A few years ago, my husband Jonathan and I visited the Michigan Fireman’s Memorial in Roscommon, Michigan. I took the above photo at this memorial. I post it tonight in honor of the following dates:
September 29 – October 6, 2019: Light the Night for Fallen Firefighters
October 6 – October 12, 2019: Fire Prevention Week
October 8-10, 1871: Great Chicago Fire
October 8, 1871: Peshtigo, Wisconsin Fire
October 8, 1871: major fires in Holland, Manistee, and Port Huron, Michigan
October 9, 1871: major fire in Urbana, Illinois
October 12, 1871: major fire in Windsor, Ontario
In honor of Chicago and its firefighters, here is a photo that I took of a Chicago fire boat:
Here’s a little story for you: I learned on Wikipedia that a town by the name of Singapore, Michigan ONCE existed on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Singapore became a ghost town as a result of the October 1871 fires, but it DIDN’T burn.
Singapore, MI was founded in 1836. The town included two sawmills. As one might expect of a town that has sawmills, a forest bordered Singapore.
Well, the fires produced such a great demand for lumber that the businessmen in Singapore deforested the area surrounding Singapore. With the trees gone, the town had no protection from Lake Michigan’s sand dunes. By 1875, the town was covered up by sand!
In my opinion, this is the premise of a Margaret Atwood story.
I didn’t grow up in a “boating family.” Neither did my husband. We both grew up in middle-class families with multiple kids and multiple priorities. About once a summer or so, my own parents rented for me and my sisters paddle boats, a rowboat, or perhaps a canoe from a PA State Park boat concession. My dad eventually purchased a used canoe from a boat concession auction.
When Jonathan and I were on our honeymoon, he purchased a kite. He flew his new kite on the beach. He told me that wind power fascinated him. He later confessed to me that sailboats and sailing actually fascinated him since childhood but that he was too shy to mention this to his parents.
We took a few sailing lessons on a Flying Scot at Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park in Western PA. We borrowed my parents’ canoe once. We purchased our own canoe / kayak hybrids.
Jonathan monitored Facebook for postings about boat sales. I learned that prospective boat buyers have no problem finding boats for sale at the end of summer, before prospective boat sellers need to store their boats for the winter. So, on one October Friday, Jonathan drove through several counties to meet the man selling a Flying Scot. By the end of that day, we owned our first sailboat.
That weekend gave us “hot” October weather. We took our “new” Flying Scot to Lake Arthur that Saturday. We rigged our new boat in the parking lot of Moraine’s public boat launch. We sailed and sailed. We noted that the sun started to set and that other boaters headed to shore. We headed to shore. Then . . . the wind died down.
Did I mention that our Flying Scot had no motor? Yeah, this is important. The wind powered our boat. After the wind died, we sat in the middle of the lake.
We sat there for about an hour. Then, Jonathan grabbed the boat’s sole oar and “paddled” us to shore. In the twilight. Then, we had to de-rig our sailboat in the dark, assisted by one flashlight.
That next summer, we returned to Lake Arthur with our Flying Scot and rented a slip at the marina’s dry dock. We sailed again. And again, the wind died on us. We found ourselves becalmed on Lake Arthur, with no motor, again.
Except, this time the wind died due to a very impending, severe thunderstorm. We saw the lightning as we sat, stationary, on the lake. Mother Nature mocked us.
I said a few angry things to Jonathan. He grabbed the oar and, once again, paddled us back to shore.
The storm’s downdraft actually pushed us the last few feet to the dock. We jumped off of the boat and ran through the rain to our truck. Then, we realized that our truck keys were still on our boat! So, Jonathan had to run back to the boat before we found shelter inside of our truck.
Jonathan is very lucky that I sailed with him again after this.
This summer we now have a sailboat docked in Erie, PA, on Lake Erie. I sailed with Jonathan ON THE OPEN LAKE. I have the experience of sitting becalmed on Lake Erie, covered in bug spray and swatting at biting flies. Thank destiny that we now own a motored boat!
