April 1, 2020 Post # 53

Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Quote for the day: "...[Lake Superior is] beautiful, empty, glittering, cold and brooding, gull-swept and impersonal; always there, always the same -- there for the grateful and ungrateful, there for the bastards and angels." John Voelker. Anatomy of a Murder.


The Trial of the Edmund Fitzgerald: Eyewitness Accounts from the U.S. Coast Guard Hearings
edited by Michael Schumacher

On November 10, 1975, the Edmund Fitzgerald sailed into history and became part of Great Lakes' lore when she sank in Lake Superior with all twenty-nine hands. The demise of the Great Lakes' largest vessel stunned the shipping community.  The Fitzgerald was a relatively new and powerful ore carrier. She was widely acknowledged to have the best crew and the most experienced captain on the lakes. Seasoned Great Lakes sailors and shipping experts as a whole felt that the mighty Fitz should have survived the storm with no problem. The Coast Guard quickly appointed a Marine Board of Investigation to determine the cause of the ore carrier's loss. 

Author Michael Schumacher, in order to research his book on the loss of the Fitzgerald was allowed to photocopy all 3,000 pages of testimony and documentation produced by the board. Years after publishing his book "The Mighty Fitz" Schumacher was drawn back to the mountain of documents and realized there was a lot of information contained in those 3,000 pages that never made it into his book. He set out to edit the wealth of information contained in the documents and final reports of the Coast Guard's Marine Board of Investigation and the National Transportation Safety Board and produce a documentary history of the sinking that would serve as a companion to "The Mighty Fitz. " It is not necessary to read Schumacher's earlier book on the Fitzgerald before diving into this one. The documents and testimony in the hearings come from naval architects, former crewmen of the Fitzgerald, search and rescue personnel, ship inspectors, loading experts, climatologists, scientists, and seamen who were on the SS Anderson which was some 10 miles behind the Fitzgerald when it simply disappeared from Anderson's radar. Schumacher has arranged the testimony so that it reads like a well organized and engrossing narrative and culminates with the report of the two boards and a Lake Carriers' Association Letter of Dissent. 

I was surprised to learn the Coast Guard was intensely interested in how the Fitzgerald was loaded. And even more surprised to learn that each Great Lakes ore carrier must be loaded in a specific manner that differs with each ore boat. The loading not only effects the seaworthiness of the vessel but could even cause the immense bulk carrier to break in two at the loading dock and sink. The book is highlighted by numerous photographs, maps, charts, and drawings that depict the position and scattering of the wreckage on the lake bottom. The book also includes a full list of the crew -- of which none of their bodies have been recovered -- addresses, and next of kin.

Reading the contemporary accounts of those who were on Lake Superior when the Fitzgerald went down, recount their participation in the search for survivors, hunted for the remains of the Fitz, and the numerous and diverse experts that testified on everything from ship construction to loading procedures brings a surprising immediacy to an event that took place almost fifty years ago. The book is a must for any library that boasts a collection on Great Lakes maritime history and the public who are still fascinated by the loss of the Fitzgerald and read extensively on Great Lakes shipwrecks. 
The Trial of the Edmund Fitzgerald: Eyewitness Accounts from the U.S. Coast Guard Hearings edited by Michael Schumacher. University of Minnesota Press, 2019, $19.95 pb.

Secret Upper Peninsula: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure
by Kath Usitalo

I fell in love with the Upper Peninsula with my first ferry ride across the Straits of Mackinac in the early 1950s. Over the course of seventy years, I have traveled and vacationed throughout the length and breadth of this unique and marvelous peninsula many times and I thought I was fairly knowledgeable when it came to its unique history and attractions. Then I cracked Kath Usitalo's third travel guide to the U.P.

I didn't know NASA had a launching pad near the tip of the Keweenaw Penisula, or that the 1st highway roadside park in the United States lies four miles east of Iron River on US-2. Didn't know that WWII military gilders famously used on D Day to drop troops behind enemy lines,  were built in the U.P. I knew of the restaurant that was famous for its giant cinnamon rolls, but deeply regret being unaware of another eatery that made Korppu, twice-baked slices of toast slathered with cinnamon and sugar and sold by the loaf. Then there's the company town founded by Henry Ford in the 1920s and now owned by Michigan Tech in which some of its twelve still standing homes can be rented for the night. I didn't know the Yooper Dome in Marquette was the world's largest wooden-domed stadium. I did happen to know that the world's first indoor hockey rink was built in Calumet and still remains a hotbed for hockey players from kids to adults. I have driven the Brockway Mountain Drive which is the highest above sea-level road between the Rocky and Allegany Mountains and second the author's enthusiastic recommendation.

