Taking on Water

Taking on Water, photo by Aaron Springer

“She was built in 1880 [by Linn & Craig in Gibralter, Michigan] and has been unfortunate from the start. Two years ago [in 1891] she was wrecked near Detour [at the north end of Lake Huron], and remained on the rocks all winter, being abandoned to the underwriters, who finally rescued the wreck and sold it.”
~ Buffalo Evening News Monday, October 16, 1893

Historic Arcadia Michigan tells the tale of The Wreck of the Minnehaha:

In October of 1893, the steam barge Henry J. Johnson was towing the Minnehaha from Chicago bound for Point Edward at the south end of Lake Huron with 58,000 bushels of corn. At 7:30 PM on October 13, the two ships found themselves off Point Betsie facing 90 mile per hour gale force winds. They tried to find shelter behind the Manitou Islands, but at dawn the next day, they were still south of Sleeping Bear Point fighting high winds and waves to stay out of shallow water.

Captain Benniteau of the Johnson decided to turn the ships south and head to Frankfort, the nearest refuge. However, somewhere near Frankfort high waves crashed over the Minnehaha’s deck, smashed two hatch covers, and began filling the hold with water. William Parker, captain of the Minnehaha, realizing his ship was in serious trouble, sent up distress signals, released the tow lines, and headed for the beach. There was nothing the crew of the Johnson could do but avoid the same shallow water.

The Minnehaha ran aground about a quarter of a mile offshore between Burnham and Arcadia. To avoid the waves sweeping the decks, all but one member of the crew, who drowned trying to swim to shore, climbed into the ship’s rigging. As the ship was breaking up, the captain called to the crew to grab whatever would float and go over the side anyway. But only the captain made it to shore safely. One crew member made it to a pier, but was too tired to hold onto a pole used to try to pull him to safety.

Read on for much more including photos of the Minnehaha.

Check out Aaron’s photo bigger where he also has a pic of the wreck in calm water and see many more of his great photos of Lake Michigan.

More Michigan shipwrecks on Michigan in Pictures!

Wreckage of the Rising Sun

Wreckage of the Rising Sun, photo by U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City

Yesterday the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City shared a collection of photos from the Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve, writing”

We can call it “Shipwreck Sunday” – With Lake Michigan ice gone for the season the crystal clear, deep blue waters of northern Michigan are back (albeit still VERY VERY cold at an average of 38 degrees).

During a routine patrol this past Friday, an aircrew captured these photos of a handful of the many shipwrecks along the Lake Michigan shoreline. These photos were taken near Sleeping Bear Point northeast along the shoreline to Leland, Michigan up to Northport.

Information on the shipwrecks is scarce, please post if you recognize any of the photographed sites.

View the Coast Guard’s photo bigger and click through for photos of other wrecks including the James McBride. Definitely follow them on Facebook for more cool shots of Michigan’s coastline from above!

Regarding the Rising Sun, the Leelanau Enterprise shares Leelanau historian George Weeks account of the wreck that includes a photo of the grounded Sun:

In October 1917, the Rising Sun went to High Island to get potatoes, rutabagas and lumber to take to Benton Harbor. On 29 October, in one of the early-season snowstorms that sweep the Lakes, the Rising Sun went aground at Pyramid Point. Lifeboats were launched and all thirty-two people aboard eventually saved.

As was often the case with Great Lakes wrecks, shoreline residents, not the U.S. Coast Guard, were the first to provide assistance. In this case, Fred Baker, summoned in the night by survivors pounding at the door of his home atop the Port Oneida bluff, was the first to respond. He hastened to his barn, quickly unloaded 60 bushels of potatoes that were on his wagon, hitched his team, and went down to the beach. The survivors, including a woman found unconscious on the beach, were brought to Baker’s house. (By the 1990s, Baker’s daughter, Lucille, who was four years old at the time of the wreck, was still residing at Port Oneida, the wife of Jack Barratt, great grandson of Port Oneida settler Carsten Burfiend.)

The Coast Guard beach rescue rig arrived from Glen Haven, pulled by two teams of horses borrowed from D.H. Day. A man who was asleep when the others abandoned ship was rescued by the guardsmen.

Remains of the Rising Sun are visible from the shore on a clear day, and are popular for recreational divers. As with other wrecks, the remains are protected objects within the Manitou Passage Bottomland Preserve.

Read more about the Rising Sun, it’s caro and final voyage and the House of David that owned it from Chris Mills and see more shipwrecks on Michigan in Pictures.

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.

The Indian Drum

August 22, 2015

The Indian Drum

Petoskey Breakwall, photo by Julie A. Christiansen

Earlier this week I posted about The Crooked Tree. While August isn’t yet shipwreck season in Michigan, the post reminded me of the 1915 novel by William MacHarg & Edwin Balmer set in the same region called The Indian Drum. The whole book is available online at Project Gutenberg (hooray for free books!). It begins:

Near the northern end of Lake Michigan, where the bluff-bowed ore-carriers and the big, low-lying, wheat-laden steel freighters from Lake Superior push out from the Straits of Mackinac and dispute the right of way, in the island divided channel, with the white-and-gold, electric lighted, wireless equipped passenger steamers bound for Detroit and Buffalo, there is a copse of pine and hemlock back from the shingly beach. From this copse—dark, blue, primeval, silent at most times as when the Great Manitou ruled his inland waters—there comes at time of storm a sound like the booming of an old Indian drum. This drum beat, so the tradition says, whenever the lake took a life; and, as a sign perhaps that it is still the Manitou who rules the waters in spite of all the commerce of the cities, the drum still beats its roll for every ship lost on the lake, one beat for every life.

