Early snowstorm sent Rising Sun aground on Pyramid Point

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RISING SUN aground in 1871 at Pyramid Point. 
National Park Service Photo RISING SUN aground in 1871 at Pyramid Point. National Park Service Photo Editor’s note: The following story was reprinted with permission from Glen Arbor author George Weeks. It was taken from his book “Sleeping Bear, Yesterday and Today.” Today we continue with some of the stories behind the Lost Vessels of Sleeping Bear, starting with the Rising Sun.

This could be called the story of the many lives and death of Minnie M. She was launched at Detroit in 1884 as Minnie M., a 133-foot passenger and package freight steamer. She began service out of Escanaba’s Little Bay de Noc, and then moved to Cheboygan. She had a variety of assignments, including service between Mackinac Island and Sault St. Marie, until about 1900, when she was sold to the Algoma Central Railway and became Canadian Minnie M. Two sales later, she became property of the House of David of Benton Harbor and renamed the Rising Sun.

In October 1917, the Rising Sun went to High Island to get potatoes, rutabagas and lumber to take to Benton Harbor. On 29 October, in one of the early-season snowstorms that sweep the Lakes, the Rising Sun went aground at Pyramid Point. Lifeboats were launched and all thirty-two people aboard eventually saved.

As was often the case with Great Lakes wrecks, shoreline residents, not the U.S. Coast Guard, were the first to provide assistance. In this case, Fred Baker, summoned in the night by survivors pounding at the door of his home atop the Port Oneida bluff, was the first to respond. He hastened to his barn, quickly unloaded 60 bushels of potatoes that were on his wagon, hitched his team, and went down to the beach. The survivors, including a woman found unconscious on the beach, were brought to Baker’s house. (By the 1990s, Baker’s daughter, Lucille, who was four years old at the time of the wreck, was still residing at Port Oneida, the wife of Jack Barratt, great grandson of Port Oneida settler Carsten Burfiend.)

The Coast Guard beach rescue rig arrived from Glen Haven, pulled by two teams of horses borrowed from D.H. Day. A man who was asleep when the others abandoned ship was rescued by the guardsmen.

Remains of the Rising Sun are visible from the shore on a clear day, and are popular for recreational divers. As with other wrecks, the remains are protected objects within the Manitou Passage Bottomland Preserve.

W. B. Phelps — If there is any Great Lakes wreck deserving of mention for the role shoreline residents played in rescue, it is the schooner Phelps, which broke apart in a raging surf on the shore of Sleeping Bear Bay near the Glen Arbor dock in a northwest gale and fierce snow storm.

On 19 November 1879, the Phelps and its crew of seven arrived at the Manitou Passage with a load of wheat and beer from Milwaukee. It was hit by a sudden storm, and the sails froze in place. Unable to reach the Manitou Islands for protection, the ship was driven into Sleeping Bear Bay. As she approached the shore, the anchors failed to hold in deep water, but one caught at a place where it caused the ship to hit bottom with each wave. The captain and four crewmen were swept away.

The ship came ashore at about 7 P.M. but was not discovered until dawn, when Charles Rosman, son of a Great Lakes skipper, was walking the beach and saw the wreck. He organized a rescue effort that earned a Congressional Life Saving Medal for Rosman, W. C. Ray, W. A. Clark, John Tobin, W. W. Tucker, Howard Daniels and John Blanchfield, all of Glen Arbor.

As described by U.S. Treasury Secretary John Sherman, in the citation for the medals, this is what the men saw:

The schooner was then lying covered with ice, and her decks completely broken up; and the two survivors of their crew of seven, were standing shouting for help on the extreme forward part of the vessel.

Rosman called for volunteers, but, according to author Harold, “few responded due to the size of the waves and to the fact that everyone was collecting beer as rapidly as possible. The first rescue attempt included a leaky, flat bottom fishing boat hauled to the scene by horse-drawn sleigh. Halfway to the wreck, it filled with water, and drenched rescuers returned to shore.

On the second attempt, the boat reached the stern of the Phelps and made fast by a line cast to the ship. The scene is described by the citation:

Here is was seen that a mass of timbers, spars, deck planking, sails, rigging, and deck debris of all sorts hanging over the sides of the vessel and tossed about by the heavy sea, would prevent the boat from getting near the two men on the bow of the schooner, and as the fish boat was now filling with water and it was necessary to return to shore, which her company reached, wet through, chilled and covered with ice.

The citation described the third and successful attempt:

…with great exertion and daring, (rescuers) forced the boat into an opening in the mass of floating debris, along side of a piece of the deck still fast to the vessel, and about 60 feet from the two seamen. In this position, constant effort was necessary to prevent the boat from being crushed to pieces by the debris tossing on each side of her. It was impossible for the two seamen to reach the boat except by crawling the distance, above named, across the mass of the stuff, constantly in motion, and over which the sea was rushing. Sustained by a line thrown from the boat, one of them succeeded in accomplishing about 40 feet of the distance when his progress was arrested, and (rescuers) then worked the boat over a piece of the broken deck along side of the fragment, upon which the sailor clung, and hauled him in.

Two of your company then sprang from the boat, and leaped from piece to piece of the debris to the spot where the other sailor, weaker and more helpless than his fellow, and caught by the feet between the timbers, was vainly struggling to extricate himself. In a moment he was freed, and one of the men, seizing him by the collar, dragged him along a spar to the fragment upon which the other sailor had been where he was taken into the boat. The boat was then shoved off the piece of deck on which it partly lay, and the return to land was effected with the two men saved.

The rescued sailor, Edward Ignoe and John Hourigan, continued to sail the Great Lakes, and later became Great Lakes captains.

2012-10-11 / Life in Leelanau

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