooner F.T. Barney was built in 1856 and wrecked on October 23, 1868 en route from Cleveland to Milwaukee. The F.T. Barney was run into by the schooner T.J. Bronson and sank in less than two minutes in very deep water with a cargo of coal. No lives were lost, and the wreck is one of the most complete of its kind with masts and deck equipment still in place.

See many more shots of divers and shipwrecks in their Fieldwork 2007 gallery - be sure to toggle the “View” link to slideshow in the top left for larger pics.

Many more Michigan shipwrecks on Michigan in Pictures!

Kayaking at Spray Falls, photo by Aaron Peterson

In Wednesday Waterfall: Spray Falls on his blog Aaron writes:

Remote Spray Creek bubbles up somewhere in the middle of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, meanders through miles of maple and beech forest—then flies foam-first over a 50-foot cliff into Lake Superior. Seeing the creek upstream, you’d never guess the little guy had it in him to become one of the most dramatic waterfalls in the region.

Due to its remote location and precipitous drop, visitors to Spray Falls will have to decide ahead of time how they’d like to view it: from land, or from water. Each gives an amazing perspective and a good workout (3 miles by foot, 12 miles by float). Either way, you can contemplate gravity and the world’s largest lake in peace, because the park’s tour boats usually turn around a couple miles short of this fascinating feature. Scan the water at the base of the falls for the rusting remnants of a boiler from an 1856 shipwreck.

Read on for directions and another stunning shot of this amazing waterfall. Click to see this photo bigger and check out some more shots by Aaron of Spray Falls and view a lot more of his photography of the Upper Peninsula and the Lake Superior region on his website.

Many more Pictured Rocks photos on Michigan in Pictures.

S.S. Alpena, photo from Wikimedia Commons

Over on Absolute Michigan we have a feature from the Archives of Michigan about two Michigan couples who were aboard the Titanic. I thought it would be interesting to see what the worst Michigan maritime disaster was. You might think it would be the immortalized Edmund Fitzgerald but with “only” 29, it’s down on the list. Or perhaps the tragic Carl D. Bradley in which 33 men perished, most from her home port of Rogers City.

It’s actually the sidewheel steamer S.S. Alpena. Michigan Shipwrecks says that this 197 foot Goodrich side wheel steamer was built in Marine City, Michigan in 1866. She was lost with about 80 crew & passengers in the “Big Blow” of 1880.

The Alpena left Grand Haven, Michigan bound for Chicago on Friday evening, October 15, 1880 at 9:30 PM. The weather was beautiful — Indian Summer like. But the barometer was indicating a storm was coming and storm signals were out. She was met on her southwest journey by the steamer Muskegon at about 1:00 AM and everything seemed normal.

At about 3:00 AM Saturday, October 16, 1880 the “worst gale in Lake Michigan recorded history” swept across the lake. The Alpena was seen at 6:00 AM, 7:00 AM and at 8:00 AM by the schooner Irish and by Captain George Boomsluiter of the barge City of Grand Haven about 35 miles off Kenosha, Wisconsin, laboring heavily in the high seas.

She was seen later by several other vessel captains –one of whom reported her lying on her side with one of her paddlewheels out of the water. Ten car loads of apples were stowed on her main deck and some speculate this cargo became unmanageable in the storm, shifted, and led to the capsizing.

…The weekly Holland City News reported on October 23: “The wreck is complete. She is broken into small fragments. The stern part of her hull lies near the harbor. The whole coast for 20 miles is strewn with the debris, freight, etc.” The largest piece to land near Holland was the piano, “it being barely able to float, our sailors concluded that she did not come very far. And the arrival of other heavy pieces of the wreck would seem to corroborate this.”

The wreck has never been found and you can read on for more. FYI, the Great Lakes Shipwreck database pegs the loss of life close to 100 and adds that the first indication that she was lost was when masses of wreckage began washing ashore along the coast near Manistee. It took several days for the magnitude of the disaster to be realized. Her paddlebox nameboard washed ashore at “Alpena Beach” in 1909, after a storm.

The largest loss of life in open water on the Great Lakes was 300 aboard the Lady Elgin that was rammed by the schooner Augusta in September of 1860 off Highwood, IL . An interesting note is that this shipwreck led to the requirement for sailing vessels to carry running lights. The Smithsonian relates that the worst shipwreck on the Great Lakes:

In terms of loss of life, hands down, that’s called the SS Eastland, which went down in the Chicago River on July 24, 1915. For whatever reason, the ship turned over onto its port side right there in the river. Passengers either wanted to see something in the river and they went to port side, or the engineer improperly ballasted the ship, or it wasn’t a stable ship to begin, but she flipped over right into the Chicago River, not terribly deep water maybe 20-30 feet, and killed 844 passengers and crew. It still remains the worst loss of life on any single shipwreck in the Great Lakes.

More shipwrecks on Michigan in Pictures.

Bradley - Color - 300 dpi

Bradley – Color – 300 dpi, photo by Presque Isle County Historical Museum.

23 women became widows in that instant and 53 children lost their fathers.
~Rogers City resident on the sinking of the Bradley

The Edmund Fitzgerald gets the majority of the attention when Michigan shipwrecks are discussed, but it can be argued (very convincingly) that the wreck of the Carl D Bradley on November 18, 1958 was the greatest of Great Lakes tragedies. 33 of 35 crewmen – most from her home port of Rogers City – perished, leaving the small city in northeastern lower Michigan stunned by grief.

Over on Absolute Michigan today we have an excellent feature from the Archives of Michigan on the Wreck of the Carl D. Bradley that includes a riveting video from the documentary November Requiem. An article by Warren J. Toussaint about the sinking begins:

Tuesday, Nov. 18, 1958, at 5:31 p.m., the limestone carrier, Carl D. Bradley, was up bound on Lake Michigan, having delivered her last limestone cargo of the year to Indiana on November 17,1958. She stayed close to the Illinois and Wisconsin shores because of reports of severe weather conditions rapidly developing from the west. As it reached the area of Sturgeon Bay, Wis., it had to turn to the northeast in order to cross the upper area of Lake Michigan on its way to the homeport of Rogers City, Mich., on Lake Huron. Suddenly, the Bradley’s steering wheel went slack, as if the gears had suddenly disconnected. On the course it was on, the winds and waves were striking the ship on the aft quarter of the port side causing the ship to rock severely. First Mate, Elmer Fleming, knew the ship was in trouble. He jerked the radio telephone from its cradle and shouted a desperate call “Mayday, Mayday, – Mayday. This is the Carl D. Bradley. Mayday Mayday Mayday.”

Read on and see much more at!

The photo is one of the last known photos of the Steamer Carl D. Bradley, taken after she passed under the Mackinac Bridge and was making the turn to the southeast to set a course for Rogers City. Check it out background big and in their great Bradley Transportation Fleet slideshow. Definitely have a look at the Presque Isle County Historical Museum website for more on the Bradley and the history of the region and to order the Bradley DVD!


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