So—men say—they heard and counted the beatings of the drum to thirty-five upon the hour when, as afterward they learned, the great steel steamer Wenota sank with twenty-four of its crew and eleven passengers; so—men say—they heard the requiem of the five who went down with the schooner Grant; and of the seventeen lost with the Susan Hart; and so of a score of ships more. Once only, it is told, has the drum counted wrong.

At the height of the great storm of December, 1895, the drum beat the roll of a sinking ship. One, two, three—the hearers counted the drum beats, time and again, in their intermitted booming, to twenty-four. They waited, therefore, for report of a ship lost with twenty-four lives; no such news came. The new steel freighter Miwaka, on her maiden trip during the storm with twenty-five—not twenty-four—aboard never made her port; no news was ever heard from her; no wreckage ever was found. On this account, throughout the families whose fathers, brothers, and sons were the officers and crew of the Miwaka, there stirred for a time a desperate belief that one of the men on the Miwaka was saved; that somewhere, somehow, he was alive and might return. The day of the destruction of the Miwaka was fixed as December fifth by the time at which she passed the government lookout at the Straits; the hour was fixed as five o’clock in the morning only by the sounding of the drum.

The region, filled with Indian legend and with memories of wrecks, encourages such beliefs as this. To northward and to westward a half dozen warning lights—Ile-aux-Galets (“Skilligalee” the lake men call it), Waugaushance, Beaver, and Fox Islands—gleam spectrally where the bone-white shingle outcrops above the water, or blur ghostlike in the haze; on the dark knolls topping the glistening sand bluffs to northward, Chippewas and Ottawas, a century and a half ago, quarreled over the prisoners after the massacre at Fort Mackinac; to southward, where other hills frown down upon Little Traverse Bay, the black-robed priests in their chapel chant the same masses their predecessors chanted to the Indians of that time. So, whatever may be the origin of that drum, its meaning is not questioned by the forlorn descendants of those Indians, who now make beadwork and sweet-grass baskets for their summer trade, or by the more credulous of the white fishermen and farmers; men whose word on any other subject would receive unquestioning credence will tell you they have heard the drum.

Read on at Project Gutenberg.

Julie took this shot back in November of 2013. You can view it bigger, see more in her This & That slideshow and also check out this video from the day.

More Michigan shipwreck lore on Michigan in Pictures.

Carl D. Bradley

Carl D. Bradley, photo by John Rochon

If you know of any shipwreck on the Great Lakes, chances are it’s the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald. While that was no doubt a terrible tragedy, my vote for the most grievous loss is the S.S. Carl D Bradley which sank 56 years ago next Tuesday on November 18, 1957. I found a really excellent article on the ship and shipwreck at Lake Effect Living titled Lost To The Lake: The Wreck of the Carl D. Bradley:

Known as ‘Queen of the Lakes’, the Carl D. Bradley was the largest ship on the Great Lakes from 1927 to 1949. At 639 feet, it was the longest freighter on the Lakes until the launch of the SS Wilfred Sykes twenty-two years later. The largest self-unloading ship for its time, the Bradley was the Bradley Transportation Company’s flagship. Named after the president of Michigan Limestone, Carl David Bradley, this state of the art freighter had its maiden voyage in the summer of 1927. Since Michigan Limestone’s company base was in Rogers City, Michigan, the freighter drew most of its crew from this small community.

…On Monday, November 17, 1958, the steamer left Buffington, Indiana bound for Port of Calcite harbor in Rogers City, Michigan.

The Bradley’s captain was 52-year old Roland Bryan, a veteran seaman. Manned by a crew of thirty-five and carrying a light cargo, the Bradley headed out onto Lake Michigan at 9:30pm. But signs of severe weather were already in evidence when they left Buffington, where winds gusted at more than 35 miles an hour. It was the first ominous indications of an extreme cold front forming over the plains. Temperatures in Chicago plummeted twenty degrees in one day, and thirty tornadoes were sighted from Texas to Illinois.

Aware that gale winds were forecast, the crew readied the steamer for bad weather. They traveled along the Wisconsin shore until reaching Cana Island, where they shifted course for Lansing Shoal which lay across Lake Michigan. The winds on the lake reached 65 miles an hour by 4pm the following day. Still, the Bradley seemed to be weathering the gale force winds and heavy seas with little problem. This changed at 5:30pm when the Port of Calcite received a radio message from First Mate Elmer Fleming informing them that the Bradley, approx. twelve miles southwest of Gull Island, would arrive home at 2am. As soon as this message was sent however, a loud thud or bang was heard on the ship.

