Category Archives: history

Low Tide

Flashback Film Friday:

SS Toledo stranded in Turnagain Arm, Alaska

Turnagain Arm, near Anchorage, has some of the largest tidal differentials in the world. The tidal bore can be quite the sight to see, especially if the belugas are surfing their way in with the tide.

The photo was taken on 2 May 1906, when the SS Toledo was left high and dry by a low tide in Turnagain Arm. The steamer was probably coming back from the gold camps at the southern end of the arm, when it was caught by the escaping tide.

Fascinating photograph, which comes from the Alaska State Library collection.



STR White Horse

Flashback Film Friday:

STR White Horse in Five Fingers Rapids, YT, circa 1904; Photo by Hamacher & Doody

The sternwheeler White Horse was built in 1901, and ran the Yukon River for 54 years. She had a length of 167 feet, a beam of 34.5 feet, and a gross tonnage of 986.65 tons. She accommodated 64 people.

The White Horse had an interesting history. Declared a “plague ship” in 1902, due to a 2nd Class passenger being suspected of having small pox. The sternwheeler was quarantined for 16 days, and the disease did not appear, so she returned to service.

In 1935, the White Horse was sent to rescue the passengers of the STR Yukon, which had been severely damaged by ice on the infamous Lake Labarge. Aircraft from the British Yukon Navigation Company, guided the White Horse through the ice to the beached Yukon.

In 1916, the White Horse took her first venture into the pure tourist trade, by making one of many Midnight Sun runs to Fort Yukon. The trips were a huge hit at the time.

The STR’s Casca & White Horse

The once proud White Horse came to a fiery end. She was passed up for restoration in 1955 in favor of the STR Klondike, which can still be seen in Whitehorse, YT. She was sold in 1960 along with the STR Casca and two other ships to the Canadian Government, but no restoration was attempted, other than to put them behind a chain link fence.

On 20 June 1974, both the White Horse & Casca caught fire in dry dock, and burned down to the gravel bed. No cause of the fire has ever been officially stated.

The sternwheeler White Horse

Sources: Alaska State Library, University of Alaska, CBC.CA


SS Arthur M. Anderson

The Arthur M. Anderson

The freighter, Arthur M. Anderson, had been trailing the Edmund Fitzgerald during the fateful, November storm, that sank the Big Fitz in 1975. The Anderson reported the missing ship to the U.S. Coast Guard, and had made the safety of Whitefish Bay in the early morning hours of November 11, 1975. The Anderson then joined other ships, and reversed coarse back into the storm, to look for survivors.

After making the post on the Edmund Fitzgerald last week, I received a tip from Ogdensburg, New York along the Saint Lawrence Seaway, that the Anderson was back on Lake Superior on the 45th Anniversary of the sinking of the Fitz. In fact, it had passed the location of the wreck of the Fitzgerald early on the tenth, and came into the Duluth Harbor that evening.

Arthur M. Anderson coming through Duluth Harbor 10 November 2020; Photo credit: Duluth Harbor Cam

I was simply amazed that the Anderson was crossing the same waters on the 45th Anniversary.

The Arthur Anderson travels comes into Duluth under the iconic lift bridge, gives salute to the Edmund Fitzgerald

The above video is 9 minutes long, the Anderson appears at the 3:50 mark. The Master Salute to the Fitzgerald would have been something to experience in person along the canal.


SS Edmund Fitzgerald

The great freighter sank 45 years ago today, taking all 29 crew members to the bottom of Lake Superior with her.

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald

Growing up in Minnesota, and spending a fair amount of time along the shores of Lake Superior, the story of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is one that I had heard from early childhood.

Construction on The Fitz started in August of 1957. The Great Lakes Engineering Works was tasked with building a freighter that would come within one foot of the Saint Lawrence Seaway’s maximum length. The customer was the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The ship was launched in June 1958, bearing the name of the president of Northwestern Mutual Life. The cost for the 729′ long freighter with a 26,000 long ton capacity, was $7 million.

For 17 years, The Fitz hauled iron ore from Duluth and Superior to cities like Detroit and Toledo. It took five days to make the run between Toledo, Ohio and Superior, Wisconsin.

