By CELESTE BOTT
Capital News Service
LANSING – If you’re unfamiliar with the worst storm in Great Lakes recorded history, there will be plenty of opportunities to learn about it this year.
November marks the 100th anniversary of the Great Lakes Storm of 1913, the “white hurricane” – named for its hurricane-force winds in a blizzard– that destroyed 19 ships and killed more than 250 people.
It was the worst maritime disaster to hit the Great Lakes, according to Paul Carroll, author of “The Wexford: Elusive Shipwreck of the Great Storm, 1913” – a history book about a steamer sunk by the storm and eventually found in 2000. Carroll is a member of a committee recognizing the centennial in Ontario.
A number of the ships caught in the storm foundered in Michigan. The Henry B. Smith sank in Lake Superior near Marquette, but the wreck has never been located, for example.
Other ships that sank in Michigan include the Argus near Point aux Barques in Port Hope, the Charles S. Price in Port Huron and the Regina in Harbor Beach.
The Pointe aux Barques lighthouse and lifesaving station were well positioned to witness what occurred on Lake Huron, the lake worst hit by the storm, according to Glen Willis, a member of the Point aux Barques Lighthouse Society.
The Pointe aux Barques lifesaving crew managed to launch a 32-foot power lifeboat and approach the Matoa, Willis said. The Matoa crew refused to be rescued, asking only that a tugboat be dispatched to their aid. Their ship was eventually destroyed, but the crew survived.
Plans are underway in Great Lakes communities in Michigan and elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada for centennial tributes, including museum exhibits, storm simulators and even a musical.
The Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills now features the storm in its Extreme Deep: Mission to the Abyss exhibit, an interactive series of displays dedicated to deep-sea exploration, shipwrecks and aquatic research.
Cranbrook and the Port Huron Museum are working together to create 1913 storm exhibits.
The Port Huron museum has provided artifacts to Cranbrook, including a lantern and a porthole recovered from one of the lost ships. Cranbrook plans to loan the graphics created for its exhibit to Port Huron’s “Storm of 1913: Remembered” memorial this fall.
Susan Bennett, director of the Port Huron Museum, said she hopes the tribute provides visitors with insight to what happened in the Great Lakes basin before, during and after the storm.
“Port Huron was essentially ground zero during the storm, so it is definitely important to us on a local level,” Bennett said.
The storm claimed 178 lives on Lake Huron alone. The steamer Charles S. Price was found floating upside down off Port Huron – one of eight ships lost on Lake Huron alone – giving the city and its museum a special connection to the tragedy.
“We are also very fortunate to have access to marine artifacts, old newspapers, photography and maps, not to mention all sorts of local talent,” Bennett said. “We have college professors and historians helping us put it together.”
Tentative plans include a series of concerts, lectures and a “Lost Legends of the Lake” dinner and memorial service on the weekend of Sept. 6-8, Bennett said.
Members of the remembrance team also plan to bring back the Chautauqua, a traveling festival with an educational focus that was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Like the traditional Chautauqua, the museum’s revival will feature art, music, politics and famous speakers, Bennett said, but won’t travel beyond Port Huron.
“And of course it all falls under a Great Lakes storm theme. Can you tell I’m a little bit excited?” she asked.
Bennett isn’t alone in her enthusiasm over the storm’s history, and especially the chance to educate others about it.
In Ontario, volunteers, along with the Port of Goderich and Lake Huron shore communities, are honoring the lost lives and ships over an extended period in 2013.
The group is working with other Great Lakes communities, particularly with the Port Huron Museum, to develop and coordinate events, said David MacAdam, chair of the Ontario-based committee.
“We are doing our best to ensure there is harmony between the U.S. and Canadian efforts,” he said.
Museums and art galleries in lakeshore communities will present special exhibitions, and the Goderich Little Theatre will mount the musical drama “November 9, 1913: The Great Storm.”
If you find your interest sparked, there are a number of ways to find out more.
If you can’t make it to the Cranbrook or Port Huron museums, you can check out the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Paradise, the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven or the Grand Rapids Public Museum.
The Grand Rapids museum is featuring a popular “Great Lakes Shipwrecks: Storms and Stories” exhibit that will be available until November 2013, after the anniversary of the storm.
The Pointe aux Barques historic lighthouse is another tourist destination with ties to the storm.
If you crave an adventure and don’t mind waiting for the warmer months of summer, check out the Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve, which stretches along Lake Huron’s long western shore from near Lexington in the south to just north of Forestville.
In the preserve, divers have the opportunity to explore the Regina and the Charles S. Price storm shipwrecks.
By CELESTE BOTT