I would have especially liked to visit a remote park located at the tip of a slim 11-mile long peninsula jutting out into Lake Superior that is seldom visited and has 2 miles of rugged shoreline that offers magnificent views of the Keweenaw Peninsula and the Huron Mtns. The only drawback is the U.P. version of the walking dead, otherwise known as black flies that can attack in hordes. Try to visit on a day with a strong southerly wind that will drive the flies inland. For someone who thought they knew the U.P. this book is a humbling experience.

Each attraction features a succinct description, a photograph, directions for getting there, cost if any, and tips on how to best enjoy your visit. This book belongs in the glove compartment of anyone planning a trip to the U.P.

Secret Upper Peninsula: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure by Kath Usitalo. Reedy Press, 2019, $20.95 pb.

Point North: Discover Hidden Campgrounds, Natural Wonders, and Waterways of the Upper Peninsula
by Mikel B. Classen

Yes, yet another travel guide to the Upper Peninsula, and if you're tempted to dismiss it and say enough already, you would be wrong. This is both a travel guide to 40 uniquely beautiful and scenic wonders or historically significant destinations north of Big Mac and it also doubles as a tribute to the indisputable beauty, splendor, and unique history of the U.P.

Unlike a typical travel guide, a two- to four-page essay is devoted to each site. The author's love for the U.P. is obvious on every page. Whether a museum, a state park, or a 17,000-acre wilderness area Classen's descriptions are vibrant, enticing, and thorough. Color photographs, most of which were taken by the author, complement the essays. 

The book contains almost as many surprises as the "Secret Upper Peninsula." The author credits the Au Train River as the best kayaking river in the U.P. In an essay on a state forest campground located on Lake Michigan near Naubinway he not only fully describes the little-used campground and the beautiful beach but also mentions that just offshore is the Lake Michigan Water Trail which I Googled because I had never heard of it. It seems the trail is still under development in the four states surrounding Lake Michigan and when completed it will be the longest freshwater water trail in the world. 

I was particularly taken with the book's scenic descriptions, history, and activities to be found at the 17,000-acre McCormick Wilderness Tract, the three square miles of the little-used Donnelley Wilderness Tract located in the foothills of the Huron Mtns, and the Grand Canyon of the U.P. the Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness. It is another book that belongs in the car of any Troll (those of us living below the Mackinac Bridge) vacationing in the U.P. Better yet the book should be read by anyone planning a trip to the Upper Peninsula. It is sure to influence their itinerary.

Even if you are never going to the U.P. it is still well worth reading just to gain an appreciation of what this great state and the Upper Peninsula have to offer its citizens in the way of outdoor adventures and unique natural wonders. This sparkling collection of essays makes for great reading. There is no arguing with the author's claim that the essays and the research that went into them were a"labor of love."

Points North: Discover Hidden Campgrounds, Natural Wonders, and Waterways of the Upper Peninsula by Mikel B. Classen. Modern History Press, 2020, $27.95 pb.

Deja Noir: A Detroit Mystery
by Robert E. Bailey

Retired cop Ray Kerze is a private eye with a rent-free office in an abandoned Detroit office building in which someone forgot to turn off the electricity and heat. It is all the office he can afford because what little money Ray makes supports a serious drinking problem. Business looks to be picking up when an attractive young woman finds her way to Kerzie's office and wants to hire him for a simple job. The woman wants Kerze to kill her. She will pay him with all the money she has in the world which amounts to $11.60.

And so begins one of the most original, captivating and entertaining mysteries I've read in some time. The woman's simple request leads to unpaid loan sharks, right-wing white supremacists looking for trouble, a crooked Detroit councilwoman, a corpse who comes back to life in the city morgue, and a plot with more twists and turns than a colander of al dente fettuccine. 

Adding to the fun is that every chapter is narrated by a different character. So the point of view changes with every chapter and each new narrator takes the story in a new direction. The author does a great job of giving each character a distinctive voice and point of view. The dialogue is crisp and often funny and Bailey writes sentences I found myself underlining, such as, "His skin looked like a sheet of crumpled parchment and his neck rattled around his shirt collar like a soda straw in a bucket."

The different narrators may have readers wondering at times just where the plot is going but it all gets resolved in the conclusion and had me hoping for a sequel until I read the acknowledgments at the back of the book. It was written by the author's wife who thanked countless people and doctors whose encouragement and care helped Bailey complete the book even as he was dying from a Glioblastoma brain tumor. Which makes this book a living testament to this fine author's courage and tenacity, and makes it a certainty I will be searching libraries for his three earlier mysteries. 
Deja Noir: A Detroit Mystery by Robert E. Bailey. Ignition Books, 2019, $13.99

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