By Mya Smith
Plummeting temperatures, blinding snow and ferocious winds ripped through the air as three freighters struggled on Lake Michigan’s frigid surface.
Unsuspecting and dangerously underprepared passengers braced for the worst, baffled at the stark contrast from the serene weather of the morning.
It was Armistice Day in 1940 when the blizzard on Lake Michigan sank the SS Novadoc, SS William B. Davoc and SS Anna C. Minch. The blizzard claimed the lives of Forty-nine southern Minnesota residents. Duck-hunters, eager to hunt in prime conditions after a disappointing season, accounted for half of those deaths.
The storm, infamously known as The Great Armistice Day Storm of 1940, is one of many shipwreck stories in Michael Schumacher’s newest book, “Too Much Sea For Their Decks” (University of Minnesota Press, $24.95) is split into three sections: Minnesota, Isle Royale and Three Killer Storms. The book covers prominent shipwrecks in Minnesota’s north shore region of Lake Superior. Unlike Schumacher’s previous books, this novel expands into new territory, covering shipwreck stories in Isle Royale.
Schumacher’s early love for the water attracted him to writing shipwreck stories that moved him.
“This has always been important to me,” said Schumacher, a Wisconsin native and author of six shipwreck novels focused on the Great Lakes region. “The shipwrecks became an extension of that interest.”
These wrecks are prominent pieces of history, Schumacher said.They can provide insight about commerce, how ships were built and designed and how they served communities.
“Cities were built on the backs of these boats,” he said. “Lumber was being transported from northern Michigan down to Chicago, which was very important.”
Though these shipwrecks may not be traditional events of history, like wars, Schumacher said they are part of our country’s history, and particularly, Midwest history.
Having interviewed over 200 people for one of his publications, Schumacher is adamant that what matters most about these Great Lakes shipwreck stories is the people telling them.
“I’m interested in the people-angle of all of this,” he said. “I try to get as many people in the books as I can.”
Along with remembering the victims involved in these wrecks, Schumacher said that it’s important to preserve the ships themselves.
In recent years, a newfound intersection between shipwreck damage and the lake ecosystem has made that difficult.
Invasive mussels have begun to blur the artifacts of his stories, he said.
“These zebra mussels and quagga mussels are especially invasive and damaging, and they’re in four of the five Great Lakes,” Schumacher said. “They’re just disintegrating everything down there. Some of these ships that I’ve written about, they’re completely, totally covered with these mussels that are eating them, and there’s gonna be nothing left.”
Like the mussels that erode the wreckage remains, Schumacher said the number of books published about Great Lakes shipwrecks is also deteriorating.
“To some extent, that’s how I feel about these books,” he said. “Somebody needs to remember that these ships were around – that these men on the ships were alive.
“If I don’t, who will?”
“Too Much Sea for Their Decks” can be purchased for $24.95 on Amazon and other booksellers.