In 1998, I posed for photos at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle. I looked great that summer day. My blonde hair was long and wavy. I had some rather fine sunglasses and so I kept striking a pose by various boats and nautical items in the museum. What I did not know then was that I had a connection to a Great Lakes shipwreck.
I did have some nautical connections. After all, my father had served on a heavy cruiser named the USS Oregon during WWII. But I had personally never had any nautical experiences of my own. I had never been on a ship for a voyage of any sort. My nautical experiences had been only been to travel by canoe along the river, a rowboat on a lake, or paying for a steamboat tour.
Still, I felt a deep connection to all things nautical and certainly a bond to the amazing Great Lakes. After all, I am from Michigan and as the expression goes, “4 out of the 5 Great Lakes prefer Michigan.” I loved the Great Lakes so much that most of my vacations as an adult centered around going to a cottage on the Oscoda shores of Lake Huron. Every morning while at Lake Huron, I walked to the beach with coffee in hand and watched the massive Great Lakes steamers that plowed through the water. I telepathed my sincere good wishes to the crew who worked on those massive freighters.
The Great Lakes shores have plenty of tourist shops and I would often visit them and see the sad books about Shipwrecks. It tore at my heart and although many folks are eager to purchase this type of book, it seemed much too sad for me. I would not even pick up the book to look at any possible sad illustrations or photos.
Many of us probably know the Gordon Lightfoot song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” I still feel profoundly sad to hear the song. Here are some of the lyrics that stress the dire historical moment.
“And later that night when the ship’s bell rang
Could it be the north wind they’d been feelin’?
The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too
T’was the witch of November come stealin'”
It was in 2006 that I became fascinated with researching genealogy. My beloved mother had passed away that year and I was anxious to find all the family stories that I forgot to ask her about. During my searches on genealogy web sites, I had a bone chilling moment when I realized my family had a strong connection to the Great Lakes ship wreck of the Hippocampus. My 2nd great grandmother, Mary Ann Higbee Hess, was the big sister of Urial Higbee. It was Urial (my 2nd great granduncle) that perished and was lost in this well known shipwreck.
I started to read the very type of story that I had spent years avoiding in those gift stores. As I read, I looked at a pen drawing of the Hippocampus. The artist had pictured it in the angry swell Lake Michigan’s waters. Seeing the illustration wrought me with profound sadness. The same lakes that have always fascinated me with their majesty also could cause unspeakable loss.
Here are articles from the Saint Joseph Herald newspaper from 12 Sep 1868. This was one of the first articles that I found and it was very unnerving to see what may have caused the disaster. A story that literally hinges on a tired ship captain taking a day off and a load of too many peaches being placed on the ship.
There was another article that I found which gives greater context to the type of storm. This article appeared in the Herald-Palladium (St. Jospeh, MI) on 30 Nov 1981.
A full accounting may be found at the website Maritime History of the Great Lakes https://images.maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.ca/53039/data
Urial (often Uriel) died at the young age of 42. He had been born in 1822 and had clearly lived in the North during the Civil War before his death in 1868. As I mentioned earlier, Urial was a brother to my 2nd great grandmother Mary Ann Higbee Hess. Mary Ann lived from 1813-1874. She was 54 years old when her brother Urial drowned. (Mary Ann Higbee is #LZ2G-HRP on Family Search. org.) You can read my blog about Mary Ann Higbee Hess at https://tellinglifestories.org/2017/12/17/mary-ann-higbee-hess-1813-1874-my-2nd-great-grandmother-a-story-of-a-michigan-pioneer-woman-and-mother-of-12/(opens in a new tab)
When Uriel Urial Higbee was born on April 4, 1826, in Sandusky, Ohio, his father, James, was 46 and his mother, Mary, was 43. He married Sarah Louise Dodge in 1844. They had five children during their marriage.