Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Shrinking Great Lakes Reveal 125 Year Old Shipwreck Near My Grandpa's Island

Falling water levels have revealed a 125 year old shipwreck and several others in the Grand River by Harbor Island in Grand Haven, Michigan. That's just a couple miles south of me. And on a river island where my Great Grandfather built the only house on Harbor Island almost a hundred years ago. Now two years gone with just a driveway from Google Maps to show where it once was. The last line of the article "The Great Lakes are shrinking because of drought and rising temperatures." Photobucket
The dropping water levels in the Great Lakes have revealed the remains of a wooden steamer built 125 years ago. Sections of the 290-foot steamer Aurora and parts of at least four other shipwreck hulks were exposed by the receding waterline at Grand Haven near the edges of Harbor Island. The Aurora is in the Grand River, which flows into Lake Michigan nearby.
As a child I spent days and weekends there in the marshes, fishing off the small and drifting river island. My parents got married there. My great grandfather planted irises there. My great grandmother boiled kidneys there. Old country. You know. High speed silent and black and white movies of family gatherings there. Great uncle F making a beeline for the banquet table...stopping...fanning the space behind him and continuing on. In the cat-tails and muck I had a three pronged frog spear hunting nothing and anything...when most of the property was gone as the island drifted and the basement was filled with water and smelled musty and of river. Grandpa in his later years spent aquatic summer after summer bringing in fill dirt to build up the land and pump the water out, Netherlands style, until I could no longer fish from the back porch. I never caught anything with that trident.
At the time of its launch in 1887, the Aurora was considered to be the largest wooden steamship traveling the Great Lakes, according to Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates.
Swisher sweet smell of the air and redwing blackbird calls from the reeds. Guns in the pocket and skeleton keys. On the island. Grandpa on the concertina singing something that sounded Polish, I thought, or Slavic, or Spanish, or French. I'd find old glass, old bottles and cans and imagine they were ancient. Epic. Old medicine bottles. The old weeping willow. And the leaning garage filled with rust and iron and mystery where we should have been forbidden to go. And in the morning the house like a boat, the bathroom mortis-lock door opening and closing. Opening and closing. As if rocking in the waves on the island.
It served as a coal and grain trade vessel until it was damaged by a fire and turned into a barge. It was abandoned in Grand Haven in 1932. Valerie Van Heest, director of MSRA and a maritime historian, says this offers a rare chance to see wrecks without having to scuba dive.
My grandfather passed on surrounded by family. The house went empty. And the forces of time and the Grand River near where it meets Lake Michigan, overtook the house. It was torn down in 2010. Now there's just a driveway. And the weeping willow. And a Four Winns boat dealership and a marina.
The Great Lakes are shrinking because of drought and rising temperatures.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very well done! I remember... :)