This is our American Stories. In 1913, the 16th Amendment was passed and Woodrow Wilson became president. But tragedy also struck the Great Lakes.
Here's our own Monty Montgomery with more on that event. In 1679, the Great Lakes were changed forever for the first time as La Salle's Griffin departed from port, becoming the first ship to ever sail on the Great Lakes. And in 1841, the lakes were yet again changed when the Vandalia set sail, the first propeller-driven ship to do so. An industry took off, and by 1913 the Great Lakes had become a major and still developing transportation hub.
Here's Rick Mixter of Lake Fury with more on that. In 1913, we're talking about a mix of different types of transportation on the lakes. The sail was still somewhat viable. Most of those old sailing vessels, the schooners, had been turned into barges and were being towed by the more efficient steamers.
It didn't have to wait for the winds to be correct. But there were no highways at that time, so everything had to be moved, especially these amazing commodities we have on the Great Lakes. Coal, iron ore, grain, all of this stuff was moved in huge amounts, bulk amounts on these freighters and barges. There were literally thousands of ships on the Great Lakes, hundreds that were regularly being used, many that were also laid up.
It would go by the flow of how much iron ore needed to be moved, or later in the season as you got the grain cargos coming in, the coal that had to be stocked up for the wintertime. So you'd see more ships come out and many of those ships weren't in perfect condition. They were whatever could float, they could get these cargos in before the lakes froze up and then all that commerce stopped.
There weren't a lot of safety regulations. I mean the ultimate safety is in the captain himself. He makes the call that will bring his ship and his crew in.
Every one of the captains on the Great Lakes are the most experienced meteorologists. I would replace anyone on television with a ship captain because their lives literally depend on their ability to be able to read the storm. But there were bonuses and incentives that sometimes helped to fight against that common sense that put many of these ships on the bottom.
And on November 6, 1913, those incentives were working against the better judgment of many captains trying to get one last run in before the end of the season. For a large storm was brewing on the Great Lakes, a storm that would go down in history, as the big blow, were simply the 1913 storm. The 1913 storm is one of the few storms where we had a dozen ships lost with all hands.
Everybody vanished. We don't see that very often on hurricanes, much less on the Great Lakes. And we also had storms and especially snow that paralyzed many of the largest cities on the Great Lakes, including Cleveland. So now couple that with the fact that today we're still missing three of those wrecks.
We don't know where they're at. That leads into an amazing story that I think it still is interesting to tell today. The 1913 storm really started off of Lake Michigan, and as it swept up, it devastated two wrecks that were there. The Louisiana, which was actually a vessel that made it into the safety of Washington Bay on Washington Island, and it met up with the Halsted that had already been pushed to shore. And the crew would have been fine, except some kind of a lantern or something fell over to cause a fire on board and they had to abandon ship. So the Louisiana burned right to the water line right there as one of the first casualties of the 1913 storm. And just north of there, that's where the Plymouth vanished with seven lives being towed by a very underpowered tug. The Plymouth was one of the vessels that was empty when it was lost. It was going up to the Straits of Mackinac to pick up a cargo of Cedar Post. And it was pulled by a very small tug called the James Martin.
There was a bunch of legal disputes that were happening with the company that was actually ordering the logs, the Hubel Company. This was to the point of them actually labeling the ship, meaning they put a lawsuit against the Plymouth. And the only way to protect it to make sure that they wouldn't be scuttled for insurance or somehow damaged to protect their interests, they moved an undersheriff who became a U.S. Marshal and Chris Keenan came on board the ship to guard it. They were towing from Menominee, and they got up around the islands when the storm hit. And it came out of the south at first, so they moved around St. Martin's Island and had dinner there and basically had everybody aboard the Plymouth where there was more room. And once the storm exposed their hide safe harbor, where now it's coming out of the north and starting to build to 60 miles an hour, they all jumped onto their respective ships and they asked Keenan if he wanted to come on board the tug. And he thought his chances were better on the Plymouth.
He said, no, I'll stay on board this. He knew the ship had been rebuilt. It had just been re-caulked. They really thought because it was larger that that would be the safer vessel. But as they pulled through the straits and they got just below Poverty Island, a massive storm hit them at 60 miles an hour. The tugboat had to order the schooner to drop its anchor, a 3,000 pound anchor, to lock it into place so they could take off and reach safety.
There was just no way they could pull through those waves. Afterwards they came back to find the Plymouth and they found nothing. But later on a bottle washed ashore in Manistee and eventually Chris Keenan's body.
The bottle spelled out exactly what had happened during that horrible storm. And the message in the bottle was written by Keenan, the unlucky marshal. He wrote, dear wife and children, we were left here by McKinnon, the owner of the Tug Martin.
