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Mason County Memories


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History Columns are arranged by year of publication in the Ludington Daily News



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S.S. Puritan / George Cox History Column 195 Dave Petersen The S.S. Puritan was a familiar sight along the lakeshore from her build in 1901 by the Craig shipbuilding Company until her wreck on the Rock of Ages in 1933. Originally built for and owned by the Graham and Morton Steamship Transportation Company in Milwaukee she served them until taken over by the United States Navy and converted to a troop transport ship during WWI. She was sold after the war and converted back into passenger ship duty in 1919 and went through a succession of owners after that. The Chicago Racine and Milwaukee Line, Michigan Transit Corporation, and R. Floyd Clinch in 1927. The boats had been sold at auction and Clinch bough the Puritan personally for 102,000.00 Clinch also purchased the Manitou for the Central Securities Company of Chicago. Clinch owned properties in the Traverse City area that would have been negatively impacted had the ships not returned to service. His investment was welcome news to the region but did not pan out in the long run for him as the financial crash of the stock market and the ensuing depression put the ships back on the market within a few years. The ship was important not only for the passenger tourist trade but also for transporting cherries and other produce to markets quickly and efficiently for the farmers of the region. George M. Cox purchased the Puritan in 1933 and formed the Isle Royale Transportation Company. The ill fated ship sank after striking the Rock of Ages just off from Isle Royale in Lake Superior May 27th 1933, She was on her maiden voyage on her new route from Chicago to Hancock Michigan to Fort William Ontario. The ship was traveling at 15 knots when she struck the rock in a dense fog. Considering the speed and seriousness of the crash there were only four injuries and no deaths. Other factors that contributed to the safety of the passengers and crew was that except for the dense fog the lake was relatively calm. A storm or rough waters could have had a dramatic negative effect on the rescue. The owner George M. Cox was aboard the ship when Captain George Johnson, a seasoned skipper struck the rock, sending the stern of the ship up at about a 40 degree angle before she broke and eventually slid back into the icy waters of Lake Superior. The injured along with the owner and ships nurse were picked up first and taken to Fort William by the Tremaine. The passengers and crew spent a cold night on the reef taking shifts in the lighthouse in small groups to get out of the elements. The survivors of the wreck had a positive outlook afterwards, and according to a story in the Chicago Herald Examiner of June 1st 1933 kept life preservers as souvenirs, one a Bill Gilbert of Chicago showed off his life preserver with autographs of 60 of the passengers of the ship. According to a story in the Chicago Daily Tribune of May 29th 1933 a Miss Keeling was quoted as follows. " There was one heavy thud, followed by a series of crashes. The passengers were at dinner at the time. I saw a heavy buffet slide across the floor and crash into tables and a partition. I was thrown against a door and stunned." There was no panic but, but the steamer listed heavily to port, and the passengers and crew rushed to starboard. It was impossible to lower the starboard lifeboats because of the list of the vessel but the port boats were lowered and ferried us all to the lighthouse." The ships nurse Adeline Keeler was quoted in the May 29th issue of the Chicago Herald Examiner as follows. " The fog was so dense that the shrieks of the lighthouse siren on the reef were no guidance, there were screams as we struck, but the cool guidance of Captain George Johnson and his crew steadied all of us. In the morning the passengers and crew were taken by the Coast Guard Patrol Crawford back to Houghton Lake, with the loss of the Cox several hundred others were to miss the opportunity to travel back to Chicago to see the World's Fair. A small price to pay for surviving a shipwreck on the inland seas. If you have local stories and photographs and wish to share those with our readers please feel free to contact me at 757-3240, davep@blackcreekpress.com or mail in care of the Ludington Daily News PO Box 340 Ludington Mi 49431.

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