After I first sailed, I collected the sailing mishaps noted in historical fiction AND nonfiction.
For instance, Aaron Burr’s only child, Theodosia Burr Alston, boarded the schooner Patriot in 1812. The ship sailed from South Carolina. It never arrived in New York City. History noted Theodosia Burr Alston as “disappeared” or “lost at sea.” Theories and folkore (see Wikipedia) abounded on the fate of “Dear Theodosia.” One famous legend involved pirates. In fact, one storyteller described Theodosia walking the plank to her death.
Now, for the promised 1779 sailing mishap, here is a passage from Chapter Five of “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation” by Cokie Roberts. This recounts John Jay and his wife Sally’s voyage to Spain after Congress named John Jay as Minister to Spain during the Revolutionary War:
“ Two months later, still aboard the ship and nowhere near Spain, Sally recounted their adventures to her mother. After being at sea a couple of weeks, she heard a terrible noise on the deck in the middle of the night: “We had been deprived of nothing less than our bow-spirit, main-mast and missen-mast . . . however our misfortunes were only begun, the injury received by our rudder the next morning served to complete them.” The ship was dismasted and rudderless, the seas were high, and winter was on the way. A council of ship’s officers concluded tht there was no way to reach Europe under those conditions, so they set course for the island of Martinique. It took a couple of weeks for the winds to get them going in the right direction, but, Sally cheerfully reported, “we are now in smooth seas having the advantage of trade winds which blow directly for the island . . . while our American friends are amusing themselves by a cheerful fireside, are we sitting under an awning comforting ourselves with the expectation of being soon refreshed by some fine southern fruits.” . . . What she didn’t tell her mother was that she was pregnant. Stranded at sea, Sally and John threw a party, surprising and delighting fellow passengers. Finally, at the end of December, the ship limped into port in Martinique, where Sally was able to send off her letter home.”
Cokie Roberts, “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation.”
Just imagine drifting around for several weeks on the ocean in a ship that lost most of its sails. And its rudder. Just hoping that the trade winds would blow the ship to Martinique before winter. With a navigation system from the late 1700’s. And no motor!
Maybe, if this happened in 2019, Sally Jay would tweet a selfie of herself on the disabled ship. “Can’t believe where I ended up. LOL.” Followed by an interview with Anderson Cooper. (Or Cokie Roberts.)
As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, my husband Jonathan and I spent this past weekend in Erie. We attended Tall Ships Erie 2019 on Saturday. We slept on our sailboat at our Erie marina on Saturday night. We cruised past Tall Ships Erie 2019 on Sunday. Then we sailed on the open Lake Erie.
Jonathan plans to blog a detailed pros-and-cons recap of the festival on our other blog, so I won’t go into much detail about the festival here.
This was our third one-day trip to an Erie tall ships festival. We attended for one day each in 2013, 2016, and now in 2019.
I want to be clear that in my experience, this festival involved significant crowds and significant walking. We even encountered large crowds in the lines for the shuttle buses and the ice cream stand. In fact, the ice cream stand ran out of waffle cones and several flavors. I was so relieved that I could still get my chocolate cherry ice cream!
For each trip, we purchased the one-day passes that permit us to walk past the boats but not to board and tour the ships. These are the lowest-cost passes.
During all three festival years, we observed significant lines to tour most of the ships. For instance, this year the festival included Santa Maria, a claimed replica of Christopher Columbus’ ship. We heard someone at the festival say that a two-hour wait existed to tour that ship.
Here is the Santa Maria as it looked on Saturday:
We also observed significant wait times to tour Picton Castle. Here is Picton Castle‘s bow:
Here is Picton Castle‘s Stern:
On Sunday, I took several photos from the water as we cruised on our own sailboat to Lake Erie. I will post my water photos shortly.
You are all fantastic for reading my blog! I’ve had several readers reach out to me in the past month. I appreciate you all for taking precious time out of your full lives to digest my stories. I don’t want to let you down.