When the day was done, 33 of the 35 member crew were dead, 23 of the from Rogers City, Michigan. For a town of less than 4000, it was a heavy blow. Read on for much more and also see Seeking Michigan: The Wreck of the Carl D. Bradley on Absolute Michigan and the tribute site at carldbradley.org.

John Rochon shared this photo of the Bradley was taken from the Blue Water Bridge by Schjelderup Marine Studio and shows the ship heading towards the mouth of Lake Huron. View it big as the Bradley and see more in his massive Great Lakes Ships & Shipping slideshow.

More shipwrecks on Michigan in Pictures.

Glen Haven Dune Hike

Glen Haven Dune Hike, photo by Jess Clifton

I don’t think that enough is made of the fact that as long as you’re in Michigan, you are never more than 85 miles from one of the Great Lakes. To make matters better, Michigan law permits you to freely walk the entire Great Lakes shoreline so get out and have some adventures this weekend!

About this photo, Jess writes: These images were taken on a hike on the Lake Michigan shoreline in Glen Haven MI roughly two years ago. Can’t recommend this hike enough! (I’m curious if any shipwreck remnants are still explorable with this year’s higher waterline.)

I’m curious too and will try to find out!

View Jess’ photo background bigtacular and see more in her Glen Haven Shipwreck Hike slideshow.

Lots more Michigan beaches and more Michigan summer wallpaper on Michigan in Pictures.

Hunting the Griffon

June 28, 2014

Detail: The LaSalle Stained Glass Window, Installed at Dossin Great Lakes Museum, Belle Isle Park--Detroit MI

Detail: The LaSalle Stained Glass Window, Installed at Dossin Great Lakes Museum, Belle Isle Park–Detroit MI, photo by pinehurst19475

John Flesher of the Associate Press has a feature on NBC News about the possible discovery of the Holy Grail of Great Lakes shipwrecks, Le Griffon, the ship of French explorer Rene-Robert Sieur de La Salle. The article says (in part):

A wooden beam embedded at the bottom of northern Lake Michigan appears to have been there for centuries, underwater archaeologists announced Tuesday, a crucial finding as crews dig toward what they hope is the carcass of a French ship that disappeared while exploring the Great Lakes in the 17th century.

Expedition leaders still weren’t ready to declare they had found a shipwreck or the long-lost Griffin. The ship, commanded by the French explorer La Salle, was never seen again after setting sail in September 1679 from an island near the entrance of Green Bay, in what is now northern Wisconsin, with a crew of a six and a cargo of furs.

…Scientists and divers began excavating last week at the base of the wooden beam, hoping to determine whether it is part of the Griffin. Steve Libert, a diver and shipwreck enthusiast who has searched three decades for the Griffin, discovered the timber in 2001 and recently obtained state and federal permits to probe beneath the muddy surface.

Read on for more. Libert is president of Great Lakes Exploration Group started the Lasalle-Griffon Project with the state of Michigan and the Republic of France in July of 2010. He’s definitely obsessed with finding the ship, and their Expedition page explains:

If the wreck Libert has found is Le Griffon, it will be a find of tremendous historical significance. Le Griffon was built by Rene-Robert Sieur de La Salle, one of the first French explorers of the Great Lakes Region. He would later claim the Mississippi River watershed for France, a vast expanse of land that extended from the Allegheny Mountains to the Rocky Mountains and North of the Great Lakes, a portion of which became what is presently known as the Louisiana Purchase.

Exploration and study of the ship will tell us much about the history of our country and how our ancestors lived. “The ship is a time capsule that will fill the missing gaps of La Salle’s early exploration of North America,” says Libert. In particular, the wreck is a record of ship construction of that period, about which relatively little is known. La Salle constructed Le Griffon on the banks of the Niagara River, about three miles above the falls. There is strong documentation to support the view that Le Griffon was built on what is now the U.S. side of the Falls. If the wreckage is Le Griffon, however, it may be possible to use samples to establish definitively which side it was built on.

The fact that Le Griffon was built in the wilderness, as opposed to a shipyard, will reveal the circumstances La Salle and his men faced and the tools and technology they possessed. The ship was built with timber cut on site. The exact dimensions of the vessel are not known. It is however known to have been a 40 tun* vessel with three masts, a foremast, main and mizzen, and several square sails.

*Tun is an old French word for a large cask used in shipping wine, equivalent to 33.7 cubic feet or 252 gallons. Read on for a whole lot more.

Regarding the stained glass above, pinehurst19475 writes:

This is a full view of part of a panel that depicts two cavaliers in discussion. They are part of a scene that depicts Robert Cavalier Sieur de la Salle’s voyage through the Detroit River in 1678-9. The small boat in the foreground is the “Griffon,” the vessel that made the voyage.

The five-part stained glass window was originally installed in the Gothic Room of the “City of Detroit III.” At the time it was built (1912), it was the world’s largest side-wheeler. The Edward F. Lee Glass Company of Detroit designed the stained glass window.

View his photo background big and see more in his Stained Glass slideshow.


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.


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