Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Split Rock Lighthouse

The Madeira was in ballast and under tow of the steamer William Edenborn on November 28, 1905 in the midst of what many consider to be the worst storm in the history of the Great Lakes. In the Mataafa storm, 20 vessels were wrecked or damaged with great loss of life and property. The iron and steel industry was going full bore at the beginning of the 20th century and ship traffic between the Mesabi, Cayuna, Gogebic, and Penokee iron ranges and the mills in Cleveland and Pittsburgh was heavy. At 3:30am, the height of the storm, the captain of the Edenborn cut the Madeira's towline, thinking the ship stood a better chance of surviving if it cast anchor and tried to ride out the storm. The Madeira struck Gold Rock at about 5:30am, just north of the present location of the Split Rock Lighthouse. About the same time the Edenborn grounded and broke in two about four miles away. The first mate on the Madeira went down with the ship but the other nine crew members were rescued when Fred Benson, a Norwegian crewman, grabbed a line and jumped from the ship to a rock, climbed the 60' cliff, and dropped the line to the deck so his shipmates could climb up.

After this monumental storm with its accompanying loss of life and property, much finger pointing ensued. Kind of like when a bridge collapses. Politicians, inspectors, engineers, and others all blamed one another but rather than getting at the root cause of the problem, "economically"constructed and overloaded ships, the shipping companies launched a campaign for the cheapest available protection, a government financed light station. And that (after heavy lobbying by shipping and steel industries) is how the Split Rock Lighthouse came about. The station was closed in 1969 when modern navigational methods made it obsolete but every year on November 10th the navigational beacon is lit to honor the 29 men lost on the Edmund Fitzgerald and all the other vessels lost on the Great Lakes. Its a wonderful place to tour and an even better place to paddle around in a kayak.

(factual info in the above post courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)


Kristen said...

Excellent story, Olson.

DaveO said...

Thanks Kristen, you spin a good yarn yourself. We paddled over the Madeira, which has dive buoys at both ends, but the lake was too rough to see down even though visibility there is down past 40-50 feet with polarized glasses. Sends a shiver up your spine thinking of the conditions in 1905.

Kristen said...

"The Wreck of the EF" has been one of my favouritely haunting songs ever since a wee kiddie; it's nice to get a bit closer to folks who are even closer still.

DaveO said...

Same here. We have a 'Lake Superior Room' in the townhouse and I got my hands on a print of the Fitz signed by both the artist and Gordon Lightfoot. I was pumped!