Explore the Shipwrecks in the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve and visit the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
Article by Sarah Wilde, Membership and Marketing Coordinator, Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society and Technical Diver | Images are Copyright 2015 Courtesy of Sarah Wilde, Darryl Ertel, Terry Begnoche and GLSHS.
What is it like to dive down to a shipwreck today that met a tragic fate over a hundred years ago? Well, it’s almost like exploring an alien world. You enter into a shadowed frontier of glistening liquid. Gliding and floating, weightlessly exploring a three dimensional environment of sunken vessels. It’s a unique experience to explore such historical underwater shipwreck sites. To see a 100-year-old shipwreck’s bell still attached to its mount, thousands of artifacts, huge steam engines and to swim through 15-foot propeller blades and even inside intact wooden schooners, is a lifetime-highlight experience. Several shallow shipwreck sites are even accessible by kayak and canoe, which are located near the shoreline. They can be clearly seen resting in the sandy bottom from above. Snorkelers and swimmers can enjoy a cool plunge investigating the shallow water shipwrecks. From huge timber beams and hundreds of metal spikes that held the ship together, to boilers and ship hulls, that give us a glimpse at how magnificent these vessels were when they sailed the Great Lakes.
It is very exciting and awe inspiring, given the incredible state of preservation the shipwrecks are in, laying at the bottom of Lake Superior for more than a 100 years. The cold fresh water of Superior does not deteriorate the wood and metal of shipwrecks, as the ocean salt water does. What is also fortunate for Lake Superior Shipwrecks is the absence of zebra mussels. The zebra mussel is a small invasive species that attaches itself to hard surfaces. When a shipwreck gets covered in zebra mussels, the ship and artifacts become unrecognizable. The weight of the mussels can also collapse shipwreck structures.
The Great Lakes are a natural inland transportation waterway. Sudden storms, fog, and heavy vessel traffic all resulted in the loss of thousands of schooners, steamers and barges. The Michigan Underwater Preserve System (MUPC) was created in 1980 by legislation and sport divers, who took action to preserve Michigan’s historical shipwrecks for future generations. MUPC preserves and protects the Great Lakes shipwrecks by educating divers and non-divers on their history and aid in their preservation.
The 376 square miles of the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve is world-renowned for it’s deep pristine shipwrecks. With discoveries of twelve newly identified shallow water shipwreck sites in the last several years by the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve, along with the steel freighter Cyprus, the wooden steamer A.A. Parker and the 1800s three mast schooner Nelson located by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, Whitefish Point is absolutely the place for scuba diving explorations. From the Basic Open Water Diver scuba diver to the Specialized Advanced Technical Trained diver, Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve contains shipwreck sites that are obtainable by any level of dive training.
Many of the area shipwreck artifacts were recovered and are on display at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. Throughout the museum complex, visitors will see maritime legends come to life. Artifacts and exhibits tell stories of sailors and ships that braved the waters of Superior and those who were lost to its menacing conditions. Gaze upon the famous Edmund Fitzgerald’s bell recovered in 1975 by GLSHS. The steam ship was lost 40 years ago during a November storm.
Visitors can “see and feel” what it’s like to scuba dive to the Independence shipwreck site, viewing the life-size underwater display in the main gallery. Learn about the many shipwrecks and history of the area with informative display panels, artist paintings and fine detailed ship models. Explore the entire Museum complex and restored historical buildings to learn about Michigan’s unique maritime history.
Since exploring most of the shipwrecks around Whitefish Point, my favorite remains the Allegeny. Resting in thirty feet of water, you can explore this shipwreck site with ease. On June 6th, 1913, the Allegeny heavy with a load of lumber was undertow by the M.T. Green and caught in a fierce gale storm. The towline parted and the Allegeny struck a sand bar near Vermillion Life-Saving Station, Michigan. The ship broke up in the shallows and was a complete loss. Lifesaving station surf men took five of her crew off before the ship broke up. Artifacts remain scattered at this site, which include a huge anchor and lots of chain. Ships rigging with blocks and pulleys lay tangled in the sandy bottom, a capstan, several tools and smaller anchors are visible. It’s a unique and pristine site, which is a time capsule of Michigan’s maritime history.
Paradise Area Community Experiences
What’s happening at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum?
Article Written by Bruce Lynn, Executive Director, Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society
Images by permission from the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society
Recent discussions by museum professionals worldwide have reflected on the need to provide the visitor with new experiences and reasons to come back. One museum Director noted:“…Museums, now more than ever, are looking for new ways to engage visitors. In a world that is dominated by rapid changes in attention, excessive multitasking, and massive media bombardment, it has become increasingly difficult to engage target audiences in meaningful ways. Yet some basic premises remain. Active participants, collaborators, shared owners, are more likely to care, to feel engaged in something, than those passively standing by…”
With that thought in mind, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum has been working on a number of major projects that will provide new experiences for years to come.
One of the more noticeable changes at Whitefish Point occurred in September 2013 with the relocation of the 1923 United States Coast Guard (USCG) Motor Lifeboat House from private property to a new location adjacent to the former USCG Crew’s Quarters. This structure, in remarkable condition for its age, will soon undergo an exterior restoration and interior redesign. Ultimately, it will feature changing exhibits and will, at times, be used as a theater and presentation space. Generous grants from the Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program/Michigan State Historic Preservation Office and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs have made this restoration work possible.
