Next Meeting: Wednesday, February 28th

The UASC meets the last Wednesday of each month at the Chicago Maritime Museum located at 1200 West 35th Street, Suite OE5010, Chicago, IL 60609. Free event, ALL ARE WELCOME. Refreshments 6:30, Business 7:00, Speaker 8:00.


Underwater Archaeological Society of Chicago



April 2017 Minutes PDF Print E-mail

Underwater Archaeological Society Of Chicago

Meeting Minutes

April 26, 2017

President Dean Nolan greeted twenty-eight attendees, including five guests.

Secretary Carol Sommers stated that the minutes have been on line for members to read and were also available here in hard copy. The minutes were approved. In the future they will be posted on the website only after the members have received them by e-mail and approved them at the following meeting.

Treasurer John Bell was unable to attend the start of the meeting so Dean reported that there was $10,801 in the treasury plus some new members’ dues.

Illinois Council of Skin and Scuba Divers – UASC came in first along with Atlantis Divers since Colin Bertling was able to complete the team. The Jim Haigh Memorial Dive is July 16. The President Night’s Banquet will be on Saturday, October 21 at Mack’s Golden Pheasant.

Chicago Maritime Museum – Jim Jarecki said that the third Friday programs have been a big success with 139 people at the last one. One can get on the mailing list by going on-line. The author of the book Slaughterhouse will be giving a presentation.

Nautical Archaeological Society – Dave Thompson will be giving a course on archaeological illustration this Saturday, April 29 at the CMM. One spot is open—contact Dean if interested. There will be an opportunity to do survey work with him on the Mystery Wreck July 29 and 30. Double Action will be our boat and the diver cost will be forty dollars per dive.

Website – Vice President Colin Bertling stated that the minutes, upcoming speakers and the surveys for the Seabird and Wells Burt are now posted. He is working on the Facebook site. Dean reminded us that we have a Meet-Up page also which brings our information to a wider audience.

Speakers – Members are reminded that we always are looking for speakers and we have two very interesting ones lined up. The next meeting on May 31 will have a short presentation by our member Al Potelli and the main speaker will be Robert Kurson, the author of “Shadow Divers” and “Pirate Hunters”. In June Kevin McGee will speak about what one looks for when first surveying a wreck.

The member short presentation was by Colin Bertling on the Wells Burt. The ship was a relic of the golden age of sailing schooners and was built in 1873, being named after a potential customer. It was 201’ long, 335’ wide and had a 14’ deep hold which could accommodate 50 bushels of corn. She also carried grain, coal and ore—a total of 950 tons of the latter on her maiden voyage. It was the largest ship in the fleet of James Dunham. After ten years of service, she sunk in a spring storm 3 miles off of Evanston while carrying 1,540 tons of anthracite coal and lies 40 feet deep near Grosse Point. (The storm was so bad that it crushed and flung the schooner Jenny Lind onshore at 33rd street. She had been anchored at 30th street.) It is thought that the Wells Burt may have sunk because the bulwark was sealed and as the storm waves swamped the deck, she sunk. Eighteen lives were lost and the storm destroyed or damaged fifteen other ships. The ship could be seen from the Evanston lifeguard station since the mast was sticking up. Parts washed ashore at North Avenue Beach. In 1988 A&T recovery found the wreck and in 1989, UASC did a detailed survey and put four informative plaques on it. 75 divers made 400 dives and hull numbers made the identification definite. Unfortunately, in 1990-91, the wreck was vandalized with many deadeyes stolen. UASC was asked to chain down those remaining and there still is a standing $2,000 reward to find the vandals. UASC members who participated in the work on the wreck were asked to stand and be recognized. Claire and Bob Gadbois stood up and he added that an oil painting of the ship exists.

Ted Karamanski, author of Schooner Passage (which Dean said should be required reading for UASC), presented “Lighting the Way: A History of Navigation and Navigation Aids on the Great Lakes”. Native Americans used place names and stories as aids. For example Sleeping Bear Dunes refers to the story of a mother bear who made it to land, but her two cubs didn’t and became north and south Manitou Islands. Voyageurs lobbed off specific branches from trees and then gave them names. They were used navigate, as one might use a lighthouse. In 1789, in its first week of existence, the US Congress passed a bill on lighthouses. This was an early symbol of government doing something for the people. The first US lighthouse was built in Buffalo in 1818 but was so poorly built that a boat trying to
navigate with it was wrecked. Stephen Pleasonton, the fifth auditor of the US Treasury, was in charge from 1820 to 1850. To save money he built cheap lighthouses with lights by Winslow Lewis who incorrectly copied a French design. In 1831, a lighthouse built at the mouth of the Chicago River even collapsed within an hour of being finished. Lighthouse construction improved when the US Lighthouse Board took charge from 1852 to 1910. Naval officers, Army engineers and the Smithsonian were now making the construction decisions and were now using the Fresnel lens which was invented in 1823 and allowed a 10 to 20-mile projection of light. Lighthouses were used to mark shoals, harbor entrances and coasts. The oldest lighthouse in the country was built in 1821 in Marblehead, Ohio and is still active and owned by a county park.

