2009-06-20 / Top News

Straits Shipwrecks Are Focus of New Film at Lighthouse

By Karen Gould

This is one of several maps used in the Mackinac State Historic Parks (MSHP) video on Straits shipwrecks. The dots indicate some of the area's shipwrecks. (Map courtesy of MSHP)
From the top of the tower at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse in Mackinaw City, residents and tourists have a sweeping view of the Straits and soon will can get a glimpse of the underwater world of the passage that separates Michigan's two peninsulas.

Mackinac State Historic Parks is producing the video that will focus on maritime disasters over the past 100 years. The film includes historic photographs and underwater footage and can be viewed at the lighthouse by the end of June.

Shipwrecks are a common interest among visitors to the lighthouse, and many wonder why the lighthouse was built on the site, said Steve Brisson, chief curator at Mackinac State Historic Parks and the author of the film.

"It's a narrow passage," he said, "and ridden with islands and reefs and shoals. It could be a treacherous journey through here in fog and storms."

Some 78 wrecks have been documented in the region.

The video will tell the story of the Straits as a water highway that served explorers, travelers, and commerce from birch bark canoes through today's 1,000-foot ore carriers. Included are references to the lake's first ship, Griffon, which disappeared in 1679 as it sailed from Green Bay, and the armed sloop Welcome, lost in a storm in 1781.

Four sunken ships are featured in the video, the Sandusky, William H. Barnum, Eber Ward, and Cedarville. All sank in storms and collisions, beginning in 1856 with the Sandusky and ending with the Cedarville that sank in 1965.

The two-masted, 110-foot brig Sandusky was sunk gale winds in about 90 feet of water in 1856. The 218-foot William H. Barnum, which sank in 74 feet of water in 1894, and the Eber Ward, which hit ice in 1909 and sank in 140 feet of water, were both wood-hulled steamers. The Cedarville, a 588-foot steel-hulled freighter, was struck by a Norwegian freighter in heavy fog in 1965 and sank in 110 feet of water.

"It is an important story and it is a natural story that goes along with a lighthouse," said Mr. Brisson. "The lighthouse was not there to be a pretty piece of architecture, it was to help guild ships through a treacherous waterway."

The film also includes an interview with a German sailor who helped rescue some of his Cedarville shipmates.

The film will be shown in an 1892 barn that once used as a work area and to store lighthouse equipment. The barn was moved off the lighthouse property in 1962 and returned in 2005.

More than 50 historic photographs and maps are used in the film, which is being produced by Airworthy Productions of Saginaw. It is funded with a $20,000 grant from Mackinac Associates, which raises money for park projects.

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