He never said goodbye or anything to us. Basically they laid out that they lost another man during the night and that the Hubel company owed him $35. So it was this note of just tragedy, of this despair of being lost, but also enough to tell his family, hey, by the way, Hubel owes money. And as it turns out, messages in bottles weren't that rare in 1913, or the stuff of urban legends. If you think about it, in 1913 there was no radio, there was no way to get a message out, and many of them had, obviously, galleys on board that would have bottles and mustard bottles had been used, pickled bottles had been used, but certainly wine bottles too have been used to put these messages in.
Many times they'll put who's on board. Sometimes they would put, you know, we're disappearing forever and a goodbye to their family. And we also saw blame in some of them as well. But during the 1913 storm, at least four messages came ashore, and the majority of them were found to be not real. The one that came from the Plymouth, though, was written on a coal receipt that was actually from the coal company that gave coal to the Plymouth, so it lent a lot of authenticity to it. It also, when the family saw it, they really believed it was Chris Keenan's handwriting as well, except for a bottom part that had been written by another crewman, and he had noted in there, I felt so bad that another man had written this for me.
So this is one of those true notes that came out. And really an eyewitness account from 12 ships that vanished without any kind of a survivor, this was the voice that they finally got from what exactly happened during one of these devastating sinkings. But the storm wasn't yet done. All of a sudden, the storm rushes past that lake, goes all the way up into Lake Superior, that's when it sinks. The HB Smith, it puts the turret chief ashore. The LC Waldo was also pushed ashore on Keweenaw Peninsula.
And the leaf field was lost with all hands up by Pick Island. The biggest story on Superior at the time was the HB Smith. The Henry B. Smith was a large freighter, one of the largest lost in the big storm. Captain Billy Owen was in Marquette. The legend in all the newspaper articles that I've read said that Billy Owen had been criticized for having lake cargos all season. And if you read the stories coming out of Marquette, it really kind of plays out that Owen was furious when the iron ore froze because of a rain mist ice storm that kind of came in and froze all of the iron ore into the cars. The captain ran out and said, you've got to heat up those cars, actually put flame to the train cars to get that cargo into his boat. And then when the storm hit, he ordered the Smith to be literally tied to the dock so that they could withstand the storm and still take the cargo so he could get it down in a timely manner. People do talk nowadays that maybe most of those stories weren't true, but there were a lot of boasting headlines about how he feared no storm and took off without even battening down all of his hatches. And as soon as the big snow squall came in, the ship vanished.
And we didn't find it for nearly a hundred years. And you're listening to Rick Mixter tell the story of the 1913 storm that took down a dozen ships when we come back. More of Rick Mixter on our American Stories. And we return to our American Stories and the story of the 1913 storm. When we last left off, the storm had laid waste to Lake Michigan and Lake Superior and had already sunk many ships, including the Barge Plymouth and the large freighter H.B.
Smith. Let's return to the story. After ravaging Lake Superior, the storm would soon turn to Lake Huron, where the bulk of the ships sunk in the storm would meet their ends. One ship that did not sink, though, was the H.B. Hoggard with Ed Kanabi at the helm. Ed Kanabi was a local guy from the Thumb who basically got sick of farming and went on board the ships and moved very quickly up to Wheelman.
I lucked out. I mean, as a journalist, you know, you start, you know, going through the storm itself and then trying to hit all of the anniversary newspapers. And that's where I found Ed was, you know, during the 50th anniversary and then the 60th anniversary, there were stories about this one guy that was part of the storms. But when I called him, his daughter told me that he had had a stroke and that he really probably didn't remember much about it. But she thought that he, you know, it'd be worth a try. So when I went to go talk to him, he was very, very hard of hearing. And I had to, you know, I was shouting questions to him. And finally, his daughter had to shout, tell him about the storm.
And he told such a riveting story that the hair on my arm stood up straight. So he was at the wheel when the HB Hawgood is going up and down the lakes. If you read the stories of the ships that survived, that was the way that they did it. They would stay out in the middle of the lake as best they could because running aground would be devastating. And they would turn around, which was the most difficult part in the storm, and they would head back down the lake and then just keep trying to keep their nose into the wind as best they can until the storm was over, hoping that it would eventually fade out.
Well, this storm went 60 miles an hour for 16 hours straight. So back and forth the HB Hawgood went until finally they got to the bottom of the lake and the captain ordered them to turn around again. He could see the lights of Point Edward. He knew he was close to Port Huron going into the St. Clair River. But he was not going to turn around. Kanabi had other ideas.
Here's Ed with what he did instead. He says, we've got to go into the deeper waters and into the wind. That's when I really got scared.