Captains had to navigate by pilotage or dead reckoning with only lighthouses to guide them and it was made much easier with a chart showing depths, hazards and shoals. $15,000 was allotted for a Great Lakes survey in 1841 which was not finished until 1972. This was because ships kept getting bigger and needed larger channels to navigate. Six thousand miles of shoreline had to be mapped in all, including Canada. In a fog a chart was very useful. An improvement in shipping came with the construction of
canals: Erie in 1825, Welland in Canada in 1829 and Sault Ste Marie in 1855, the latter making Lake Superior available for trade. The Great Lakes have very few natural harbors which means ships had almost nowhere to shelter in a storm. In 1826 funds were allotted for harbors in Chicago and St. Joseph. An attempt to make a harbor in Chicago by just cutting a channel through a sandbar wasn’t successful because waves kept pushing sand back in. Eventually, the Army Corps of Engineers had to build long piers to trap sand and harbors needed to be dredged. Building harbors was expensive and foreign commerce was considered more important than trade within the US. Southern senators who were trading cotton with Europe blocked all bills and President James Polk, favoring the Southern view, vetoed a river and harbor bill. This was despite the fact that in 1846, there was $125 million in commerce on the Great Lakes vs. $114 million for the rest of the commerce of the USA. In 1846, the Chicago River and Harbor Convention took place. It was the largest convention to date in the country and was where Abraham Lincoln made his first public speech. In 1850, 431 lives were lost in the lake. President Millard Fillmore ordered 27 new lighthouses built in 1851. Navigation still needed “rules of the road” because in 1864 the Lady Elgin and a schooner hit each other because they didn’t have any kind of signals in order to pass each other correctly. The Civil War allowed the government to pass bills since the Southerners vote was no longer a factor. The result was the Harbor and Navigation Bill, the Pacific RR Bill, the Homestead Act and the Morrill Act which funded land grant colleges such as the University of Illinois. Orlando Poe built the Spectacle Reef Lighthouse and the tallest lighthouse on the lake which is still standing at Gross Point. Many disabled Civil War veterans became lighthouse keepers, but it wasn’t easy since there were 131 tasks to do daily including cleaning the lenses and lights. The lighthouse keeper of Menagerie Island named his twelve children after lighthouse inspectors, including twins born the year there were two inspectors. Women were also lighthouse keepers. Harriet Colfax was at the Michigan City Lighthouse for 43 years, from 1861 until 1904 when she retired at age 80. From 1890 to1896, keepers were political appointees, 1896-1939, in the civil service and 1939-1983, in the Coast Guard. When ships foundered near shore, the US life-saving service (1871-1915) had 47 stations to rescue the crew. There also were lightships anchored in the lake, but the last one left in 1970. Navigation was revolutionized by electricity and the advent of radio and telephones. In 1898, ship to shore was invented and Congress said that all ocean-going ships had to have it by 1912. The Great Lakes interests said no. In the 1913 storm, nine vessels without radios sunk. Lake ships didn’t have ship to
shore radio until the 30’s and 40’s. Radio beacons were established, which were towers which each sent out a specific code, allowing ships to triangulate their position which was especially useful in foggy conditions. A gyrocompass determines true north instead of magnetic north making navigation more accurate. Radar, adopted between 1947 and 1950 and developed by the Navy in World War II, was the most important improvement. It allowed ships to go faster and therefore have more business. LORAN, long range navigation, was a machine that calculated distance between radio pulses. It was stopped on the Great Lakes in 2010 after 43 years in use. GPS, which replaced Loran, was developed in 1974 for the military, 1983 for civilians and in 1999 was improved to an accuracy of three meters. Even with all this, there are “dunderheads”. There were many accidents when the Saint Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959. In 1997, the MV Buffalo sustained $1.2 million damage when it hit a lighthouse. (Minimal damage to the building.) A mail boat had come alongside and everyone left the bridge with the ship left on automatic pilot with its heading towards the lighthouse. Lighthouses are no longer necessary for navigation and many are for sale. Seven or eight are for sale each year and one can get one free if it is made open to the public. Many communities petition the Coast Guard to keep a light working in their lighthouse. Michigan has the most lighthouses. In the Q & A, Ted said that the closest lighthouses open to the public are in Evanston and Grosse Point.

The meeting adjourned at 9 pm.

Minutes respectfully submitted by Carol Sommers.

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