Carson City library presents ‘Shipwrecks of Lake Michigan’

By Daily News • Last Updated 1:07 pm on Tuesday, April 17, 2012

CARSON CITY— Local shipwrecks will take center stage this month, marking the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic.

Valerie van Heest is a veteran shipwreck explorer who combines her passion for documenting historic shipwrecks with her creative abilities to preserve and promote Great Lakes maritime history. She is the recipient of multiple awards for her books, exhibits, films, as well as her volunteer work promoting Michigan’s maritime history, and is a founding member of Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates in Holland, Mich. She is the author of four shipwreck books with another due out this summer. For more information, visit online. - Courtesy photo

On Wednesday, Michigan shipwreck hunter and member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame Valerie van Heest will present a program called “Lost & Found: Shipwrecks of Lake Michigan” at Carson City Public Library at 6:30 p.m.

Dozens of shipwrecks rest in the cold, clear water in Lake Michigan where the freshwater maintains them in a nearly timeless state of preservation. Van Heest  will share the stories of several of these accidents, including the Lady Elgin, an disaster often referred to as the “Titanic of the Great Lakes,” because of the large loss of life. More than 300 people died in 1860 when the side wheel steamer sank after a collision with a lumber schooner north of Chicago, taking rank as the deadliest disaster on the open waters of the Great Lakes.

Like on the Titanic, many wealthy and famous people died on the Lady Elgin. Herbert Ingram, owner of the London Illustrated News, and, Col. J. R. Lumsden, the editor of the New Orleans Picayune, were among the most notable. Similar to Titanic’s unsinkable Molly Brown, Margaret Burke, a survivor of the Lady Elgin, showed incredible heroism encouraging the others to swim for their lives when the boat sank from beneath them. The Lady Elgin’s Capt. John Wilson of Coldwater died like Capt. Smith of the Titanic, but not until he helped other passengers reach the safety of rafts.

Asked why she thinks the Titanic and other shipwrecks fascinate the public, van Heest said, “We all tend to wonder how we might react if caught in a similar circumstance. Plus for me, studying these accidents reminds me how precious life is. I value each and every day more so.”

Van Heest prefers to study the shipwrecks closer to home in Lake Michigan.

“When we study local shipwrecks like the Lady Elgin, we learn about the roots of our lakeshore communities and what life was like here in West Michigan more than a century ago,” she said.

The program is free. After the presentation, Van Heest will sign copies of her books.

Call the library at (989) 584-3680 for more information about the event.

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