I will tell you a little bit more about our brief sailing adventures on Lake Erie. First, let me tell you about Misery Bay and Graveyard Pond.
The “Greater Erie, PA” region sits on the south shore of Lake Erie, and also on the south shore of Presque Isle Bay. Presque Isle Bay’s west and north boundaries exist due to a Peninsula that extends into Lake Erie.
To the west and the north of Presque Isle Bay is a peninsula that extends into Lake Erie. (On this peninsula now sits Presque Isle State Park. )
The Native Americans known as the “Eriez Nation” inhabited this area hundreds of years ago. The Iroquois defeated the Eriez in the 1600’s.
If you leave from Erie and head toward the open lake, then Erie (the city) will be on your starboard side and the peninsula will be on your port side.
You will travel past a monument to Commander Oliver Hazard Perry at Presque Isle State Park. Then, you will travel past Misery Bay.
Then, you will travel through a shipping channel. Finally, you will pass the North Pier Lighthouse. Congratulations. You are on the open lake.
Perry commanded the U.S.’s Lake Erie naval fleet in 1813. This was during the War of 1812, the United States’ second war against the British. This U.S. naval fleet was at Presque Isle Bay when Perry took command. Perry’s forces broke a British blockade at Presque Isle. Then they defeated the British off of the Ohio coast at the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813.
Perry then returned to Presque Isle Bay.
Do you remember when I wrote that the bay next to the Perry monument is called “Misery Bay?” Well, the bay earned its name from what happened after the Battle of Lake Erie. Many returning sailors contracted smallpox and died in quarantine. They died aboard ships harbored in Misery Bay. The ones who didn’t get sick buried these sailors in the pond next to Misery Bay. Then, sailors who got sick but hadn’t yet died also got “buried” in the pond.
Local storytellers renamed the pond “Graveyard Pond.”
The navy sunk the hulls of two of their ships, the USS Lawrence and the USS Niagara, in Misery Bay for preservation.
In 1875, preservationists raised the Lawrence. They shipped her to Philadelphia. Exhibitors displayed the Lawrence at the U.S. Centennial International Exhibition of 1876. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the Lawrence at that same exhibition.
Preservationists raised and rebuilt the USS Niagara in 1913, then rebuilt her again in 1988. Thereconstructed USS Niagara now sails regularly from her dock in Erie, past Misery Bay, on her way to the open lake.
My husband, Jonathan, and I purchased our sailboat, S/V Pinniped, last autumn from the original owners, P. and M. In fact, P. built the boat himself from a set of plans. P. told us to be careful to stay away from Misery Bay when we travelled through the channel. Misery Bay is shallow, compared to the shipping channel. P. admitted that he actually grounded Pinniped on various sandbars in Misery Bay.
So of course, when we returned to the bay from our first sail together on the open lake, we accidentally steered into Misery Bay.
Misery Bay at that particular spot has a datum depth of four feet. Pinniped drafts five a half feet.
Fortunately for us, Lake Erie is high this summer. So, the actual depth on that spot on that day was seven and a half feet. We lucked out!
A week later, we again sailed onto the open lake. We sailed past a docked freighter before we left the bay.
We sailed about one third of the way across Lake Erie.
And . . . we avoided steering into Misery Bay on the way back!
However, after several hours of sailing, the wind died and the flies appeared. Lots of flies. We motored for over an hour, covered in flies, to reach our slip at our marina. (For the record, we sprayed ourselves generously with bug spray. We still received fly bites.)
Despite Misery Bay and the flies, we both had positive experiences on both sailing trips. Stay tuned for more sailing adventures and more stories from history.
When I read about the American Civil War and the years leading up to it, I come across a lot of men named after “Stephen Decatur.” I know this, because the men all have “Stephen” for a first name, and “Decatur” for a middle name.
The American Civil War started in 1861. So, I guessed that these men were born in the first few decades of the 1800’s.
