Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
“The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they called “Gitche Gumee.”
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
when the skies of November turn gloomy.
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty,
that good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
when the “Gales of November” came early.”

– Gordon Lightfoot, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, 1976

Photo by Anthony Rodgers.
Photo by Anthony Rodgers.

The wreck of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald during the night of November 10, 1975, just off Whitefish Point, is probably Lake Superior’s best known and most mysterious shipwreck. However, as a trip to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at the Point reveals, it is one of over 240 wrecks between 1816 and 1975 at Whitefish Point alone, and of tens of thousands throughout the Great Lakes. One storm, in November 1913, claimed over 20 ships in just four days.

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum provides a fascinating chronology of the more significant wrecks in a fascinating, absorbing, and respectful setting. It is located at the tip of Whitefish Point on M-123 north from Paradise, Michigan.

Photo from www.shipwreckmuseum.com
Photo from www.shipwreckmuseum.com

Start your visit with a viewing of the 20-minute Discovery Channel film “Mystery of The Edmund Fitzgerald,” which perfectly prepares you to view the rest of the museum mindful of the men and their families whose tragic losses are depicted in the stunning exhibits of the main Shipwreck Museum Building. Here, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald’s ship’s bell is displayed, along with models of it and other major ships lost in the Great Lakes. Artifacts from each wreck are displayed alongside news stories and personal accounts from the people involved; towering over the entire display is a massive second-order Fresnel lens from the White Shoal lighthouse.

Photo from www.shipwreckmuseum.com
Photo from www.shipwreckmuseum.com

Elsewhere on the museum’s large grounds is the 1861 Lightkeeper’s Quarters, which shows what life was like for the keepers of the Whitefish Point Light during its 150-year history. This light is still an active United States Coast Guard light, and is the oldest continually operating light on Lake Superior. Access to the modern-day light itself is not allowed due to the high voltages used to power it, but you can peek up the wrought-iron spiral staircase that keepers have used for almost 150 years to tend the light.

The history of surfboat rescues on the Lakes and of the United States Lifesaving Service is depicted in the 1923 Surfboat House, and there is an excellent gift store, which provides much-needed funds to maintain and improve the museum exhibits. You can round off your visit by stretching your legs on the sandy beach, gazing over the waters that are the commercial heart of the Great Lakes region but which have claimed so many lives.

The Museum is open from May 1 to October 31 annually, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. Admission is $13 for adults and $9 for children. Many family rates and discounts are available, and there are plenty of group and educational programs available, including an overnight experience program for smaller groups.

“Does any one know where the love of God goes
when the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
if they’d put fifteen more miles behind ‘er.
They might have split up or they might have capsized;
they may have broke deep and took water.
And all that remains is the faces and the names
of the wives and the sons and the daughters.”

– Gordon Lightfoot, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, 1976

 

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I was born in Dublin, Ireland, and lived there for 30 years before making my home in Vancouver, BC in 1998. I narrowly escaped careers as an engineer and an accountant and ended up following my interest in computers into the IT industry, where I have worked as an administrator, consultant and analyst for almost 20 years.