Sunday, December 23, 2007

Michigan's Gales of Winter

The waters of Lake Michigan are not a place to be when the lake and winds whip up into a storm. The Great Lakes can develop some really nasty blows. Consider the legends and the mysteries surrounding many of the ships that have sunk during such storms. Many know about the, "Gales of November…" and the Edmund Fitzgerald, or possibly the ship that became synonymous with the Christmas season, the Rouse Simmons or Christmas Ship which made a yearly trek to bring Christmas trees to both the wealthy and the poor alike to the city of Chicago. That is until the great storm of 1912 when it sank.

History is filled with these stories all along the Eastern shore of Lake Michigan as well, but none so well known in our area as the sinking of the passenger ship the Alpena which disappeared in the waves of the huge storm of October 15th of 1880. The ship's normal route was between the port of Grand Haven and Chicago, and the only warning on that day of a coming storm was a rapidly falling barometer just prior to the ship's departure.

After the massive storm much of the ship's debris including a part of a piano and the ship's stern were found on the beach between what is now Lakewood Boulevard and Riley Street. Because of the 68 estimated lives lost and the size of the ship (She was a 175 foot steamer.) the storm has sometimes been referred to as the Alpena storm, as was the beach where much of the debris washed ashore. The bulk of the ship has never been found, and it has become one of the many mysteries in our maritime history.

But this is not the only sinking that is well known in local waters. The Chicora, a 219 foot steam powered ship that was lost in another squall on January 21, 1895 also has never been found and no clues were discovered as to why it sank in that storm.
If you're interested in learning more about the nautical history of the Holland area a great place to begin might be the Holland Museum since it boasts an exhibit of locally known shipwrecks that includes some artifacts from the ship the Alpena. Another great source to find records and stories on lost ships is at the Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates site online found at

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