Stephen Decatur served as an officer in the United States Navy from 1798 – 1820. I’ll make this quick because anyone with an interest in naval history can just read all of this on Wikipedia. However, Decatur fought pirates along the Barbary Coast of North Africa. He witnessed his own brother, James’s, burial at sea after one of these battles. He earned a Medal of Honor. He died young as a national hero.
Here’s an example of how highly folks regarded Decatur: I listened to Episode 9: A Devil on the Roof from the Lore podcast by Aaron Mahnke. This episode told the myth of the Jersey Devil in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. According to the folklore, Decatur saw the Jersey Devil as he tested cannon balls in Burlington, New Jersey. The legend maintains that Decatur fired a cannon at the Jersey Devil but that the Jersey Devil flew away. This myth implies to me that if such a decorated hero as Decatur saw and reacted to the Jersey Devil, then us common folk should believe that the Jersey Devil actually existed.
I don’t know if Decatur actually saw the Jersey Devil and fired a cannon at it.
However, in 1818 Decatur did actually build his residence in Lafayette Square in Washington, a very short walk from the White House. Before this, Decatur married Susan Wheeler, a woman who had already rejected the romantic intentions of Aaron Burr and Jerome Bonaparte (Napoleon’s brother). Decatur and Susan entertained the elite of Washington society in their gorgeous Lafayette Square home. (In fact, you can still visit this “Historic Decatur House.”)
So, after all of the struggle and success, Stephen Decatur agreed to duel another naval officer, James Barron, in 1820. Decatur shot Barron. Barron shot Decatur. Decatur died at the age of 41. Barron survived for several more decades.
Wikipedia gives a lot of information about the duel, so I’ll make this short. The Decatur / Barron duel resulted after Decatur served on Barron’s court-martial for surrendering a ship, Chesapeake, to the British. Some Wikipedia sources imply that Decatur and Barron meant to call off the duel or else not actually shoot each other, but their “seconds” encouraged things to proceed as they did. Also, Decatur left for his duel without telling his wife about his plans. (Alexander Hamilton did the same thing to Eliza in the Hamilton musical before Hamilton dueled with Aaron Burr and died.)
You read correctly: so many duels happened before the Civil War that the Washington elite journeyed to a designated dueling grounds. In fact, I learned from Wikipedia that Francis Scott Key’s son, Daniel, died after a duel that started over a dispute about the speed of a boat.
Now, since I spend time in Erie along the shore of Lake Erie, I know that another naval officer, Oliver Hazard Perry, is the hero of the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. I just learned that in 1818, Perry fought in a duel and he chose Decatur as his own “second.” Nobody died or suffered gunshot wounds in that duel.
(If you go to Lafayette Square today, you will see a statue of Andrew Jackson sitting on a horse. Right now in 2019, Jackson’s mug decorates our American twenty dollar bills. However, back in 1878, Decatur’s face graced the twenty dollar bill. Here’s why I find this peculiar: Decatur fought a duel in which he died and his opponent was injured. Jackson fought a duel in which Jackson’s opponent died, but Jackson suffered an injury and lived. That’s right: Andrew Jackson shot and killed a man in a duel before he became POTUS.)
Dueling declined after the American Civil War. I learned on Wikipedia that the last Bladensburg duel occurred in the late 1860’s. I read in a book of Maryland folklore that a suburban housing development now sits on most of Bladensburg’s “dueling grounds.”
I thought tonight about what our society, our country would look like if people still challenged each other to duels. I read about so many posters on social media who tell the rest of us about how badly another social media user offended them. What if these angry people on Twitter or Facebook or wherever demanded “satisfaction” from each other by dueling? How would these people chose their “seconds?” Would they pick social media friends to be “seconds,” or would these duelers chose from their real life friends? Do any of these social media users (myself included) actually have any real life friends?
How would law enforcement handle dueling today? Would law enforcement arrest the duelers of color, but ignore the white duelers?