The Fitzgerald set several cargo records during its time on the Great Lakes, often breaking her own previous record. In 1969, the ship hauled 27,402 long tons in a single run.

The Fitz quickly became popular with the public. Captain Peter Pulcer would play music over the ship’s intercom, whenever they went through the St Clair and Detroit Rivers. Near the Soo Locks, Pulcer would often talk to the public over a bullhorn, explaining details of the ship.

The Fitzgerald’s final run

A storm was building over Oklahoma’s panhandle on 9 November 1975. Weather forecasters predicted that it would stay south of Lake Superior. At 2:15pm, on the same day, the Edmund Fitzgerald left the port of Superior, WI.

The storm moved fast, and by 1am on the morning of the 10th, The Fitz was reporting waves at ten feet. By 2am, the National Weather Service had upgraded its warnings from gale to storm.

The SS Arthur M. Anderson, which had been traveling with The Fitz, started to fall behind the faster Fitzgerald at 3am. The Anderson recorded winds of 58mph at 1:50pm. It started to snow heavy at 2:45pm, and the crew of the Anderson lost sight of the Fitzgerald at that time. The Fitz was approximately 16 miles ahead at this point.

At 3:30pm, Captain McSorley of the Fitzgerald, radioed the Anderson that they were taking on water and had lost two vent covers. The United States Coast Guard had closed the Soo Locks, and told ships to seek safe anchorage.

By late afternoon, waves had increased to 25 feet and wind gusts hit 67mph. The Anderson recorded gusts of 86mph and waves of 35 feet. The Edmund Fitzgerald tried to make Whitefish Bay, where the Whitefish Point light was working, but not the radio beacon. By now the Fitzgerald was blind, having lost both its radar.

At 7:10pm, Captain McSorley radioed the Anderson, that they were “holding their own”. The Edmund Fitzgerald sank within minutes of that final message. There was no distress signal.

The Edmund Fitzgerald on the bottom of Lake Superior

The fully loaded Edmund Fitzgerald went down 15 nautical miles from Whitefish Bay. All 29 crew members perished; no bodies were recovered. The Fitz now lies 530 feet below the surface of Lake Superior.

A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3 Orion, equipped with technology usually associated with finding submarines, found the wreck on 14 November 1975. The ship was in two pieces on the lake floor.

Positioning of the Fitzgerald wreck

Every year on November 10, the Minnesota Historical Society hosts the Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial Beacon Lighting Ceremony at the Split Rock Lighthouse in Two Harbors, MN. This year’s ceremony will be virtual, hosted on the Historical Society’s facebook page. The ceremony starts at 4:30 CST, with the beacon lighting at approximately 7:30pm.

https://www.mnhs.org/event/7795?fbclid=IwAR1uhHGt09pDrvk7IyAuJ7SZ7hsizkzvaye4Rlcr3sRujpi_6A7dBsSP4i0

The Split Rock Lighthouse; Photo credit: Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Edmund Fitzgerald Photos Credit: Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Sources: Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum; Split Rock Lighthouse State Park; Minnesota Historical Society


On the Sioux Trail: Battle of Acton

U.S. – Dakota War of 1862, Part XII:

Company B of the Ninth Minnesota, under the command of Captain Richard Strout, left Minneapolis on 26 August 1862. Their mission was to head to Glencoe, Minn to “protect settlers from Dakota attacks”. Of the 75 men in Company B, one third were new recruits, and the rest were “citizen soldiers” out of Minneapolis. They were not hardened veterans.

War had been ignited just nine days before, when five settlers were killed by four young Dakota warriors. Tensions had been brewing for decades, and the killing in Acton Township blew up a powder keg. Captain Strout and Company B headed out into this maelstrom.

While I was out looking for Ness Church with a C-to-C sponsor earlier this summer, we stopped by the marker near where Company B met the Dakotas.

The Company found Glencoe uninhabited, so they returned to Forest City. On 1 September, they spent the night in Acton Township, camping next to the Robinson Farm, where the war began. The Forest City Home Guard, while on patrol, encountered 150 Dakota warriors. Three scouts were sent out to warn Captain Strout of the threat.

