The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Before going to Michigan, I always associated shipwrecks with the ocean.  And pirates. And the 18th century.  Imagine my surprise to learn that there have been many shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, often tragic, and not so long ago.

Anyone who lived through the 1970s may be familiar with a Gordon Lightfoot song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”  The tragedy that inspired the song took place on November 10, 1975, when the Edmund Fitzgerald freighter ship sank in the Whitefish Bay area of Lake Superior. Twenty-nine people lost their lives in that shipwreck, and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is built near the site of the wreck, on Whitefish Point.

The museum features artifacts retrieved from local shipwrecks, including the bell from the SS Edmund Fitzgerald:

edmund fitzgerald

As a result of the Edmund Fitzgerald wreck, there were widespread changes in Great Lakes shipping regulations and practices, including mandatory survival suits, depth finders, positioning systems, and more frequent inspection of vessels.

Touring the museum as an out-of-state visitor, I failed to realize the magnitude of this tragedy and its impact on the area.  That is, until I went out on the beach and saw this makeshift memorial to someone who had been lost in the wreck.    Everyone who left the beach to walk back up toward the buildings placed a smooth Lake Superior stone on the spot as if to say, “I will remember you.”

memorial (1)

The museum is not completely focused on the Edmund Fitzgerald, however.  There were old diving suits, lighthouse prisms and other nautical treasures.  Here are a couple:

diving exhibit

into exhibit

big prism 2

In addition to the museum, there are additional buildings to explore:  a light tower, the light keeper’s quarters, US Coast Guard chief’s quarters, crew quarters, look out tower, and fog signal building, to name a few.

lighthouse 2

lighthouse sign

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is open May-October.   The address is 18335 N Whitefish Point Rd, Paradise, MI 49768.  Telephone 800-635-1742.

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