Ask just about any random Michigan resident, and they can probably quote you lines from Gordon Lightfoot's haunting ballad, 'The Wreck of the Fitzgerald'. But 61 years ago Sunday, there was a much worse wreck.

The enormous freighter Carl D.Bradley went down November 17, 1958 on the northern part of Lake Michigan during a storm eerily similar to the one that took down the Fitzgerald.

33 mariners went down with the Bradley on that tragic evening, 23 of them from the small community of Rogers City, located just south of Alpena.

The web site Lake Effect Living described the last few hours of the Bradley this way:

After delivering a cargo of crushed stone, the freighter left Gary, Indiana and headed to Manitowac, Wisconsin, where the vessel would be put into dry dock for the winter. The Bradley was but a few hours away from Manitowac when the company ordered them to the Port of Calcite for one more load of stone to deliver. On Monday, November 17, 1958, the steamer left Buffington, Indiana bound for Port of Calcite harbor in Rogers City, Michigan.


...Manned by a crew of thirty-five and carrying a light cargo, the Bradley headed out onto Lake Michigan at 9:30pm. But signs of severe weather were already in evidence when they left Buffington, where winds gusted at more than 35 miles an hour. It was the first ominous indications of an extreme cold front forming over the plains.


Aware that gale winds were forecast, the crew readied the steamer for bad weather. They traveled along the Wisconsin shore until reaching Cana Island, where they shifted course for Lansing Shoal which lay across Lake Michigan. The winds on the lake reached 65 miles an hour by 4pm the following day. Still, the Bradley seemed to be weathering the gale force winds and heavy seas with little problem. This changed at 5:30pm when the Port of Calcite received a radio message from First Mate Elmer Fleming informing them that the Bradley, approx. twelve miles southwest of Gull Island, would arrive home at 2am. As soon as this message was sent however, a loud thud or bang was heard on the ship.


When the crew in the pilothouse saw the stern sagging, their next radio message was “Mayday!” With the ship quickly breaking apart, Captain Bryan gave the order to abandon ship. Power on the boat had already gone out. As the crew scrambled for the life rafts, the Bradley literally broke in two. As the stern sank to the bottom of the lake, there was an explosion as water flooded the boilers. Two lifeboats were kept in the stern, and a single life raft in the vessel’s bow. Given the speed of the disaster, the crew had difficulty launching the lifeboats, which became tangled in cables. The lone life raft flew clear of the sinking ship; four crew members swam through storm-tossed waves to reach it.

Only two of those crew members survived that long night hanging on to the life boat in the heavy seas.

... (the) surviving crew members (were) First Mate Elmer Fleming and Watchman Frank Mays. The men were encrusted with ice and immobilized from the extreme cold. Swaddled in blankets, Fleming and Mays were brought aboard the cutter and carefully fed beef broth every thirty minutes. But they refused to leave the area while the search for their friends was going on.

Here's newsreel footage on the wreck.

And here's underwater footage of the submerged wreck, which was discovered in 1997 by maritime explorer Fred Shannon.

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