The scouts found Company B, and told Strout of the Dakota party. Sentries were placed about the camp, and the men prepared for what seemed like an inevitable fight. At this point, the Company realized that a huge blunder had been made at Fort Snelling. Most of the ammunition they brought was .62 caliber, yet they all had .59 caliber muskets. The men set out with 20 rounds of the proper ammunition each.

Company B, led by the three (now exhausted scouts), made a run for Forest City. Within two miles of their start, the Company met up with a party of Dakotas, and shots were fired. Two soldiers were killed, and many more were wounded. It became apparent almost immediately, that the Dakota had Company B surrounded. Accounts have Dakota numbers at anywhere from 150 to 300. Strout divided his men into four equal groups, and faced them in four directions. Their wagons were placed in the middle. A.H. Rose, a citizen soldier, later stated, “I had never fired a gun before the battle, but they showed me how to load, and I pointed my gun at the Indians, shut my eyes and pulled the trigger.”

Strout ordered his front group to fix bayonets, and charge the Dakota warriors. The rest of the Company followed. Strout knew that they would never make Forest City, so they tried to get to Hutchinson. It was now a running battle.

As the wagons rolled, the men would fire, run, stop, reload, and repeat. Wounded men were placed into the wagons, and supplies were thrown out. The men of Company B were shocked to see the Dakota warriors stop and pick up the discarded supplies. The battle went on for eight miles, over a period of two hours. The Dakota pressed the Company, but made no real attempt to overtake it. Eventually, the Dakota stopped pursuing the Company, and Strout and his men made it to Hutchinson. The Company B losses were 3 dead, and 18-24 wounded. Dakota losses are unknown.

The next day, the Dakotas attacked the town of Hutchinson, but the small stockade provided adequate security for those who sought it. A few settlers who did not seek the safety of the stockade, were killed. The town was plundered and several buildings were burned.

The men of Company B stayed that winter in Hutchinson. Three more died during that time of wounds sustained in the Battle of Acton. The remaining soldiers were mustered into the regular army and sent to fight the Civil War in the fall of 1863.

Hutchinson Stockade Marker

Killed during the Battle of Acton: Alvah Getchell, George Gideon, Edwin Stone.

Died from wounds sustained in battle: Frank Beadle, Abner Bennett, N.E. Weeks.


On the Sioux Trail: Ness Church

U.S. – Dakota War of 1862; Part XI

Ness Church, Litchfield, Minnesota; in 2020

On August 17, 1862, four young Dakota warriors killed five settlers near Acton, Minnesota. The killings would ignite the war between the Dakotas’ and the United States military, but tensions had been brewing long before that August day in 1862. The bodies of those five settlers would be brought, to what is now Litchfield, and buried at Ness Church.

I visited the church and the surrounding cemetery with one of C-to-C’s sponsors, when I was back in Minnesota this past spring.

Ness Monument to the fallen settlers

In the back corner of the cemetery, close to the rows of corn, stands a monument. Buried underneath, in one grave, are the first five victims of the U.S. -Dakota War: Robinson Jones, Viranus Webster, Howard Baker, Ann (Baker) Jones, and Clara Wilson.

The Ness Monument was erected on 13 September 1878, by the State of Minnesota. It is the third oldest monument in the state.

The original Ness Church, circa 1858

In 1970, the church & cemetery were listed officially, as a Minnesota Historical Site.

The church was founded by Ole Halverson Ness and his wife Margit, who arrived in the area in 1856. Ole Ness was a member of the Acton burial party.

Also buried in the cemetery is Andreas Olson, another victim of the U.S. -Dakota War. Olson was killed on 22 September 1862.

Historic Ness Church

The current church was built by settlers in 1874, a dozen years after the start of the U.S. – Dakota War. The church is said to be haunted by both Sioux Indians and the five settlers, in particular the young girl, Annie. The church historical society denies any haunting, although that has not stopped self-proclaimed ghost hunters from breaking into the church.

I witnessed no paranormal activity when I was there, but I did find the cemetery to be a very solemn place.

Camera for B&W photos: Kodak 66; Film: Kodak 120, Tri-X400



Klondike or Bust

IMG_1918.jpeg

SS Excelsior – 28 July 1897

 


Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument