ESCANABA - A foghorn moans out on Little Bay de Noc.
From the waters of Green Bay to the head of our "little bay," a secret is out there.
Slip back in time. When the moonbeams touch the water, time knows no boundaries. The year 2012, blends and flows and stirs up voices from decades past.
Delta County Historical Society Archives photo
The Steamer Nahant cruised the waters of the Great Lakes until November 1898 when it caught fire alongside the ore dock in Escanaba and was towed to Sand Point and beached. Sparks from the burning Nahant ignited the dock and it was also destroyed.
The sad song of a Frenchman rolls with the waves. Feel the wind from a September gale ruffle the slightly tinged leaves along Washington Island, St. Martin's Island, the Stonington Peninsula and Sand Point (Escanaba). The secret is out there.
Suddenly the waves close in from three directions. There is the smell of wet furs, smoke and then silence.
Into a dark, murky, icy, tomb is cast The GRIFFON. It was the first European ship, (not native birch bark or dug-out canoe) to ever sail the Upper Great Lakes. And it is out there only a hop and a skip away from Escanaba.
History books tells us that the Griffon was built above Niagara Falls and came to Lake Michigan in 1679. The ship belonged to King Louis XIV of France. It was the flagship for explorer, Robert LaSalle.
After stopping over on an island, LaSalle sent the Griffon on ahead towards home with 6,000 pound of fur and other trade items. But the storm called out instead stealing the sailors, the furs, and an iron cannon with the insignia of King Louis on it.
Looking southward from our sandy Escanaba shores, out over the water horizon, perhaps we can almost see where the Griffon was last seen.
U.S. Navy man and shipwreck hunter, Steve Libert, found what he believes is the Griffon in 2001. Is the mystery solved about the long-lost ship? Maybe, but now there is a storm of legal battles to weather. The ship is believed to be between Escanaba and St. Martin Island. Is it in Wisconsin waters or Michigan's? Does it belong to the United States or France?
The storm continues and we have our mystery. But just think of what our islands and bays must have looked like to those explorers back in 1679!
The most famous shipwreck of all, the Titanic, sank on April 14,1912, 100 hundred years ago.
The news, magazines and media are chock full of Titanic memories right now. James Cameron's famous movie about the tragedy is being re-released in 3D.
A new book out about the survivors of the Titanic, "The Shadow of the Titanic," describes how the cries and screams of that fateful night never faded away in their minds.
Closer to Escanaba's own shores than the Titanic or the Griffon is the wreck of the Nahant. It was docked at Port Escanaba in 1897 when she caught fire. Some say drunken sailors overturned a kerosene lamp - no one really knows - but the sparks threatened the wooden ore docks and wooden sidewalks of old Escanaba. So the ship was towed out into the harbor where she sank into the water depths behind the Sand Point Lighthouse.
Do the ghosts of the Nahant and the ghosts of the Griffon ever mingle in the fog? Do they wave to the iron ore boats of today? When the gulls and the loons laugh, do the ghosts see the grand city that Escanaba has become?
When my sister and I were youngsters, we'd often swim at various spots along Escanaba's North Shore. Every time an ancient piece of driftwood would wash-up, we'd say, "The Griffon - a piece of the Griffon." We would let our imaginations run wild.
Shipwrecks are sad things, but they can teach us a lot about history. A visit to our Delta County Historical Museum will reveal the story of the Nahant and its rudder on display.
The Atlantic Ocean has the Titanic, and the water right outside our windows has its secrets and a lot of great history, too.
Karen (Rose)?Wils is a lifelong resident of Escanaba, Her folksy columns appear each Friday in Lifestyles.