#TBT: Wreck of the Carl D. Bradley

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.

Hunting the Griffon

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.

100 Years after the Great Storm of 1913


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.

Low water exposes Grand Haven shipwreck graveyard

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.

The Armistice Day Storm of 1940

Chipping ice from the City of Flint

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.  Carferries.com 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 carferries.com.

More shipwrecks on Michigan in Pictures.

The Great Storm of 1913 at Pointe Aux Barques

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.

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary could grow tenfold

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 jeff.gray@noaa.gov. 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!

Michigan’s Titanic: The S.S. Alpena


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.

Remembering the Carl D. Bradley

Carl D Bradley on the Great Lakes

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 carldbradley.org!

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!

Graveyard Coast II

"Graveyard Coast II " - (Mary Jarecki shipwreck) , Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

“Graveyard Coast II ” – (Mary Jarecki shipwreck) , Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, photo by Michigan Nut.

Over on Absolute Michigan today we have a feature on the Alger Underwater Diving Preserve – Michigan’s first underwater preserve and one of 12 that protect over 2300 square miles of Great Lakes bottomland.

You don’t have to strap on a tank to explore some of these wrecks. John writes that the Mary Jarecki was a wooden bulk freight steam Ship of 645 tons, 200 feet in length. It grounded on Au Sable Reef and went down on July 4, 1883. She lost her way in one of the heavy fogs that frequent the area. These shipwrecks are a sobering reminder of the incredible power of Lake Superior.

Indeed. See this photo bigger and in John’s jaw-dropping Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore slideshow.