Whitefish Point, in Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula, is a magnet for birders, agate hunters, nature lovers and those who share a passion for maritime history. The Whitefish Point Lighthouse, built during the Abraham Lincoln’s administration, is the first thing that a visitor notices when approaching this National Historic Site. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is situated along a rugged shoreline that marks the intersection of Lake Superior, and Whitefish Bay, an area that has been dubbed Superior’s “Shipwreck Coast.” Over 200 shipwrecks have occurred in this part of the lake, with the most famous being the November 1975 sinking of the 729’ ore carrier, Edmund Fitzgerald. The bell of the Fitzgerald is now on permanent display in the museum’s main gallery. While this is certainly the most famous shipwreck on the Great Lakes, it is but one of thousands that have suffered disaster on the inland seas.
The exhibits and staff of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum tell the stories of shipwreck and survival, of life at a remote light-station, and the dramatic rescue efforts of the U.S. Life-Saving Service. Most visitors are unaware of the museum’s ongoing marine operations though, which sees a small research vessel crisscrossing sections of Lake Superior towing a Marine Sonic Technology side-scan sonar- with the goal of discovering long lost shipwrecks. The 2014 discovery of the barquentine Nelson revealed a very intact wreck in over 200’ of cold Lake Superior water. The 2019 discovery of the composite steamer S.R. Kirby, off the Keweenaw Peninsula, shed light on a near total loss of her crew and a shambles of a wreck-site.
This past summer, the crew of the Shipwreck Museum’s research boat, David Boyd, had a banner year. By mid-summer, three new shipwrecks had been discovered in the southeast section of Lake Superior, and a number of other newly discovered wrecks are in the process of being positively identified. The whereabouts of the schooner Dot (1883), the schooner- barge Frank M. Wheeler (1885) and the schooner Michigan (1901), are now known and their stories can be told in the galleries at Whitefish Point.
Summer 2021 saw the opening of a completely new exhibit, dedicated to the 1966 sinking of the Daniel J. Morrell in Lake Huron. The Morrell’s sole survivor, Dennis Hale, traveled thousands of miles all over the country keeping the memory of his ship and crew alive…and now this dramatic and tragic story is told in new ways. This fall, be sure to visit Whitefish Point!