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      Guest 11/21/2023 11:33 PM
      Great Lakes Maritime History
      “Stories from the Wreckage” is the saga of the Great Lakes marine culture from the days of exploration to the end of the wooden age in the early twentieth century.  Read the subtitle carefully: “A Great Lakes Maritime History Inspired by Shipwrecks”. Inspired is the key word.  The shipwrecks are plumbed for the secrets they reveal, but the wrecks are only part of the story.  Wisconsin shipwrecks are important in selecting the stories to be told as their parts in the stories.  Each story is told through the vessels and personnel involved and the wrecks at the end.

      Shipwrecks are tangible connections to the past, altered only by nature until their discovery by humans.  The wrecks examined in this work reveal much about their structure, cargoes and sailing techniques.  For many, no schematics or other records exist so the contour and parts of the vessel can only be determined from study of the wreck, which makes them better than ships that were scrapped or lost and never discovered.

      Although we may think of the Great Lakes shipping as separate from that plying the oceans, this book places the Lakes in the Atlantic Maritime culture through the technologies, skills, business practices, legal forms, language, and even personnel the Atlantic and Lakes shared.

      Great Lakes shipping changed over time.  Most fascinating to me is the Palace Steamers, represented by the Niagara.  With its construction begun in 1845, Niagara represented a class of luxury passenger ships to traverse the Lakes.  Their lives were short, as the advent of railroads shifted customers’ preferences and, In Niagara’s case, fire ended her career during a trip out of Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

      Shipping remained a profitable bulk carrier, particularly with the rise in movement of lumber, iron ore and grain.  An icon of this class was, appropriately, the Lumberman, carrying lumber that rebuilt Chicago after its fire and many other structures from its launch in 1862 until it abandonment in 1893.

      The Kate Kelly is a canal schooner featured along with its captain, Hartley J. Hatch.  Between its building in 1867 and its loss in 1895 it primarily sailed on Lakes Ontario and Michigan carrying coal west and grain east, a cargo mix that strikes me as unsanitary.  Canal schooners drew less than 9 feet of water when loaded and fit inside canal locks measuring 150 feet by 26.5 feet.  Heavy seas and a deck load of railroad ties caused Kate Kelly to capsize off Racine, Wisconsin on 13, 1895.  Her wreckage remains a documentary on construction of canal schooners.

      Among the characters who played their roles on the Great Lakes was Buffalo native Captain James Davidson whose career included building ships and sailing the Lakes and the high seas from the 1850s to 1890s.  It was a period of boom and depression, changing cargoes and technologies.  Around the turn of the twentieth century, with the stock of available lumber diminishing, the Wooden Age gave way to steel ships.

      Author John Odin Jensen and the Wisconsin Historical Society Press have put together an edifying history in words and pictures.  The text covers all aspects of Great Lakes nineteenth century shipping.  Vessels, their structures, crews, cargoes, the climatological and economic storms they navigated, even such mundane but important factors such as insurance are all part of the story.  As the title indicates, all stories lead to the wreckage, how they happened, what has been found or recovered, and what they teach us.  The writing is detailed, but never boring.  The sketches and photos, maps and diagrams supplement the text.  I find the photos, color and black and white, of the wreckages themselves most fascinating.  The barnacle encrusted wheels and anchors, ribs, knees and engines once cruised the surface and now hold their lessons and await discovery.  Pickup, savor and enjoy.

      I did receive a free copy of this book without an obligation to post a review.

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