Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Surfacing

This blog has been in something of a winter slumber. The Lake Erie manuscript has been back in my care for the last two weeks and, since this is my last real shot to make significant changes, it's been occupying my thoughts, and precluding blogging about yet more Great Lakes happenings. Besides, there were heart-rending technological failures that meant some work had to be done twice. Suffice it to say, the cat ate my homework.

But there is an interesting story in yesterday's Dowagiac Daily News about recent dives to the Hennepin, a freighter said to have been lost in a storm in 1927.

All is not as it appears with the Hennepin. Back in 1927, her captain, Ole Hanson, reported that the freighter had foundered in a gale on Lake Michigan. Not so, say the folks from Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates (MSRA). According to their findings, the wind never exceeded 17 mph on the day the Hennepin went down -- a fraction of what the Great Lakes are capable of. Moreover, they claim that it's more likely the ship foundered due to human error. Hanson's story, it seems, was meant to distract attention from this.

You can read more about the Hennepin here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A new light

With the Lake Erie Stories manuscript now safely in the hands of its editor, I've had a bit of time lately to ponder what I'd like to tackle next.

There are countless directions I could go for my second book, too many for my exhausted brain to come to grips with at the moment, but one obvious course would be to try the same approach on the Great Lake that I now find myself living on -- Lake Ontario.

If Lake Ontario Stories were to come to pass, the story of the Gibraltar Point lighthouse on Toronto Island would almost certainly have to be included.

It's not known when construction of the venerable old light began, but it was finished by 1808, which qualifies it as one of the very earliest lights on the Great Lakes. It is also notable among Great Lakes lights for a very different reason ... it is believed to be haunted.

This bold claim is based on the events of a cold evening in January of 1815. According to local legend the first keeper, J.P. Radan Muller, was just settling in to work at the light when he heard a knock on the door. When he opened it, he found a group of soldiers from nearby Fort York, who demanded that Muller serve them beer. (Muller was believed to be a bootlegger of liquor from the U.S.) Muller apparently fulfilled their request, but when they demanded seconds, he refused to give the men another drop. At this point, a fight ensued, after which the soldiers chased Muller upstairs and killed him. Not yet finished, they then cut up his remains and buried them on the lighthouse grounds.

What happened to the murderers is unclear, but ever since there have been reports of moaning on cold, misty nights and sightings of an "apparition" wandering the lighthouse grounds.

The story probably would have ended here, and remained just another campfire yarn, but in 1893 things took a strange turn. The keeper of the day, George Durnan, came across a coffin buried near the light that contained a human jawbone. Though it was never proven to belong to the unfortunate Mr. Muller, the find confirmed the truth of the ghost story in the minds of many of the locals.

So if you are ever in Toronto on a cold, misty January night, spend a few minutes out by the Gibraltar Point light. You may even get to glimpse (or hear) the keeper's ghost for yourself.

For more on the Gibraltar Point lighthouse, click here.