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Mason County Memories


"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus" ~ Mark Twain


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



david k petersen

Pere Marquette 18 History Column Dave Petersen Its been 98 years since the Pere Marquette 18 sunk below the waves of Lake Michigan and despite several efforts the resting site of the PM 18 remains elusive to those who would claim discovery. There has been much written about the sinking over the years and a great deal of speculation as to why this ship sank. Answers that we won't have unless or until the lake gives up her secrets. With the ship in an area believed to be 400 or more feet deep that may not happen for a few more years as that depth is prohibitive and difficult for divers. Two other ships of similar design also sank, the Marquette and Bessmer December 9th 1909 in Lake Erie has never been found and the Grand Trunk's ship S.S. Milwaukee which sank October 22th 1929 and was found in 1972. We aren't going to expose any new information on the sinking today although it may be new to new residents in the area. The ship and its crew should be remembered every year as the sinking and loss of life did impact the families and our community. The PM 18 was built in 1902 by the American Shipbuilding Company in Cleveland Ohio. She was a steel hulled 338 foot long ship made for hauling freight and passengers. For several years the ship was chartered out in Chicago, a dance floor was built and she was used for excursions on Lake Michigan. The PM 18 had been used during that last summer as an excursion vessel and was on her first run of the freight season late on the night of September 9th. Locally the most well known officers of the ill fated 18 are Captain Peter Kilty and E. Ross Leedham the chief engineer. Leedham and his crew locked themselves in the engine room and stayed at their post in a heroic attempt to keep the steam up and the engines going as the Captain had hoped to turn and make port in Sheboygan which was closer for them then trying to make port at Milwaukee. Fate had other ideas and the ship was claimed by the lake early on September 10th 1910 along with 28 souls. The ship had begun to take on water in the early morning from an unknown source, Captain Kilty ordered railcars to be pushed off into the lake in order to lighten the ship and wireless operator Stephen Sczepanek to send the distress call out for help. "PM No. 18 sinking mid-lake for GOD's sake help us" The Pere Marquette 17 responded to the distress call and in the lowering of the first life boat lost two of her own crew, 33 of the passengers and crew were saved but none of the Officers survived. A young crewman by the name of Jacob Lunde was on board the PM 17 and witnessed the sinking, he later made several folk paintings of the sinking and Jacob also became a well known local historian and created a panarama that he used to illusrate the history of Ludington. Afterwards a hearing was held to try and determine the cause of the sinking, but with the loss of all of the officers the cause could not be determined. The one good thing that came out of the investigation was that carferries had to have seagates installed to help keep the waters of the lake out. Although it may not have helped the PM 18 as the weather was fair on the day of its sinking. One thing is certain, at 50 Captain Kilty was a competent, seasoned seaman. He had been made captain of the Ann Arbor 1 in 1896 and of the new steel hulled carferry the Pere Marquette in 1898, and he and his officers gave their lives in the effort to bring the PM 18 into port. I am working up some stories to feature carferry workers of the Great Lakes, if you or if you had a family member who worked on the boats in any capacity and have stories you would like to share with our readers please feel free to contact me at davep@blackcreekpress.com 757-3240 or mail care of Ludington Daily News PO Box 340 Ludington Mi 49431. Pic1 Headline of the sinking in the Ludington Record Appeal Pic2 A view of the sinking as painted by local resident Jacob Lunde Pic3 Captain Kilty on the left and E.Ross Leedham on the right in this circa 1909 view. Pic4 E. Ross Leedham's wife Grace was in the process of setting up housekeeping in their new home when word came of the sinking. Photo courtesy of Gladys Leedham Pic5 The couple had two children, Charles and Kathryn Leedham. Many may recall Charles teaching High School math at Ludington. Photo courtesy of Gladys Leedham Pic6 Circa 1905 view of the Pere Marquette 18 I in the Ludington harbor during the winter, After the sinking the Company ordered its replacement and ignoring all superstitions named the ship the PM 18 II.

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