Library program remembers Storm of 1913

One hundred years ago this week, the Great Lakes Storm of 1913 went down in history as the deadliest and most destructive natural disaster ever to hit the Great Lakes. More than 250 sailors lost their lives and 12 ships sank over the course of the four-day storm now remembered as the White Hurricane, the Big Blow or the Freshwater Fury.

Alpena County Library commemorates this fateful event that took place Nov. 7-10, 1913, with a special presentation by State Maritime Archaeologist Wayne Lusardi on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. In addition to Lusardi’s talk on the storm and its destructive forces, the event also celebrates the recent donation of a set of lithograph prints depicting each ship moments before it sank.

The matted and framed prints are by marine artist J. Clary and were donated to the library by Larry and Susan Hamm of Ludington and Arizona.

“The couple were looking for some place to donate their prints. They heard about our maritime collection and thought it was a perfect fit,” said Special Collections Librarian Marlo Broad. “When they heard about the commemoration of the 1913 storm that we had planned, they thought it was an even better fit.”

The prints will be on display in the special collections area of the library throughout the month of November. They also will be on prominent display during Lusardi’s program.

“After that we will be looking at options for permanent display,” said Broad. “The prints are the artist’s interpretation of the final moments before each ship disappeared. He conducted a lot of research on the storm and the vessels.”

According to Lusardi, the fierce storm may not have been the worst storm ever, but in terms of gross tonnage and number of lives lost it was.

“Never before had so many ships gone down in a storm with such complete loss of life,” Lusardi said.

Among the fated ships was the Isaac M. Scott, a bulk freighter that went down on Lake Huron and now rests upside down in 180 feet of water within the boundaries of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. A total of 28 sailors lost their lives on that ship alone.

The Regina also is among the 12 sunken vessels. The Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center maintains a state shipwreck artifact collection, which includes many artifacts from the Regina such as tableware and mast head lights. Lusardi plans to bring some of these artifacts to Wednesday’s talk.

The remains of another of the 12 ships, the Henry B. Smith, was discovered just this spring near Marquette in Lake Superior.

“Four of the dozen have not yet been found,” Lusardi said. “The ships carried grain, coal, iron ore. Many came out of the same ship yard. Four of the ships came out of a ship yard in the United Kingdom.”

Lusardi said three different storm systems, including cold winds coming down from the Canadian Rockies, converged and stalled over the Great Lakes, creating snow blizzard conditions over the course of the four days.

“Most of the ships were not caught unaware,” he said. “A vast majority of them went out and thought they could make it.”

In addition to the 12 that were lost, many others were stranded and damaged in the storm.