The Straits of Mackinac Presented Lethal Dangers – Mackinaw City MI


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North America » United States » Michigan » Cheboygan
June 9th 2015
Published: June 26th 2015
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The drive from the Northwest Michigan Fairgrounds Campground in Traverse City MI to the Cheboygan State Park in Cheboygan MI on Wednesday, June 3, 2015 was totally uneventful. I had received a phone call from Cheboygan State Park officials reporting that the lift pump in the dump station was out of order and that, therefore, the dump station was out of service. It was good information as I generally dump my holding tanks after making the journey (to let ‘em slosh around real good and get the big chunks off the bottom of the tank).

Thursday was a great day for laundry because it was (as forecasted) gloomy and threatening but with minimal actual rainfall; however, Friday found me heading for Mackinaw City MI and the Mackinac Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse sits on the eastern side of the southern approach to the Mackinaw Bridge. First, some background. The Straits of Mackinac is a narrow waterway that connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron and separates Michigan's Lower Peninsula from its Upper Peninsula. The Straits are five miles wide at its narrowest point and 120 feet deep. The Straits is a major shipping lane for raw materials and finished goods and connects the iron
This Lighthouse Has Much More Character Than The NormThis Lighthouse Has Much More Character Than The NormThis Lighthouse Has Much More Character Than The Norm

Mackinac Point Lighthouse - Mackinaw City MI
mines of Minnesota to the steel mills of Gary IN. Before the railroads reached Chicago from the east, most immigrants arrived in the Midwest and the Great Plains on ships that sailed through the Straits of Mackinac.

The Straits has a well-deserved reputation as a dangerous area to navigate. The region is populated with rocky shoals and shallows that place ships in peril. Perhaps even worse are the storms that can enter the narrow Straits and can quickly amplify the wind and the waves. Over the years, large numbers of ships have foundered (the filling of a ship with water for any of a number of reasons) in the Straits. There are 15 known shipwrecks within the boundaries of the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve. Many others have yet to be discovered.

After the McGulpin Point Lighthouse was built in 1856, mariners advised authorities that its beacon was not visible from all directions. In 1889, (yup, the Civil War was in there) Congress appropriated funds for the Mackinac Point Lighthouse. Because of the frequent episodes of dense fog, a fog signal building was completed in 1890, and the light first shone on October 25, 1892. In consort with McGulpin's Point, ships could see the hazard from sixteen miles away. When the Mackinac Bridge was completed in 1957, its lights, 552 feet above the Straits of Mackinac, easily surpassed the benefits of the lighthouse, and Mackinac Point was deactivated.

The focus of the excellent presentation in the lighthouse property relates to the hazards posed by the rocks near the Straits of Mackinac and the resulting shipwrecks caused by the treacherous strait. Placards discuss the cargos that pass regularly through the Straits, the types of ships that traversed the Straits over the years, the evolution and improvements in light beams and fog signals and a comprehensive explanation of why ships wreck – collisions, foundering and grounding. The exhibit then covers specific examples of vessels that have met their demise in the Straits. The Straits of Mackinac Underwater Preserve was established by the State of Michigan in 1980. It is noted that all the artifacts on display were obtained by divers before 1980.

The fog signal building now houses a very interesting exhibit that had opened only weeks before my visit. Models of a sample of ships that were lost in the Straits are displayed directly above a model
Another Example Of An Atypical LighthouseAnother Example Of An Atypical LighthouseAnother Example Of An Atypical Lighthouse

McGulpin's Point Lighthouse - Mackinaw City MI
of the wrecked ship as it now appears on the lake floor. Very interesting! I cannot think of a lighthouse museum with more educational opportunities than the Mackinac Point Lighthouse. If you’re not into lighthouses so much and select only one to visit, I will highly recommend the Mackinac Point Lighthouse.

My next stop was the McGulpin's Point Lighthouse, also in Mackinaw City, which sits on the western side of the southern approach to the Mackinaw Bridge – about 2-3 miles west of the Mackinaw Bridge. When keeper James Davenport extinguished the McGulpin Point Lighthouse on December 15, 1906, he had no idea that the light would be relit on May 30, 2009 via the efforts of the citizens of Emmet County MI. McGulpin Point Lighthouse has returned to navigational charts as a working lighthouse. The focus of this attraction is the inhabitants of the Point from prehistoric times through the modern era. A timeline helps the visitor assimilate the interesting placards. Emmet County plans to renovate the structure and to focus the exhibits on the Native population who came to the Point to fish. If you must limit yourself to one lighthouse while visiting the area, …. I’ve already said
The Massive Engines Had Cylinders Above And Below The CrankshaftThe Massive Engines Had Cylinders Above And Below The CrankshaftThe Massive Engines Had Cylinders Above And Below The Crankshaft

Icebreaker Mackinaw Maritime Museum - Mackinaw City MI
my piece!