Finally, if somebody offended me on social media, would I challenge the offender to duel with me personally? Or should I expect my husband to defend my honor?
Ugh, so many questions!
Check back for future posts here about history and traveling.
My sisters and I liked to sing “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” along with a mixed cassette tape during road trips in our parents’ station wagon.
This ballad by Gordon Lightfoot recounts the real-life sinking on Lake Superior of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald during a storm on November 10, 1975.
As it turns out, my future father-in-law, Dennis Woytek, worked for a radio station in Northern Michigan during this storm. The Associated Press sent him to cover this story as first responders searched Whitefish Bay for the crew.
So of course, I will blog about my visits to Lake Superior before I wrap up my series on Michigan.
My first trip to Lake Superior started with a trip to the Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie and proceeded to Whitefish Point, on the tip of Whitefish Bay. (The Fitzgerald sank less than 20 miles from the bay.)
During our drive, we listened to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” on the radio. And then, I kid you not, the radio station broke into the song to issue a severe thunderstorm watch.
Whitefish Point includes the Whitefish Point Lighthouse, a museum, and also a memorial to the Fitzgerald crew.
Here’s the tip of Whitefish Point:
On my first trip to Whitefish Point, the storm clouds held off long enough for me to see all of these. I dipped my feet in the bone-chilling water. (It was August.) The flies bit my ankles.
Point Iroquois Lighthouse
We drove southeast back to Sault Ste. Marie, and on the way we stopped at the Point Iroquois Lighthouse.
I climbed the lighthouse steps and watched a freighter pass.
Then the thunderstorm hit.
July 2016: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Now, if you hop about one hundred miles southwest of Whitefish Point, you will reach Munising, Michigan. Munising also sits on Lake Superior. Folks visit Munising in order to tour Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
See, sandstone cliffs line this portion of Lake Superior. Mineral deposits (such as iron, copper, and manganese) coat the cliffs. These cliffs reflect splendid colors when the sun hits them.
In late July 2016, Jonathan and I trekked with his parents Denny and Fran to Munising. We actually drove along the northeastern shore of Lake Michigan for part of our trip.
Now, hiking trails do exist along the shore of Pictured Rocks. However, our research suggested that we needed to be on the water or in the air for the best views.
Outfitters rent sea kayaks in Munising. In fact, we saw many sea kayaks during our Pictured Rocks trip. Our group of four didn’t feel confident to paddle on the deep water of Lake Superior. In fact, during the same week that we visited, the Coast Guard had to assist in the rescue of several kayakers along this lakeshore.
A tour company with clear-bottomed boats advertises cruises that show off the local shipwrecks. However, for roughly the same cost as four tickets for this two-hour trip, we rented a pontoon boat for five hours.
Jonathan piloted our rental boat.
We visited the famed shipwrecks that the clear-bottomed boats touted. We also passed these two landmarks:
1.) The rock formation known as Miner’s Castle:
2.) And the East Channel Lighthouse:
Note the following:
1.) I took all of my photos with a telephoto lens. Therefore, in my photos Miner’s Castle looks much closer than we physically were in relation to it. Since the water was choppy, we didn’t want to get too close to the shore.
2.) The boat concessionaire that we chose pleased us with their customer service. However, we turned around halfway through the trip that the concessionaire recommended for a five-hour rental. Why, you ask? Well, we found the lake very choppy. (Otherwise, the weather was gorgeous. Not a cloud in the sky. A comfortable breeze. We took our boat trip during a Midwestern heat wave. The bank sign in Munising listed the temperature as 90 degrees.)
Multiple boats from Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tours passed us. We opted not to purchase tickets from their tour company since we preferred to rent our own boat. However, here is their website. It provides information about the local shipwrecks.
Last month, I promised to blog about these tall ships:
1.) The U.S. Brig Niagara
The U.S. Brig Niagara “resides” in Pennsylvania: The Niagara’s home port is Erie, PA.
