The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.
By Dr. Julius Wolff, JR.
Since 1947, Dr. Wolff has annually guided student groups on summer tours around the Great Lakes, an activity associated with having been Scout- master and Commissioner of the Boy Scouts of America from 1950-1968. The following account is a brief resume of a trip made with three students around Lake Superior in July 1978.
With three Duluth Ordean Junior High School students; Sean Bradley, Erik Campbell and Randy Lally, I made last July a 1,700- mile automobile tour around the complete perimeter of Lake Superior. Our first stop was Ontonogan, Michigan, where we photographed the old lighthouse complex, then on to Misery Bay, southwest of the Portage Ship Canal. We were looking for the bones of the schooner-barge Samuel H. Foster wrecked there in the blow of October 1906. No luck, though the day we were on the beach another party several miles southwest of us discovered wreckage of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency research plane which disappeared ten years ago. Searchers now definitely know the plane crashed in Lake Superior.
From there we proceeded northward on Keweenaw Point to Eagle River, Michigan were we sought out and photographed the pilothouse of the iron freighter Tioga wrecked on Sawtooth Reef in November 1919. A private party salvaged the pilothouse and keeps it in a good state of preservation on their home lot. A member of the audience at one of my Minneapolis ship lectures last year had tipped me about this. After tarrying briefly at Eagle Harbor, Michigan, we proceeded to Copper Harbor where we did a good deal of photographic work and just plain prowling. Superintendent David LaPointe of Michigan’s Fort Wilkins State Park permitted us to hike the controlled access road to the Copper Harbor Lighthouse Museum. We obtained some excellent pictures of the bones of the John Jacob Astor, first American ship lost on Superior, together with a steamboat rudder, probably off the City of Superior, an 1857 wreck. Mr. La Pointe, with the aid of scuba divers, has collected a number of rare artifacts, propellers, capstans, anchors, wind- lasses, and the like, but state appropriations for a building to house these have not been forthcoming.
Our next move was to backtrack to the base of Keweenaw Bay and drive to Pequaming. The old waterfront, however, once famous for its lumber docks and sawmill activity, is overgrown with grass and brush, with the small boat clientele using part for a marina. Consequently, we swiftly moved to Marquette for a visit to the Marquette County Historical Society and calls on John A. Keast and D. M. Frimodig, well-known Lake Superior shipwreck researchers in their own right: then on to the east. We hiked the two-mile beach to Au Sable Lighthouse west of Grand Marais, Michigan, and examined the fragments of wrecked ships on the beach in that vicinity. I am quite sure the major wreckage masses are those of the steamers Gale Staples (Caledonia) wrecked in 1918, and the Sitka stranded in 1904. Minor masses might have come from the steam barge Mary Jarecki, an 1883 casualty, or even from the old propeller Union destroyed in 1873. Dimensions of the hull bases lead to the above deductions. A mile west the hull base of an old schooner possibly could be that of the Canadian Annie Coleman stranded in 1879. Near the schooner we spotted another sizeable piece of debris not far offshore but a rising northwestern prevented our wading and swimming out to her.
After a brief stop in Grand Marais for a call on Ms. Rose Mary Marshall, publisher of The Voyager, we headed east to Deer Park for a look at the old Life-Saving Station scheduled for demolition by the Michigan Division of Parks.
The following day saw us at the mouth of the big Two Hearted River where we unsuccessfully sought remnants of the schooner W. W. Arnold shattered there in November 1869. Serious beach erosion has so altered the beaches, after the “Fitzgerald” storm and others, that beach search without electronic detection equipment was useless. Even the old lifesavers ridge trail, 75-100 yards south of the water’s edge, is being destroyed in places.
We did get one big break at Two Hearted River in our acquaintanceship with Mrs. Iona Proue, a summer resident with property adjacent to the Michigan Forest Service campground. For thirty-six summers she has been at her cabin. On the wall of her cabin was a large colored photograph of the old Two Hearted River Life-Saving Station taken about 1942. It is the only picture of this station that I have ever seen. She graciously permitted by assistants to copy it. Mrs. Proue, whose family used to fish this shore. also gave me information on the location of a small steam-vessel slightly offshore which often is buried by the shifting bars. From the dimensions obtained by her husband some time ago I would deduce that this wreck must be that of the tow steamer Satellite which went down in June 1879, west of Whitefish Point after hooking a log in her wheel. Mrs. Proue also regretfully reported that the Life-Saving Service cemetery at Two Hearted has been completely destroyed by vandals. The late Coast-guardsman John F. Soldenski had mentioned this cemetery a dozen years ago, but I had never been able to find it.
Our final stops on the Michigan shore were at Vermilion and Whitefish Points for photographic work, but a northwesterly storm with temperatures in the forties virtually blew us off the beach. We did pay our respects to Mr. and Mrs. Merle Gerred in Vermilion township, and, as usual, Mrs. Gerred had some interesting pictures and additional historical information. She also mentioned that scuba diver Tom Farquist had his dive boat at the Whitefish Point harbor of refuge. We hastened there, met Mr. Farnquist and his partner. He mentioned two newly discovered wrecks to me which I tentatively identified as the wooden ore carriers John M. Osborne, sunk in collision in 1884 and M. M. Drake, a 1902 collision result. Mr. Farnquist presented me with an engine gauge off the Drake for deposit in the Duluth Marine Museum. He also invited us to his home in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, the next after- noon. There we had a fascinating session listening to his reports of diving discoveries. He also showed us iron and timbers from the first steamer on Lake Superior, the Independence, which was lost by boiler explosion in 1853. He had salvaged these from a Corps of Engineers dump area where they had been scheduled for burning. The Corps had removed the old wreck in deepening the channel at the Soo. While we were at Farnquist’s, two Canadian divers from Batchawanna Bay appeared. They furnished us detailed information on the Canadian Coast north of the Soo which I wished to visit.
After spending a day and a-half taking pictures at the Soo Locks, together with a visit to the interesting Valley Camp Museum, we crossed into Ontario, contacted correspondents at the Canadian lock headquarters, and headed up the east side of Lake Superior. Leaving the main highway we took a secondary road to a resort near Point Mamainse where we parked the car, then hiked to the old lighthouse, which we photographed, and walked the boulder-strewn beach northward. A half-mile or more to the north, I came across a boulder- studded bay of Lake Superior which matched a description given by a survivor of the area where the schooner William O. Brown was torn to pieces after stranding in the hurricane of November 28, 1872. Searching the edge of the forest at the high water mark we came across a number of wooden remnants which seemed to be portions of a wooden ship. Perhaps we had hit upon the site of the Brown’s destruction, with a loss of all but three of her crew. Two of my crew, investigating some flashing material on the beach which I detected with field glasses a half-mile further north, came up with a piece of aircraft wreckage. As yet, we do not know the source, though we have reported our discovery to the American Civil Aeronautics Board as well as to the U.S. Coast Guard. We obtained good pictures of the base structure of the old Mamainse lighthouse. Unfortunately, the tower has been removed and now graces an eating establishment a few miles to the north on the high way.
The remainder of our trip was uneventful, though we did visit Wawa, the iron ore producing center, the Pic River park area, the waterfront at Thunder Bay, and the iron ore ports of Taconite Harbor, Silver Bay, and Two Harbors, Minnesota. The boys procured fine pictures of modern Canadian ships at the docks in Thunder Bay. Thus we concluded our July 1978 investigation of the Lake Superior coast which had taken us nine days, and we could easily have spent nine more. Discussion of next summer’s “rambling” now is in the planning phase.