I stood on the observation deck perched along the dunes near the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. The Whitefish Point Light Station stood solemnly behind me. A hundred yards out Lake Superior hurled itself up onto the log and tree littered beach. A light rain spit, a bitter wind bit, and sand whipped around my feet. It was easy to see why this stretch of Lake Superior is called the “Shipwreck Coast”.
I’m sure on a mild, warm day the vista has a peaceful, calming affect, but looks can be deceiving as Superior has the reputation of being the most treacherous of all the Great Lakes. Gordon Lightfoot singing “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” played over and over in my head. A chill ran down my spine as I looked out over the menacing waves where seventeen miles out, on that dreadful night in November 1975, the Fitzgerald went down, and the entire crew, twenty nine souls, thirteen of them from my home state of Ohio, lost their lives.
“Whitefish Point marks a critical turning point for the shipping channels,” says Tom Farnquist, Executive Director of the Shipwreck Museum. “Two thirds of all shipwrecks on Superior have happened within eighty miles of Whitefish Point,” he explains. A chilling reminder of the fury these waters hold.
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society recovered the Fitzgerald’s 200 lb. bronze bell on July 4th, 1995. Through a joint expedition conducted with the National Geographic Society, Canadian Navy, Sony Corporation, and Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians the bell was recovered and is now on display in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum as a memorial to her lost crew.
The museum located in Paradise, in Michigan’s beautiful eastern Upper Peninsula, is considered one of the best small museums in America. Last year over 60,000 visitors toured the museum complex, which is made up of:
Museum Gallery - Filled with artifacts and exhibits. The recovered bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald is displayed here.
Lightkeepers Quarters – This Lightkeepers quarters has been fully restored back to when it was in use from 1890-1920. The Whitefish Point Light Station, constructed in 1861 at the order of President Lincoln, is the oldest active light on Lake Superior.
Shipwreck Theater – A fifteen minute film, “SHIPWRECK: The Mystery of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” chronicles the history of the Fitzgerald from its launch in 1958 to its sinking on November 10, 1975. The film also shows footage of the recovery of the Fitzgerald’s bell on July 4, 1995.
Shipwreck Coast Museum Store – The store is full of nautical gifts, prints, art, books, videos, clothing and unique Michigan-made items.
Boardwalk – The boardwalk allows visitors to walk to the edge of Lake Superior and along the beachfront.
Whitefish Point USCG Lifeboat Station – Established in 1923, this Coast Guard Lifeboat Station has exhibits and an excellent display of the actual surfboats the surfmen launched to rescue shipwreck victims. When you visit here make sure you talk to Bill Maki one of the docents. Bill was a relief helmsman onboard the Arthur M. Anderson, eleven miles behind the Edmund Fitzgerald, the night it went down. Bill can tell you about all the events that took place that harrowing night.
Overnight Lodging - You can even spend a night in the restored 1923 US Coast Guard Lifeboat Station Crew Quarters. The Overnight Program is available between April 1st. and November 14th. There are five themed rooms to choose from each with a queen size bed, private bath and a TV/VCR. Rooms are $150.00 a night for two. Your night’s stay includes admission to the museum and a one-year membership to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society. Reservations are required and some restrictions apply so inquire about Guest Policies. You can make reservations online or call toll-free 1-888-492-3747.
The museum is located about 73 miles from Sault Ste. Marie and is open May 1st – October 31. Cost is $12.00 for adults, $8.00 for children (6-17). For a fascinating look into the maritime history and the dangers of the Great Lakes I highly recommend a visit to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. For more information visit: www.shipwreckmuseum.com or call: 1-888-492-3747.
Across the parking lot from the museum is the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory (WPBO). Whitefish Point is not only noteworthy in regards to shipping but also as a concentration point for migrating birds. “Tens of thousands of birds are funneled to the Point every Spring and Fall while migrating through the Great Lakes region,” says Chris Neri, one of the field biologists at the observatory. For over 30 years, Whitefish Point Bird Observatory has been monitoring and documenting these annual migrations. Over 330 species of birds have been seen at the Point.
The observatory has birding information about the many species of migratory birds that pass through the area and they lead birding field trips throughout Michigan. The WPBO also hosts an annual Spring Fling event. The 2010 dates are April 23-25 and the event includes world-class birdwatching, guided field trips, classroom seminars, a banquet, and more. The 2010 Spring Fling will kick off WPBO’s 31st year of field research and observation.
For more info visit: www.wpbo.org