White Hurricane by David G Brown


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Dec 12, 1999
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David,

I have another question that relates both to S.S. Eastland and "White Hurricane." In the November 8, 1913 chapter you mention that one of the ships was almost lost on the shore, but at the last minute buoyed itself from an anchor (after several attempts, broken chains, and lost anchors), and managed to ride out the storm. I think, you also mentioned that this took place near the summer home of Ernst Hemingway's family, on Lake Michigan. It occurred to me that Hemingway must have traveled aboard the S.S. Eastland for many years, to get to that summer home. I suppose there's no way of really knowing. Maybe the ship didn't even travel in that direction. Maybe Hemingway witnessed the 1913 storm. He was probably in Europe by then. Any thoughts?
 
Oct 28, 2000
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The Hemingway property was only a summer cottage and was probably boarded and shuttered in November. In any event, there is no evidence that "Papa" was there during the storm. The Eastland did not service Michigan's Upper Peninsula on Lake Superior. If Hemingway ever did ride the ship, it would most likely have been during its service out of Chicago on Lake Michigan. Again, I've never seen his name associated with the Eastland.

During the 1913 "White Hurricane" many ships tried to anchor as a means of surviving the storm. Some succeeded, but most did not. The strains were too strong for the chains, even though the links were massive steel typically weighing 135 pounds each. Many ships parted their anchor chains when the wind suddenly shifted in Whitefish Bay, a popular Lake Superior anchorage near Sault Ste. Marie. This was the refuge that the Edmund Fitzgerald was seeking when it foundered 60 years after the "White Hurricane."

The ships of the Great Lakes fleet were of rivet construction in 1913 and made of steel plate similar in composition to the British steel used in Titanic. For the rivet counters--the racking of the hulls on Lake Huron caused rivets to pop. One captain claimed they swept up rivet heads (must have been a very stiff broom) and carried them out of his ship by the wheelbarrow. Anyway, several ships began to experience cracked plates. Of those that survived, all of the cracks began in the horizontal deck plates, mostly just in front of the engine rooms.

--David G. Brown
 
Dec 12, 1999
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I have decided to post another installent about this book, as my reading it proceeds. I just finished David's account of the Howard M. Hanna, which ran headlong into the worst part of the storm on Sunday evening, November 9, 1913. This is the point at which he says the weather "explodes."

No doubt about that. The storm literally tore the Hanna apart, and forced it to the shoreline, on rocks just beyond a lighthouse.

It's hard to imagine worse conditions than this. There were different, and distinct, weather systems sequencing themselves, and one taking over after another sputtered out. The worst coming on Sunday evening on Lake Huron.

A blizzard of white snow accompanied the high winds, such that there were huge waves, along with a lack of visibility. Enormous and powerful waves crashed against, and flooded the ships, seeing and breathing was difficult -- it's hard to imagine what it must have been like being a seaman aboard one of those ships.

Like other hurricanes, David describes in several places the storm surge which proceeded to flood and destroy areas of the shoreline. So far, though, I haven't noticed any instances where people died, or drowned, on the shore -- but then, I'm not nearly finished. I've always heard that the most dangerous, or "killer" element of a hurricane is the storm surge.

Another interesting point that I'm drawing from my review of David's book, is that the captains and seamen aboard the ships on these lakes were really good sailors. Faced with an enormously destructive force, they used their wits effectively. They also fought very hard to survive -- and in many instances, they succeeded.

In one instance, a captain of a wooden schooner actually flooded and sank his ship, then left in a lifeboat. Later, the ship was re-floated and, as David says, was "no worse for wear."
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Well, Tracy Smith and myself got together and found a copy locally at the Barnes & Noble in Greenville SC. The book was stashed in, of all places, the nature section. (No wonder I couldn't find it.I thought it would be carried in the history section.)

We had tried befor at the Books A Million and found that although they won't be carrying the title locally, (The customer service rep couldn't tell me why not.) they can order it if a customer asks.
 

Tracy Smith

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...and I'm getting ready to start reading it now.
happy.gif


BTW, this is the same bookstore where I bought "Last Log of Titanic".
 
Dec 12, 1999
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Well, I finished "White Hurricane" today. Congratulations, David, on another very fine book.

"White Hurricane" is not about something unknown to me. I grew up in Minnesota, and visited Lake Superior frequently. Waking in the mornings, sometimes I would see the long ore boats, with their fog horns blowing, off shore. Even in the summer time, it was so cold! Yet, in the early morning haze, I could see them. They were so big, so very long.

The stories of the "White Hurricane," like the ones I used to read by Dwight Boyer ("Ghost Ships Of The Great Lakes," and "Great Ships Of The Great Lakes"), strike a deep chord.

As Boyer amply demonstrated in his tales, the Lakes -- and the ships that traverse them -- are very mysterious. The White Hurricane is no exception.

The mystery surrounding the crews of the Regina and Charles S. Price is intriguing, to say the least. Personally, I think the one sailor from the {Price} simply had the other ship's lifebelt wash ashore on him. There was lots of flotsam coming ashore, in any event.

It seems, though, that the mystery surrounding the last moments of Regina's captain were finally resolved.