I thought to myself, oh, no, you don't. There's a lot of abysmal. And I threw the ship out of control. They literally pitched it up on the beach near where a hotel was. So out of all of the ships that were lost during the 1913 storm, it was good news for the HB Hawgood to be so close to civilization. That wasn't the case for many of the other ships.
Like the Charles S. Price. The price had gone up and it had gotten in the storm and somehow turned turtle. And the air that was still inside the vessel allowed it to float. So the bow was floating, but the stern was dragging on the bottom in about 70 feet of water. And it wasn't hard to see this giant, what looked like a whale of a black bottom boat out there.
And the newspapers guessed for days on exactly what freighter it was. And they couldn't get out there because the storm was still kind of brewing. So as it calmed down, they finally hired a diver named Baker to go down there. And he dove down and realized that it was so murky because of the storm-tossed waters that he couldn't see. So he felt the letters and it was Charles S. Price upside down that he felt. He came back on board and wouldn't tell them the name until he got paid.
That's how much he trusted the newspapers. The ship itself, we still wonder what happened. But as we look at the course of the HB Smith, and we look at several other ships that survived the storm by turning around, as they turned around, if they were iced or heavy on top of their decks, which we've seen many big storm victims, especially from 1913, we've seen frozen pictures of the ice that's accumulated on the decks, making them very, very top-heavy, regardless of the cargo that's below it. And as they try to make that turn, as they run out of the lake and they want to come back down again, they make that turn, they expose themselves to winds that will push these long, thin ships over.
And that's what we think might have happened, that it might have tried to turn, and as it tried to turn, it rolled right over. We also know from the eyewitness accounts that there were 35-foot seas that were there. So add in a top-heavy vessel that was never designed to carry that much ice weight on top, and a wind and waves that were banging off of each shoreline in confused directions, and it could be easily imagined that one of those freighters would flip over.
And the Price actually did. It sat there and floated forever. Well, it floated for over a day, and many newspapers got pictures of it, and then it slowly sank down to the bottom, so they always knew where the Charles Price was. The Price was just one of the many ships that sank during the 1913 storm. In total, 12 ships would end up on the bottom of the Great Lakes, and countless others like the Hawgood would be beached and battered on the shore. The storm was a truly horrific event. The legacy of the storm is that over 250 sailors lost their lives, and the reality is that without radio or without really good accounts of who was actually on board these ships, there were times when sailors would just jump on board, and there would be no real record of them being on. So we'll never know the exact amount of people lost or the names of everybody who was lost, but to think of it in the terms of 250 sailors, that's 200 families that didn't have loved ones that came home from that storm. It was devastating to them. And then add in the devastation that was felt by towns like Goderich, where most of that destruction, especially those human bodies, came ashore, it was horrible for them as well. And the pictures of the long funeral marches that would go to the grave marker that's now in Goderich, you can imagine what that must have felt for them as well. The headlines and the stories that came out of there and the eventual stories that would be generated from those later on also add to the magnitude of what that storm was. It was one of the worst and in many cases called the king of storms on the Great Lakes.
So it probably will never be equaled. We now have better weather forecasting. We have satellites that fly over the top of the ships.
We have communication via satellite and via radio. It's just amazing what that technology is like today in forecasting. But we still have people that will try to better the lakes. There's always that one that believes that they can get in. Fortunately, with our thousand footers, they're a lot less susceptible to the waves. But you'll be surprised that even the biggest of all freighters, including the Edmund Fitzgerald, were lost just because the captain made a bad call. Nothing can be built that would withstand the fury of the lakes when they get their very worst. And unfortunately, that's what happens in November. As those lakes start to cool off and that warmth from the lakes meets the cold Arctic air, we get horrible snowstorms and we get winds that just tear at ships in every direction and change on a dime.
And that could happen again tomorrow. There's still so many clues out there and every time a ship is found, we start to add another chapter. So I don't think the final chapter has been written on the 1913 storm.
It's over 100 years old, but we're still discovering new things about it, and that's what makes it exciting. And you've been listening to Rick Mixter tell the story of one of America's great water tragedies. He also told the story of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which was riveting. And it's the rest of the story from the song you'd heard and the real story, the Gordon Lightfoot song, of course. And one of our other really good water disaster stories, one of our best, is also, of course, the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, the worst naval disaster in American history. Mixter, by the way, you can find his work at LakeFury.com.
Listen to his podcast. And my goodness, it was a perfect storm. You had the frozen ice formations on the deck of the ships, 35-foot sea walls coming at them, and of course, the wicked winds. Twelve ships down, all hands lost, 250 souls lost. The story of the 1913 storm, here on Our American Stories. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-17 17:35:24 / 2023-02-17 17:43:08 / 8