Clues of wrecks from a dangerous lake spotted the shores
Nowadays, beach glass and the usual driftwood wash up on the shores of Lake Erie. In days gone by when the lake was much busier with the commerce from merchant ships, many other curious objects, often tragic evidence of shipwrecks, were found.
In last week’s column “Stormy weather caused historic shipwrecks” the sinking of both the Dean Richmond in October of 1893 and the Golden Fleece in October of 1890 were explained. There were other shipwrecks.
Two other wrecks were noted in the lighthouse keeper’s daily log at the end of October and the beginning of November.
Many sacks of flour washed ashore from the Dean Richard. Local citizens salvaged some of the flour by drying and chipping away the outer edges to get to the center. The lighthouse keeper’s family found something different on the shore in the latter part of October in 1891. They found something more lasting which still exists today and can be seen at the Dunkirk Historic Lighthouse and Veterans Part Museum.
The lighthouse keeper’s log from Oct. 31, 1891 said, “About 11 p.m. the Steamer Passaic from Saginaw bound for Buffalo, loaded with lumber, sprung a leak and sank about six miles NW of this light. The crew was saved. A fresh NW gale with rain was blowing that day and the next.”
An older ship built in 1862, the steamer met her demise during yet another storm. The book “Erie Wrecks East” describes how the Passaic “encountered a brutal gale and plowed through the heavy seas.” Its seams opened, the boiler went out, and all was lost. Those aboard spent the night “bailing with their hats and cupped hands.” All of the crew was rescued, but plenty of remnants came ashore in the local area.
“Point Gratiot’s Guiding Light The Dunkirk Lighthouse Station,” which includes entries of lighthouse keeper logs, recounts how other records from lighthouse keeper Peter J.Dempsey reveal that one such remnant from the wreck was a small oval stool with a cane seat. The Dempsey family kept it for 93 years, but then donated it to the museum. It can be seen today in one of the displays.
Divers can’t see much of this wreck today because the Passaic was partially dynamited in 1965 when it was mistaken for the Dean Richmond while in search of other reported treasures.
The story how slabs and slabs of chocolate washed ashore from another wreck in November will be told in another column. Other finds on the beaches from past lighthouse families, as noted in the “Point Gratiot” book written by Dempsey’s granddaughter Jean Russ, included a pair of wrought iron candle holders in a dainty filigree pattern and a wall sconce.
One unique novelty that the author’s mother recalled was picking up a small model sailing vessel on the beach one day. They figured it was probably from a captain’s cabin from one of the ships sunk in the local area. She said that her grandpa “rescued it” and repaired the damaged parts. The family proudly displayed it on one of the mantles in the house.
On one warm summer day while the windows were open to welcome cool air, a storm came up quickly. Before all the windows could be shut, the model ship was blown off its resting place and crashed to the floor. Living through a tempest on the lake, “it was unable to survive this one.”
A very different world lies beneath the waters of Lake Erie including marine life and countless remnants of shipwrecks. Many shipwrecks are known while others remain a mystery. Many artifacts may be examined at the lighthouse museum from tools to weapons and dishes dating back to the early 1800s. Consider a visit before it closes for the season. Make it a good week.