Center for Archival Collections
December 2005: Volume 24, Number 3
Images from the HCGL
This issue of the Archival Chronicle Gallery features images from the Historical Collections of the Great Lakes.
At left, Captain Ernest McSorley
At right, SS EDMUND FITZGERALD, built 1958
The SS EDMUND FITZGERALD sank November 10, 1975, at approximately 7:10 P.M. in Lake Superior, about 15 miles north of Point Crisp, Michigan. All twenty-nine crew members were lost. The ship was one of the largest carriers on the Great Lakes. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the loss of the EDMUND FITZGERALD
The HCGL collections include approximately 90,000 images of commercial vessels which sailed the Great Lakes. Over the past thirty years, data sheets have been created for thousands of vessels, recording their measurements, tonnage, rigging, and a brief history. The Great Lakes Vessels Online Database combines these two data formats into a resource that can be searched from any computer with an internet connection. Examples of two vessels and their information are shown below.
CORA A., built 1889
The CORA A. was a three-masted schooner built by Burger and Burger in Manitowoc, Wisconsin in 1889. At 149 feet in length, it had a gross tonnage of 381. Sail and steamships worked side by side on the Lakes for many years. The CORA A. foundered March 6, 1916, and though the ship was lost, there was no loss of human life.
METROPOLIS, built 1868
The METROPOLIS was built in Trenton, Michigan by Alvin A. Turner in 1868. This steamer was 168.25 feet in length, with a gross tonnage of 425.49. A steam boiler turned the sidewheel, visible in this photograph. The combination of steam power and a wooden hull ended for the METROPOLIS as it did for many similarly-constructed vessels. The METROPOLIS was burned in 1902.
Sailing and navigation on the Great Lakes can be hazardous. Use of lighthouses has been known since ancient times, and such facilities were quickly established throughout the Great Lakes. The U. S. Life Saving Service was established in 1849 "for the better preservation of life and property from shipwrecks," under the supervision of the Revenue Marine Corps. Their duties included the rescue of crew, passengers, and cargo ships in disasters as well as assisting in salvage operations. When the U. S. Coast Guard was created in 1915, it took over the responsibilities of the Life Saving Service.
Wreck of the H. C. AKELEY in a Storm
The H. C. AKELEY, built in 1881 by Mechanics Dry Dock Company in Grand Haven, Michigan was a propeller-driven craft. Just two years after it was built, the AKELEY foundered in a storm 15 miles off Holland, Michigan, and 28 miles south of Grand Haven on November 13, 1883 with six lives lost. The vessel was bound from Chicago for Buffalo with cargo of corn. Eighteen crew members were saved by a yawl from the schooner DRIVER.
Turtle Island is located northeast of the mouth of the Maumee River in Lake Erie. In 1831, the federal government established a lighthouse there to serve the harbor of Toledo. After the Civil War, the government built a new lighthouse (seen here), using the original fresnel lens from the earlier building. This light was visible for a distance of fourteen miles. Still, the channel near Turtle Island was too shallow for the larger ships in use by 1900, and in 1904, the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse was established and the Turtle Island facility was decommissioned
The Lifesaving crew at Marblehead practices a rescue drill. Speed was essential in storm rescues. The lifeboat at right shows a cover used to help keep the boat from swamping in heavy seas.
The Loudon G. Wilson Collection (GLMS-71) documents the history of commercial sail on the Great Lakes through Wilson's research, photographs, clippings from publications, and original artwork. These images record changes in vessel technology from the Viking era of c. 1000 to boats of 1988. Comparisons can be made between rigging specifications for sailing vessels of different centuries. Wilson concentrated heavily on sailing vessels, but also obtained images of steamships. The history of marine art can also be examined through Wilson's selections of art reproductions clipped from publications. Commentaries on style and technique appear in notes made by Wilson, a marine artist himself. Two principal series are of the greatest interest. The Annual Log is a subject file of design developments accessed through a chronological index. The Subject Notebooks filled with photographs and research notes on vessels provide detailed and technical information compiled by Wilson. Examples of artwork are shown below.
The MADEIRA PET
Wilson painted this watercolor sketch of the MADEIRA PET in 1959, flying the Canadian flag.
The OCEAN WAVE, built 1853
The OCEAN WAVE was built by Peck and Masters in Cleveland, 1853, as a bark. Her rig was changed to schooner in 1867. She was declared a total loss as a result of damage in a storm of September 16-20, 1869.
MAYFLOWER, built 1849
The MAYFLOWER, a wooden-hulled steamer with a gross tonnage of 1354.30, was built in Detroit by I. Lupton in 1849. She struck a reef on the west side of Point Pelee, Lake Erie, in fog, November 20, 1854, and became total loss. No lives were lost. The machinery from the vessel was salvaged the following spring by E.B. Ward. In Wilson's capable hands, steamers look as dashing as sailing vessels.
These sketches show Wilson's meticulous research and his eye for detail as he documents different rigging and equipment for two commercial sailing vessels of the nineteenth century.
"We'll weigh the anchor cheerily." Illustration by Loudon Wilson
Illustrating a line from a work song gives Wilson the chance to show on-board detail of vessel rigging and construction and the clothing and work of the crew.
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