One of the most exciting aspects of the Motor Lifeboat House being on site at the point is the fact that it will house and exhibit a 36’ USCG Motor Lifeboat. A unique (only one currently on display in the U.S.) type “TR” Motor Lifeboat was recently obtained through the generosity of a Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society member and remarkably, is only 10 hull numbers removed from the original Motor Lifeboat that once cut through the waves of Lake Superior and Whitefish Bay. “We were very fortunate to find this Motor Lifeboat and even luckier to have such generous members and supporters!” remarked Shipwreck Museum Executive Director Bruce Lynn. “Not only did a member pay for the boat, but a downstate transportation company delivered it from Maryland at no charge and Passage Boat Works in DeTour Village is housing it for us at no charge.” Needless to say, the Shipwreck Society is fortunate to have such support.
Another historic structure at Whitefish Point also is undergoing restoration. In its day, it was officially known as the U.S. Navy Living Quarters for the Radioman-In-Charge, but today most know it simply as the Shipwreck Theater. Restoration work on this building began last summer and will be completed in 2015. Special thanks (again) to the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs for a grant making this work possible. Eventually, this once humble home will feature an expanded video theater capacity and will also host new and varying exhibits.
Also new at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is a children’s exhibit…and parts of it are “hands-on!” This exhibit is housed in what used to be the museum’s “Fudge Shop” and now children (of all ages) can discover the equipment of a modern Scuba diver, or assemble their own Lego model ship…or even see high definition images of an Isle Royale shipwreck that still has Life-Savers candy in its hold. A real highlight is a 12’ long Lego Edmund Fitzgerald model which is built with over 18,000 pieces and took nearly a decade to build. For those who might wonder about the fudge…the museum still sells it (freshly made) in the Shipwreck Coast museum store.
Each summer the Shipwreck Society searches for lost wrecks and the August 2014 discovery of the 1866 schooner Nelson is a perfect example of this ongoing research. The Nelson, originally built as a Barquentine, was a frequent passerby in Whitefish Bay and came to grief near the Deer Park Life-Saving Station in the spring of 1899. Future exhibits will tell the very tragic circumstances surrounding the sinking of this once proud vessel.
Arguably though, the vast majority of the museum’s 67,000+ visitors come to learn more about one particular shipwreck. The Edmund Fitzgerald sank 17 miles northwest of Whitefish Point in a terrible storm on November 10, 1975. A permanent exhibit in the main museum gallery, featuring the ill-fated ship’s bell, tells the story and shows the faces of many of the vessel’s 29 man crew that went down with their ship. The year 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
There is much happening at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum and the best way to discover “what’s new” is to come up and reintroduce yourself to the museum campus. We hope to see you in 2015! For more information, visit www.shipwreckmuseum.com or call, 800-635-1742. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is open daily from May 1 through October 31, 10:00am to 6:00pm.
Spotlighting a PATC Member
Located at the intersection of Tahquamenon’s Scenic Heritage Byway, M-123, and Whitefish Point Road, Curley’s Paradise Motel is a complex of conventional motel rooms, cottages, and rental homes on Lake Superior. Irwin L. Curley Lewis, cited by the book, Remotely Yours, A Historic Journey into the Whitefish Point Area, by Jan McAdams Huttenstine, was an entrepreneur offering rest and hospitality to travelers since 1941. The well known Yukon across the road from the motel was built in 1932 and officially opened in 1936 by Curley Lewis. In recognition for his passion toward the advancement and development of Chippewa County, there lies an incredible scenic drive along the southern shoreline of Whitefish Bay between M-123 and Bay Mills. This route is dedicated as the Curley Lewis Memorial Highway, meandering along the shoreline within the National Hiawatha Forest.
Who doesn’t want to start their marriage in Paradise? Many people make Paradise a destination for such important events. Bill and Lynda Ferguson of Detroit, Michigan honeymooned at Curley’s Paradise Motel, Room 13, in October 1962. Their experience in the community and the beauty of the scenery remained in their hearts and minds over the next nine years so they made the big move. In 1971, transporting their four children, ages 3, 4, 6, and 8, Bill and Lynda moved to Paradise and took a leap of faith in buying Curley’s Paradise Motel from Curley Lewis. To this day, Bill’s son Dave, recalls a time when Curley took him wild blueberry picking. As a physically slight man, Curley offered a massive opportunity to Bill and Lynda to continue his legacy, providing rest and hospitality to weary travelers. Curley’s Paradise Motel has been owned and operated by the family of William (Bill) and Lynda Ferguson for 44 years.
With over 700 feet of beach frontage, Curley’s Paradise Motel is a complex of 26 conventional motel rooms with air conditioning. Be sure to ask for a room that overlooks Lake Superior’s Whitefish Bay. There are four cottages which accommodate from four to six people each comfortably. And just in case you have a larger group, Curley’s has a couple of homes available for your group of six to eight people. The cottages and homes each have fireplaces and air conditioning. For additional details and images of Curley’s Paradise Motel, be sure to visit their website, or better yet, give them a call at 1-800-236-7386 or 906-492-3445.
Over the years, many travelers have stayed at Curley’s and connected with Bill and Lynda’s family. Their hospitality and openness to people is just an extension of their good hearts. Bill was instrumental in developing the Whitefish Township EMS service, a founding member of the Paradise Area Community Foundation, an active member of the Paradise Area Chamber of Commerce, and a founding member of the Paradise Area Tourism Council where he currently serves as Vice President. Lynda has been a valuable member of the community serving for years on the Whitefish Township Community Library Board and active with the Whitefish Township Community Schools. The Ferguson children and grandchildren have continued their parent’s efforts to support to the community. Bill and Lynda may have stayed in Room 13 in 1962 but they feel they have been so blessed to raise their family in the Paradise area, to watch their grandchildren grow here, and enjoy their great grand children when they come for a visit. Paradise is a great place to visit, a great place to explore, and a great place to raise a family.
Our next issue is due before July 1 and includes information about the Crisp Point Lighthouse Society and Canoeing!