I have been to a handful of ships in my travels, but can’t remember even having the opportunity to visit an icebreaker. Right there in Mackinaw City MI is the Icebreaker Mackinaw Maritime Museum. On your mark, get set, visit! The United States Coast Guard Icebreaker Mackinaw, WAGB-83, was known as the “Queen of the Great Lakes.” She was built as part of the war effort during World War II to meet the heavy demands of transporting war materials during the winter months and, after a 62-year career breaking ice on the Great Lakes, the 290-foot vessel was decommissioned in 2006.

Uncle Larry really lucked out on his selection of days to visit – my docent, a career U.S. Coastguardsman, served multiple tours on “The Mac.” The placards, which are well done, didn’t hold a candle to his accounts. I had no idea, but icebreakers have three propellers – two in the stern and one in the bow. He told of how a large volume of water is quickly pumped from one tank to another to rock the ship back and forth as it overpowers the ice jam. His addendums were absolutely intriguing. Many would not place a visit
Square Light Towers Are Relatively UncommonSquare Light Towers Are Relatively UncommonSquare Light Towers Are Relatively Uncommon

Forty Mile Point Lighthouse - Rogers City MI
to a ship high on their vacation “to do” list, but “The Mac” is unique among ships. If you decide to visit her, I hope my docent is on duty for your visit.

Saturday, June 6, 2015 found me heading south to the Forty Mile Point Lighthouse north of Rogers City MI. This attraction has two unique features. First, the basement of the keeper’s house is chock full of laundry equipment from washboards to washing machines and from “sit ‘em on the stove to get ‘em hot” irons to propane (I guess) fueled wrinkle removers. Second, down on the beach just a few yards from the lighthouse, one can find the remains of the starboard side of the S.S. Joseph S. Fay that wrecked at Forty Mile point on October 19, 1905. All that can be seen today are some of the metal pins that held her together. Who knows what lurks beneath the sand!

Several rooms in the keeper’s cottage are furnished with period pieces while other areas display models of ships that have been lost in the treacherous waters. A few placards relate information about the Fresnel lens. Another unique feature about the lighthouse climbing experience is that one
The Steering Wheel From The SS Cedarville Which Sank On May 7, 1965The Steering Wheel From The SS Cedarville Which Sank On May 7, 1965The Steering Wheel From The SS Cedarville Which Sank On May 7, 1965

Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum - Rogers City MI
can exit the lantern room onto the catwalk to get a breath of fresh air.

Continuing in to Rogers City, I stopped at the Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum. I was promptly greeted by a lady who explained that this was a museum dedicated to the memories of the people who sailed the Great Lakes freighters rather than a museum full of artifacts to document the equipment used by those people. Excellent! From the museum web site, “… you'll find a place where the rich history of that great waterway comes to life. The generations of men and women who risked life itself to sail and make their livings on these waters are enshrined and remembered here as are their uniforms, personal possessions, navigational and other maritime tools ….” Some retired from the merchant marine while the lives of others ended in a watery grave. She told me the museum also serves as a Great Lakes maritime “Hall of Fame” with inductees enshrined annually.

She had told me the museum was essentially a self guided facility and offered to answer any questions I might have. As she was providing my introduction and I asked a couple of questions that must have conveyed
The SS Cedarville Memorial Exhibit Is Typical – She Sank On May 7, 1965The SS Cedarville Memorial Exhibit Is Typical – She Sank On May 7, 1965The SS Cedarville Memorial Exhibit Is Typical – She Sank On May 7, 1965

Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum - Rogers City MI
my sincere interest, we slowly meandered to the first exhibit. The full blown guided tour was on! She pointed out numerous individuals she knew and provided background beyond the information on the placard. She told me Rogers City is home to the world's largest open pit limestone quarry (limestone is used to make steel) and is home port to several Great Lakes freighters.

One of those freighters was the SS Carl D. Bradley. The 639’ Bradley was christened on July 28, 1927 and had steam turbines that turned electric motors which made her capable of speeds of 14-16 m.p.h. She retained the title of "Queen of the Lakes" for 22 years as the longest and largest freighter on the Great Lakes and was due to go into dry dock over the winter for major repairs, but, on her way to dry dock, she was given one last load to haul. In a Lake Michigan storm on November 18, 1958, the Bradley sank. Of the 35 crew members, 33 died in the sinking. Of the 33 who died, 23 were from Rogers City. Of the 33 who died, 23 women became widows and fifty-three children became fatherless. Of the 33 who died, 15 bodies were never recovered and remain missing to this day. Eight of those 15 were from Rogers City. The sinking of the Bradley was most likely caused by structural failure from brittle steel that was used in her construction.