David, is Captain McLeod of the Matoa any relation to the Captain McLeod of the Marquette & Bessemer No. 2, which was lost in December 1909, under mysterious circumstances (the M&B2 still hasn't been found)?

The story of finding the body of a crewmember from the tug Searchlight was really something . . . given that the tug sank 15 years before the White Hurricane. I have heard stories to the effect that the cold waters of the lakes preserve bodies quite well.

For example, in one wreck of Isle Royale, which sank in 1927, a diver told me that there's a preserved body in the engine room.

As such, I've been told, bodies of seamen lost decades ago have washed ashore after severe storms. It appears that this happened after the White Hurricane --- with the Searchlight. At first, I didn't believe it, but now it appears that such stories are true.

Finally, I found it interesting that after the White Hurricane, and the loss of some 258 sailors, there were investigations, and blame was assigned. Once again, it wasn't placed on the inadequacy of the ships' designs, such as the problem with severely underpowered ships. No, the Weather Bureau was blamed. This is a story not unlike the Titanic's.

And, not unlike Titanic, the seamans' families were only paid $72.00 each !!!! No doubt they deserved better than that.

Once again, congratulations, David, on another very fine book. Because it's about the Great Lakes, I actually like this one better than "Last Log."
 
Oct 28, 2000
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Jan -- Thanks for the kind words. The circumstances surrounding John Groundwater's body being found in a Regina lifevest are most curious. He was the Price's chief engineer. And, his body was placed with those of the Regina crew because of that lifevest. Several writers have suggested that many of the Price's crew were wearing Regina vests, but that is not borne out by the records--only Groundwater. It is one of the enduring mysteries of the Great Lakes and my "solution" is really just another suggestion in a long list of "what if" ideas. Nobody will ever know...

Dwight Boyer made a living writing tales from the lakes. My favorite writer was Dana Thomas Bowen who was an avid collector of Great Lakes lore and who self-published three books. Bowen's collection of photographs is now preserved at the Great Lakes Historical Society's museum in Vermilion, Ohio.

--David G. Brown
 
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I am thinking about a biography of the last buccaneer. The day he was rescued by a gooney bird is beyond fiction, but true. I'm not sure anyone will believe he didn't steal the countess' nose, however.

-- David G. Brown
 

Erik Wood

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I am proud to say that I have recieved my copy of Daves book and have been reading through it. So far I can't seem to put it down.

I may have to have Dave sign it when he is up here.
 

Erik Wood

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I don't know, if you want you could sign mine. But then again I am not in the book so it wouldn't make much sense.

How about you sign it "To Captain Erik the biggest doof this side of Doseldorf." Signed Captain Brown G. David.

That would work...
 
K

Kathy Savadel

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David -- found your book by surprise in Barnes and Noble a few days ago in NC. Thanks for mentioning Jeff. He was pleased.

Kathy
 

Tracy Smith

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I've finished the book and I want to add my congratulations to everyone else's on a fine book.

I found the descriptions of the straight decker ships most fascinating. Is this type of ship used in places other than the Great Lakes, Dave? Have there been any significant modifications made to the straight decker design in recent years? What were the main differences between the 1913 era ships, and the Edmund Fitzgerald and other straight deckers of that era?

I also found Sadie's story to be intriguing and I'm curious as to whether she went back to "sea" after this disaster.
 
Oct 28, 2000
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Thanks to all for buying my book.

Straight deckers are, to my knowledge, unique to the Great Lakes. Note that their far-forward pilot houses were particularly vunlerable to wave action during the 1913 storm. Tht's just one reason why salt water ships never adopted this design. Straight deckers evolved to carry two specific cargoes--coal and iron ore--on relatively shallow water. Today, most lake ships are being built with engine room, accommodations, and pilot house all aft. This is the same design as has been adopted on the oceans. It produces an extremely ugly ship, which has makes the old fashioned straight deckers appear graceful by comparison.

The differences between the 1913 straight deckers and ships of the 1950s like the Edmund Fitzgerald are mostly in the techniques of construction. The Fitz was welded, while all of the 1913 ships were put together with rivets. The steel was different, thanks to improved steelmaking processses by the 1950s. From what I have read, the ships of 1913 were better able to stand up to the strains of a major storm than the overly-limber Fitzgerald. Crew accommodations improved over the years. By the 1950s ships were being equipped with "ratways," or tunnels beneath the weather deck to allow safe passage from bow to stern in heavy weather. In 1913, you cliped onto a jackline and braved waves breaking over the deck to make that journey.

Sadie, for those who have not read the book, was a cook (married to the chief steward) aboard a ship that went aground and broke up at the mouth of Saginaw Bay on Lake Huron. While the ship was still under way a wave partially collapsed the galley and washed her into the boiler room. Unhurt, she climbed back into the galley after the ship stranded and proceded to feed the crew. At times, the survivors said she worked barefoot in freezing water to her waist. Afterward, the crew voted her a reward for her efforts.

What became of Sadie? In 1913, the name of a proper lady was to appear in the newspaper only three times--when she was born, when she died, and when she married. Sadie disappeared from print after her adventure. My guess is that she and her husband went back to the ships the next spring. Gotta earn a living.

--David G. Brown
 
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