GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After finding the shipwrecks of the C.F. Curtis and the Selden E. Marvin, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society has set its sights on finding the Annie M. Peterson, hoping to finally close the book on a more than 100-year-old mystery.
The ships disappeared on Lake Superior Nov. 18, 1914, during a bad storm.
“The combined losses of the C.F. Curtis, Selden E. Marvin and Annie M. Peterson have comprised one of the more tragic stories of shipwrecks on the Great Lakes and certainly became one of the Lake Superior’s enduring mysteries,” GLSHS Executive Director Bruce Lynn said in a statement. “To locate the Curtis and Marvin in a space of two years has been amazing… Now we just have to find the Peterson!”
The search will not be easy, but the discovery of the two other vessels means some of the guesswork already done. The GLSHS team can use the locations and data it already collected to narrow the search window. Searchers think the Peterson is somewhere in the Grand Marais area but have reason to believe it is farther out than the other ships after debunking reports that its keel had run aground.
With ideas of where to look and a little bit of weather forecasting and data to look over, it’s only a matter of time before they get back out on the water to begin their search.
The Curtis discovered during the summer of 2021 and the Marvin was found in August 2022 in the stretch of water referred to as the Shipwreck Coast. There are a lot of sunken ships in the area of Lake Superior near Grand Marais, which is known to have extreme weather.
“There’s arguments over which area on the Great Lakes is the graveyard of the Great Lakes, although as we go into the 1900s, late 1900s, it clearly was the Grand Marais area,” Ric Mixter, GLSHS board member and maritime historian, said. “Here’s this stretch that now has four different life-saving or Coast Guard posts as we go into the 1930s. It clearly was a very dangerous area. And there’s still many of the ships that are still out there that we haven’t found. So it is a graveyard out there and sadly for this wreck, 28 people were killed in this storm.”
The crews of the Curtis, Marvin and Peterson set out late in the 1914 season when the weather typically tends to be bad and unpredictable — the famous November gales. The crews were ultimately caught in a massive gale that claimed the lives of everyone on board all three vessels.
The Hines Lumber Company built a monument to remember the 28 lost crew members in Riverside Cemetery Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Only 12 of the 28 bodies were ever found. Capt. John Walker, who helmed the Peterson, from Grand Haven, and Capt. J.G. Jennings, from the Detroit area, captain of the Curtis, were among those discovered.
VESSELS SAILED TOGETHER ON SUPERIOR
The three ships were a part of a large fleet belonging to the Edward Hines Lumber Company that moved lumber across the Great Lakes in the early 1900s. The company grew around 1910, expanding its enterprise and trade routes along the Great Lakes. Its route started in the Wisconsin area, covering Lake Michigan, and went as far as New York, feeding its lumber through the Erie Canal to the East Coast. The Hines fleet was perhaps the largest during its time on the Great Lakes, able to carry 3 million board feet on its ships which is enough to build over 240 houses.
The C.F. Curtis was a wooden steam-powered ship towing schooners Selden Marvin and Annie Peterson. Schooners were motorless ships that were used to haul lumber. Together, the three vessels made up Edward Hines’ “Superior Fleet.”
Before John Walker became the Peterson’s captain, he was living in Grand Haven, where his family is from. He eventually moved from West Michigan to Sturgeon Bay, where he became the chief of police for a while. He later became involved with Hines Lumber and began his career as a sailor.
“Walker actually got a gig as soon as Hines Lumber bought up the rest of the fleet … and had a job available on board the Peterson. So his family was moved to Tonawanda, New York, where it would be more of a base of operations,” Mixter said. “All that lumber was being hauled all the way down the lakes.”
Finding shipwrecks is no easy task. Working with a team of six, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society digs through data and sails the Great Lakes running sonar, looking for the ships hidden deep beneath the surface. The historians comb through old newspaper articles, books and relevant sources on the internet to find clues to where a shipwreck might be. After they have pieced the information together and have a good idea where to look, they check weather forecasts to make sure that the conditions will be good enough to go out on the water to begin a search.
Once on the water, they begin scanning the surface. They are able to scan the water one mile at a time. They work with satellites and a large sonar that attaches to the back of the boat to scan the bottom of the lake in the shipping lanes. They also have a remote operated vehicle that they use to dive into the deeper areas where divers can’t go because of the water pressure.
Once they find something, they anchor the ship and make preparations to dive. Typically, divers can’t go deeper than 200 feet, but GLSHS’s $150,000 ROV can explore up to 600 feet down.
The cold temperatures and the weather can have an effect on how well the ROV operates. Violent waves make it difficult to lower the robot into the water and cold temperatures can cause the battery to drain faster. Water pressure can also be a factor. Once the ROV is in the water, the cable it is attached to can get tangled if the pilot is not careful when maneuvering the robot to avoid debris that may be left over from the shipwrecks.
Darryl Ertel, director of marine operations for the GLSHS, had to navigate the ROV through debris when searching for the Curtis.
“(Darryl) flew around through this debris and was able to get the pictures without tangling that line that goes all the way to the surface with a cable to feed the electricity for the lights, camera and the video signal that we need,” Mixter said. “So he’s an incredibly skilled pilot that managed to somehow get through this impossible situation and bring back the images that we see.”
Created in 1978, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society was started by a group of divers, teacher, and educators to explore shipwrecks in northern Michigan. If you are looking to get involved, it is always in search of new members and counts on the community’s support to support the voyages that aim to unearth the mysteries of Lake Superior. For more information on how to get involved with GLSHS visit www.shipwreckmuseum.com.