However, one morning in July 2016 I watched the Niagara cruise past the house that my family rented in St. Ignace, Michigan. The ship docked in the bay, surrounded by St. Ignace.
My husband and I walked to the dock for “Niagara at Lake Huron” photos.
We already had in our possession “Niagara at Lake Erie” photos.
You see, in fall 2015 we sat at the North Pier at Presque Isle State Park (in Erie, PA) to watch boats. The Niagara sailed off of Lake Erie toward its home dock. It sailed past us. Under FULL sail. See my below photo from Erie:
2.) The S/V Peacemaker
See here for Jonathan’s story about his experience on the Peacemaker. My husband might have sailed away as a community’s ship crew that afternoon!
3.) Le Griffon, A Ghost Story
This history of New Kensington, Pennsylvania notes that the explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle boated down the Allegheny River. He traveled past the future site of Parnassus. Presumably toward the river confluence that we now call “Pittsburgh.”
La Salle journeyed on several boats in his travels. In the 1679, La Salle took off from his ship Le Griffon on Lake Michigan’s Green Bay.
After La Salle left Le Griffon, his crew mutinied. The ship disappeared on Lake Michigan.
To my knowledge, the ship’s whereabouts remain a mystery.
Folklore claims that Le Griffon still sails as a ghost ship.
La Salle himself perished in a mutiny and ambush in Texas in 1687.
Here are three places where we go for up-close freighter watching. I took all of these freighter photos at the three places that I list here:
1.) Sault Ste. Marie
The St. Marys River is the ONLY waterway that connects Lake Superior with the rest of the Great Lakes.
Shortly after boats leave Lake Superior, they will come upon the rapids on the St. Marys River. In order to bypass the rapids, they enter the Sault Ste. Marie Canal and then the “Soo” locks. They exit the locks and proceed down the St. Mary’s River to Lake Huron.
We watch freighters both at the “Soo” locks and also a few miles away at Rotary Island Park, both in Sault Ste. Marie.
Admission to both are free.
Both places have public restrooms. The restrooms at the Soo locks are in the visitor’s center. The restrooms at Rotary Island Park are “primitive,” or, as we always said as kids, “outhouses.”
The United States Army Corps of Engineers operate the Soo locks. Be aware of the Corps of Engineers’ regulations . The viewing platforms and visitors center (and public restrooms) are open to the public during specific hours. You may also be subject to a bag / security check before you can enter the premises. I have linked the Corps of Engineer’s website above so that you can use it to plan your trip.
Volunteers host a few boatwatcher’s hotline phone numbers / websites that you can consult before your trip to watch freighters. This way, you can check on upcoming boat traffic. One website that we use is www.boatnerd.com.
In 2010, we took my parents and two of my sisters to the locks, and only one freighter came through the day of our visit. We actually missed seeing it go through the locks, but were able to watch it travel the St. Marys River, at Rotary Park.
Speaking of Rotary Park: This is another of our favorite boat-watching sites. We often stop for to-go hamburgers at Clyde’s Restaurant, next to the park. You can actually see the freighters, and also the Sugar Island ferry, from Clyde’s. Clyde’s accepts cash only.
2.) Public Marina Near DeTour Village
DeTour Village sits on the DeTour Passage of the St. Marys River. The marina includes public restrooms and a picnic area.
You can also take a short trip down the highway and walk through the DeTour Botanical Gardens. You can view some DeTour Passage shipwreck remains there.
There are no admission fees to view freighters at the marina or to tour the gardens.
3.) Mackinac Island / Straits of Mackinac Round Island Passage
This passage between Mackinac Island and Round Island sees heavy freighter traffic. You can stand next to the water at Mackinac Island and see freighters up close. In fact, I took the above photo of a freighter passing the Round Island Lighthouse as I stood on Windermere Point on Mackinac Island.
I took this photo on the island’s main (carless) highway, between the rock formation known as “Devil’s Kitchen” and the island’s public school.
I also saw a freighter close up from the side of the road, next to the lawn at Mission Point Resort.