My docent told me that she was a high school freshman in 1958, and everybody in Rogers City (1960 population 4,722) had a personal connection with at least one person who was lost – “My brother graduated from high school with him five months earlier. I baby sat his two children. He was my brother-in-law.” The one funeral home in Rogers City was overwhelmed, and memorial services were held in the high school gymnasium. PE classes were never the same again. When I had entered, a man had been sitting in the office area. She told me he was the only remaining survivor as the other man who survived the sinking has since died. By the time we got back to the front of the building, he had departed.

The bell from the Bradley was recovered and returned to Rogers City in 2007 and was restored. On the same dive, it was replaced by a bell inscribed with
Photographs Taken By Divers Of The Original Bell And Its ReplacementPhotographs Taken By Divers Of The Original Bell And Its ReplacementPhotographs Taken By Divers Of The Original Bell And Its Replacement

Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum - Rogers City MI
the names of those lost. The original bell and a copy of the replacement bell are on display in the museum. On November 17, 2008, a 50th Anniversary Memorial was held at the museum. The Bradley‍ '​s original bell was tolled 33 times to commemorate the lost crew. The documentary movie November Requiem (UTube trailer – 4:52) premiered at the Rogers City Theater as part of the ceremonies. It focuses on the repercussions on Rogers City after the Bradley sank. The documentary was featured on PBS in November 2008, and it won two Emmy awards in 2010.

Another extensive exhibit features information about The Great Storm of 1913. The storm, technically an extratropical cyclone, began as two major storm fronts converged in a seasonal process called a "November gale." Fueled by the relatively warm lake water, the storm produced 90 m.p.h. wind gusts, waves over 35 feet high and snowsqualls that generated whiteout conditions. Historically referred to as the "Big Blow," the "Freshwater Fury" or the "White Hurricane," the hurricane-force winds devastated the Great Lakes Basin in the Midwestern United States and the Canadian province of Ontario from November 7-10, 1913. The storm was most powerful on November 9 and overturned ships on four of
The Great Storm of 1913 DisplayThe Great Storm of 1913 DisplayThe Great Storm of 1913 Display

Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum - Rogers City MI
the five Great Lakes. Deceptive lulls in the storm and the slow pace of weather reports contributed to the storm's destructiveness. The Great Storm of 1913 is the deadliest and most destructive natural disaster ever to hit the Great Lakes. The storm killed more than 250 people, destroyed 19 ships and stranded 19 others. The financial loss in vessels alone was nearly $5 million (or about $119,310,000 in today's dollars) plus the lost cargo of coal, iron ore and grain. Of the twelve ships that sank in the storm, four have never been found.

There are multitudes of maritime history museums, but the Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum has a completely different focus than the others I have visited. This museum is about the people. Yes, there is an incredible display of artifacts that have been donated to the museum by the people who used them daily. The placards on the walls pay tribute to the people, and the artifacts in the foreground bring those people to life. Because of the quality of the presentation and the uniqueness of the attraction, I highly recommend the Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum.

On the way out of Rogers City, I spotted the Carmeuse Lime & Stone Quarry. Soon thereafter, a sign directed me to a vista overlooking the quarry. Limestone is a raw material essential in industry for making steel, chemicals and concrete. About 1908 or 1909, geologist Henry H. Hindshaw determined the underground limestone deposit in the northeastern region of Lower Michigan, along the shore of Lake Huron, to be of exceptional value because of its especially high grade and purity. The quality and size of the limestone deposit at Rogers City, along with the availability of easy water transportation, led to the development of the quarry and a port – both named Calcite, the principal ingredient of limestone. The mine is cool, and there is a nice bulletin board with information and pictures – you might as well stop for five minutes as you drive past.

My next stop was the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse in Presque Isle MI. The visitor is greeted by a statue of lightkeeper Patrick Garrity, Sr. The 31’ light tower is not connected to the keeper’s quarters and has stone stairs leading most of the way to the lantern room. The last few feet are accomplished via a ladder. The 1-½ story brick keeper’s quarters
The Loft Area Is Readily Envisioned Via The Roof LineThe Loft Area Is Readily Envisioned Via The Roof LineThe Loft Area Is Readily Envisioned Via The Roof Line

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse - Presque Isle MI
is open to the roof line and has a small loft which probably served as the bedroom. On September 23, 1840, Henry Woolsey was appointed the first keeper of Presque Isle Lighthouse at an annual salary of $350. Later, heavy oak doors were cut from timbers harvested from the braque Fame which ran aground on the lighthouse beach in 1888. (A barque is a type of sailing vessel with three or more masts.) I’m not sure if I have ever used the word quaint to describe a lighthouse facility, but, if not, I have now.

