“Their story is worth telling:” The Great Lakes Shipwreck Society tells the story through the wrecks
SAULT STE. MARY — For the past 40 years, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society has sought to teach Michigan residents about the history of the lakes around them.
The society was founded in the 1970s with the goal of telling the stories of the many shipwrecks that dot the lake bed and, through those shipwrecks, to tell the story of the Great Lakes.
“We tell the stories of the Great Lakes, we tell the stories of shipwrecks and lighthouses, and everything that involves that,” said Corey Adkins, the company’s chief marketing officer. “So it’s our main goal to spread these stories because these people who lost their lives on these lakes, their story deserves to be told.”
In 1972, a group of Michigan divers were looking for shipwrecks off Whitefish Point, near Paradise in the Upper Peninsula. Using all the scuba gear they could find and sonar, this small group of divers discovered four different wrecks in one day.
“So after discovering these wrecks at once, one thing led to another. So this organization started its story with real scuba diving wrecks that to our knowledge no one had ever seen before,” said development manager Sean Ley, who has been a shipwreck society member since the 1980s. of Historic Places to list Whitefish Point Lighthouse on the National Register.”
With the historic lighthouse as its point of operation, the company began cataloging as many wrecks as possible. Most of them came from the waters of Lake Superior.
In 1983 the society was granted permission to use some of the buildings at Whitefish Point Lighthouse as a home for a museum, so they could share their findings with the world. In 1985, after remodeling what is now known as the Navy Radio Building, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum opened for the first time.
In the first six weeks, more than 12,000 people paid admission to view the exhibits.
Since then, the company has discovered several more shipwrecks and offers over 100 exhibits and presentations telling the many stories of the Great Lakes.
Continued: Historic shipwreck discovered in Lake Superior
Continued: The shipwrecked society discovers three wrecks near the Grand Marais
For many years the museum has exhibited salvaged pieces and written histories of the wrecks discovered. At this time the museum also expanded into several different buildings across Whitefish Point. The museum is now located separately among more than 10 buildings, including the Weather Bureau Building.
The weather office building is connected to the Soo Locks, which provided weather reports to cargo ships passing through the locks, and is now the shipwreck society’s main office.
In 1994 the museum opened what would become its most popular exhibit detailing the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Arguably the most famous ship to sink in the Great Lakes, the Edmund Fitzgerald exhibit tells the story of the 29 men who died in the November 10, 1975 sinking.
On July 4, 1995, after years of petitioning the U.S. government, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Canadian government, the company removed the Edmund Fitzgerald’s bell from the wreck. In its place, they left a commemorative replica of the bell, bearing the names of the crew members who died when the ship sank.
The Edmund Fitzgerald’s bell is the museum’s most popular and recognizable memorabilia today. It stands in front of the entrance.
“Fitzgerald is in a class of his own, it took a lot of effort to get permission to raise that bell because the wreck is in Canadian waters. People will always be interested in wrecks, and it’s not the artifacts and the objects themselves,” Ley said. “If there hadn’t been human people connected to these objects that we show in the museum, there would certainly not be so much interest. But the Fitzgerald’s bell represents more. That’s life of the 29 crew members that was lost.”
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum opens May 1 for the season and will close for the year on October 31. Until then, it will be open to all visitors between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
To learn more about the history and admission prices of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society and Museum, visit their website.