By Brian Freitag
It’s easy for some to mistake the Great Lakes for the ocean at first. I’ve brought a few people to see Lake Superior for the first time, and that’s what they all say: “It looks like the ocean!” Maybe they’re just trying to flatter my geographical chauvinism, which I don’t try to conceal, but I know at least one man who has honestly mistaken Lake Michigan for the Atlantic Ocean (he was visiting here from the Middle East).
The argument over Great Lakes or inland seas has been ongoing for many years. Anyone who has spent any time around and on the Great Lakes is aware of how furious and treacherous they can become very quickly changing in character from lake to sea.
From the storms of the 1860s to the fierce “November Witch” that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975, one Great Lakes storm stands out as the deadliest. Nicknamed the “White Hurricane,” this major winter storm stuck the Great Lakes on November 7-10, 1913, resulting in a dozen major shipwrecks, with an estimated 250 lives lost.
It remains the largest inland maritime disaster, in terms of number of ships lost, in U.S. history. Vessels at the time withstood 90 mph winds and 35-foot waves, but it was the whiteout conditions and accumulation of ice on the ships that turned an already dangerous situation into a deadly one, as ship captains were unable to maintain navigation. The Great Lakes shorelines—unlike ocean coasts, which are predictable, smooth, and uniform—pose a more significant threat to ships due to their erratic nature. This threat gave rise to the construction of more than 150 picturesque lighthouses in Michigan to aid maritime navigation.
To commemorate our intriguing Michigan Maritime History of great ships, great storms, and lighthouses, the library has on display several handmade lighthouses accompanied by a wide selection of books about Michigan lighthouses, famous ships, shipwrecks, and memorable storms for your reading pleasure.
Drop by the library to check out one or more of these books and enjoy experiencing new facts, stories and history surrounding the Great Lakes and their great ships, weather, and lighthouses.