A short drive brought me to the New Presque Isle Lighthouse in, you betchta, Presque Isle. The first (Old) Presque Isle Lighthouse was established to serve both as a coastal light and as a harbor light; but, when its keeper’s dwelling needed to be rebuilt in 1868, the Lighthouse Board decided that it would be better to use the allocated funds toward building separate lights to perform these different functions. Thus, the (New) Presque Isle Lighthouse was born. The 113-½-foot brick, circular tower is connected to the 1-½ story keeper’s dwelling by a covered passageway. A cast-iron stairway winds up the tower to the lantern room. Patrick Garrity, who had been keeper of the old Presque Isle Lighthouse since 1861, moved his wife and five children a mile north in time to place the new lighthouse into service in 1871. I can’t say I can blame him – the quarters are much more spacious.

On the day of my visit, a volunteer appreciation luncheon was underway and the keeper’s dwelling was closed for the event, but some extremely dedicated volunteer forewent (oh, crap, I was being a smart-ass and didn’t even know that was a word) the luncheon to the keep the facility up and running! Everything I saw was well done and ship shape. I would expect nothing less from the keeper’s dwelling. This is the second lighthouse of the day where I could exit the lantern room and venture onto the catwalk. Highly unusual! This attraction is a nice stop for us “climbers.”

My next stop was in Harrisville MI at the Sturgeon Point Lighthouse – my last lighthouse of the day. A lighthouse had been erected on Thunder Bay Island in 1832, and another had been built on Tawas Point, near the northern entrance of Saginaw Bay, in 1857; however, these lights were unable to fully illuminate the gap of approximately 55 miles between them. Thus, Congress appropriated the requested $15,000 on March 2, 1867 to build the Sturgeon Point Lighthouse. The tower stands 75’ 9” tall, and its lantern room is reached via a spiral stairway with three landings. My gratitude to the architect! Four windows, one facing each compass point, provide light for the tower’s interior. A covered passageway connects the tower to the brick two-story, eight-room keeper’s dwelling. Insightfully, an iron door was installed at the entrance to the tower to prevent fire from spreading from the tower to the passageway and thus to the keeper’s dwelling.

In 1876, a lifesaving station was established adjacent to the lighthouse, and in 1890, a fog signal building was added. On August 28, 1880, the side-wheel steamer Marine City was making its way from Mackinaw to Detroit with 160 people on board when it caught fire off Sturgeon Point. As smoke and flames were emanating from the upper deck near the steamer’s smokestack, passengers frantically gathered on either side of the main deck. The tugs Vulcan and Grayling were, fortunately, within sight and, along with the Sturgeon Point life saving crew, rushed to
The Covered Bridge And Water Wheel Add Personality To The ParkThe Covered Bridge And Water Wheel Add Personality To The ParkThe Covered Bridge And Water Wheel Add Personality To The Park

Lions Club Covered Bridge - Harrisville MI
the aid of the burning steamer. Twenty people, many of whom panicked and jumped from the burning steamer before help arrived, perished in the accident. The rudder salvaged from the wreckage of the Marine City is now on display at Sturgeon Point Lighthouse. Again, this lighthouse makes a nice stop for us “climbers.”

One nice thing about covered bridges is that there is no “hours of operation” – they’re open 24/7/365. As long as I was in Harrisville, I planned a stop at the Lions Club Covered Bridge (1992). This pedestrian bridge is located in a community park and has a water wheel, ala a grist mill, adjacent to the bridge. A short drive south on US 23 brought me to the George Foster Memorial Covered Bridge (also 1992) in Greenbush MI. This covered bridge services a private driveway over a small creek and is totally nondescript. Given the contemporary dating, I wasn’t surprised by the triteness of either. Okay, Uncle Larry, take ‘er home!



I had a very nice week in the Cheboygan area. The drive to Mackinaw City is short so the tourist traps are not too distant, yet when I was “back home” I felt like I was unhurried and enjoyed a leisurely pace. I got to enjoy a diverse collection of lighthouses and felt like I had accomplished the major goal of The Great Adventure when I visited the Great Lakes Lore Museum in Rogers City. The Great Lakes are all about shipping, the Straits of Mackinac are all about the shipping hazards and Rogers City epitomizes the tragic costs paid by many mariners and their survivors.


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A Small Portion Of The Keeper’s Quarters Has Period FurnishingsA Small Portion Of The Keeper’s Quarters Has Period Furnishings
A Small Portion Of The Keeper’s Quarters Has Period Furnishings

Mackinac Point Lighthouse - Mackinaw City MI
I Had Lots Of Company On My Trip To The Lantern RoomI Had Lots Of Company On My Trip To The Lantern Room
I Had Lots Of Company On My Trip To The Lantern Room

Mackinac Point Lighthouse - Mackinaw City MI
One Of The Artifacts That Was Recovered Before 1980One Of The Artifacts That Was Recovered Before 1980
One Of The Artifacts That Was Recovered Before 1980

Mackinac Point Lighthouse - Mackinaw City MI


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