by Larry Lehna
Many Detroiters remember the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald in November of 1975. Others have heard the song by Gordon Lightfoot. Very few are aware of the deadliest storm to ever pound the Great Lakes. It too occurred in November, 100 years ago. The storm consisted of the same meteorological conditions that were described by Sebastian Junger in his book The Perfect Storm. Twelve ships went down with all hands. Twenty-nine others were luckier and were washed onto beaches; some of the beachings also included loss of life. Of the ships that did survive none were without significant damage. Official reports acknowledged 248 deaths on the Great Lakes from the storm. It is believed that the actual numbers were somewhat higher.
Michael Schumacher did an extensive amount of research to compile as many facts as possible on ships that were on the lakes at the time of the storm. This is a comprehensive collection of what is known about all of the ships that were affected by this weather anomaly. Some simply sailed away and disappeared. Many of the wrecks have never been found. Others survived the maelstrom and their crews offer eye-witness accounts of the conditions.
Schumacher includes some individual stories. One superstitious sailor had a premonition and quit a good job on one of the doomed ships shortly before it sailed. Another lucky man was left in Detroit when he went to mail a money order. A different man switched boats without informing his family. When the boat was reported lost at sea the family identified a corpse as that of their son. He arrived home during the funeral. All of these men were instrumental in identifying the remains of their former shipmates when they washed ashore. Many of the bodies were never recovered, although a twenty-five dollar bounty on the bodies did instigate a much more intense search of the beaches.
When you add in the many fine illustrations you are given a good look at what type of ships plied the Great Lakes one-hundred years ago. The stories are all tied together and offer an informative read. If you would like to know what it was like on the lakes that hellish day this is the book for you.