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Mason County Memories

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In researching a series of photographs that were a part of the Erhardt Peters collection I've run into a little controversy over who actually took the pictures. These are very familiar to most people who collect maritime images, and they have been used in several books, and magazines over the years each time noting a different photographer. This is the series of three photographs of the Pere Marquette 17 diving into a wave, riding up and coming out the other side to crash into the next wave. A magnificent series of pictures. The photographs were taken in October of 1929 during the same storm that sank the City of Milwaukee, but the question remains; By Who? In Arthur and Lucy Fredrickson's book the photos appear on page 39 and are attributed to J.H. Ferris, Master of the Pere Marquette 22. Ferris certainly had the opportunity, time and talent to take the photographs and has many quality photographs to his name. The photo of the waves crashing up to the pilot house was also used in the Ludington Carferries book published in 1997 and was attributed to Ferris as well. In their book "Pictorial history of the C&O Train and Auto Ferries" Arthur and Lucy Fredrickson writes "During the winter operations carferries often encounter heavy seas, so to make better time and to avoid damage to cargo they usually head into the weather until high enough to square away and run before it." Robert Cook, wireless operator of the Ann Arbor car ferry fleet, also made claim to being on a passing Ann Arbor Ship and behind the lens when the photos were taken. Thomas Sturdy, Purser on the Pere Marquette 21 is named the photographer in the February 1930 edition of the Pere Marquette Magazine. The article it was used to illustrate was entitled "Believe it or not, Ludington is the third most important harbor on Lake Michigan. The article, written by R.B. Fenton General Agent in Ludington refers to the sturdiness of the carrferry workers and that "The life of the carferry sailor is no Barge man's picnic." Erhardt Peters who was the wheelsman on the Pere Marquette 22 also could be the photographer as well. There were about 15 original prints in the part of the collection that I purchased over the past few years, several with the Erhardt Peters stamp on the back. There are also several notations on the back of the photographs, one with the waves crashing up to the pilot house makes reference to the photos being taken during the same storm that sank the City of Milwaukee in October 1929 and corresponds with claims made by others. The notation goes on to say " about 50 feet from water to the pilot house so seas are rather high" Another photo notation [translated as well as I can] "The carferry is pitching wildly, the hull in angle down, the bow driving the waves, whole ship is shuddering bad, the cabins strain." Erhardt's brother Edmund who will be 96 this May worked primarily as a Cook on the PM 21 during the fall of 1929 and recalled that his brother Erhardt took the photos as they passed each other on the lake. Was he working on the PM 17 that day? You might ask why is this important? The photographs were taken 75 years ago. For those of us who collect carferry memorabilia and are interested in the history of the fleets knowing the details about who took the photos, the weather conditions and other minute details is like a car buff's interest in the engines performance, or the hunter's interest in his gun's specifications. They are the details that make a story a little more interesting, add a little mystery and make the search a little more fun. So the question does really still stand unanswered, who was our mystery photographer on that cold and stormy October day in 1929? There is a lot of important local history to be unearthed, one such thing is the personal scrapbooks of W.L. Mercereau and what Art Chavez refers to as the Holy Grail of carferry memorabilia. I'm not sure that finding W.L. Mercereau's personal scrapbooks would be a religious experience but it would certainly be a significant discovery of important local history. Mercereau was Superintendent of Steamships for the Pere Marquette Railroad from 1899 to 1931 and passed away in 1957 without heirs. His personal albums were passed along to his secretary, used as reference in an 1950's article written by Thomas P Dancey and published in a journal called The Inland Seas, They have since disappeared. A Mystery to be sure and maybe one that our readers can help to uncover.

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