Saturday, March 04, 2006

 

Chart course for museum on shipwrecks in Great Lakes

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Akron Beakon Journal
By Bob Downing
February 26, 2006


Dunes, lighthouse add to allure of Michigan site
PARADISE, Mich. - The Edmund Fitzgerald is not the only ship to wreck on Lake Superior.
But the giant ore freighter is the only one to get a haunting musical elegy from folk singer Gordon Lightfoot.

The Edmund Fitzgerald -- it sank on Nov. 10, 1975 -- lies in 535 feet of chilly water at the bottom of Lake Superior 17 miles from Whitefish Point.

The wreck is a central feature at the privately run Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, which is 11 miles north of Paradise at Whitefish Point.

The museum and the old lighthouse sit on sprawling sand dunes overlooking Lake Superior on Michigan's Upper Peninsula (home to the Yoopers, as the locals are called).

The museum -- it's been called one of the best small museums in the United States -- features sunken ships, lighthouses and Michigan maritime history.

That includes a 200-pound bronze bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald that was raised in 1995 by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, the families of the ship's crew, the Canadian Navy and the National Geographic Society.

There is a 15-minute video on recovering the bell from the 729-foot Edmund Fitzgerald, which had 29 crew members and was hauling 26,000 tons of iron pellets.

You can also see the lens from the White Shoals light and artifacts from a dozen wrecks along the Shipwreck Coast.

Half of Lake Superior's 550 known shipwrecks occurred along Shipwreck Coast, which runs from Whitefish Point west for 80 miles. Whitefish Point has the nickname ``Graveyard of Ships.'' The Invincible was the first ship to sink, in 1816.

In all, an estimated 6,000 Great Lakes ships have sunk with a loss of 30,000 lives.

The museum -- it opened in 1986 -- is owned and operated by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society.

It has funded and participated in three expeditions to the Edmund Fitzgerald: in 1989, 1994 and 1995. Earlier this year, the province of Ontario banned all recreational dives to the Fitzgerald. Violators face a $1 million fine.

The museum is housed in a small building next to the Whitefish Point Light Station, the oldest active light on Lake Superior and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The 80-foot-tall lighthouse was built in 1849 and rebuilt in 1861. It was one of the first lights on Lake Superior. It was automated in 1970.

The keepers' quarters has been restored to the 1890-1920 period and is open for tours.

Also, there is a restored Coast Guard lifeboat station. The Whitefish Point facility was established in 1923 and relied on trained surfsmen to row out and provide assistance to those in trouble.

If you are so inclined, you can even overnight in the two-story, red-roofed crews quarters from the lifeboat station.

There are five rooms and the rate is $150 a night (a portion of the bill is tax deductible). Call 888-492-3747.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from May 1 through Oct. 31.

Admission is $8.50 for adults and $5.50 for children or $23 for a family (two adults and two children under 18).

For more information, write to Shipwreck Museum, 18335 N. Whitefish Point Road, Paradise, MI 49768, 888-492-3747. The Internet site is www.ShipwreckMuseum.com.

Offshore lies the 376-square-mile Whitefish Point Preserve, an underwater diving area with 18 shipwrecks.

The Edmund Fitzgerald lies just outside the preserve in Canadian waters.

Many of the wrecks are in water 100 feet or less and can be reached by divers wearing dry suits because of the ultra-cold waters of Lake Superior.

The cold has kept the wrecks intact and the lake's visibility is very good for diving.

The number of wrecks off Whitefish Point is tied to Lake Superior storms, reduced visibility from fog, snow squalls and forest fires and heavy ship traffic funneled into a narrow area heading to and from Sault Ste. Marie and its canal locks leading to Lake Huron.

For diving information, contact the Michigan Underwater Preserve Council Inc., 560 N. State St., St. Ignace, MI 49781, 906-643-8717; or contact the Paradise Area Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 82, Paradise, MI 49768, 906-492-3219. The Internet site is www.paradisemichigan.org.


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