Long Night of Terror – Sinking of the South Shore – Grand Marais – Michigan

The Long Night of Terror

The Sinking of the South Shore


Mikel B. Classen

   In 1909, a captain from Grand Marais by the name of Ora Endress purchased a small wooden steamer called the South Shore. With the railroad gone from Grand Marais, a vital link had been taken away from those who remained in the community. Something had to be done to fill that void. Endress’s idea was to make regular supply runs along the south shore of Lake Superior from Whitefish Bay to Marquette. The upper deck of the ship held cabins, allowing Endress to book passengers as well. He scheduled the South Shore to make stops at places like Whitefish Point, Vermillion, the Two-Hearted River, Grand Marais and Au Sable Point. The South Shore was a regular sight on the lake and an occasional visitor to Au Sable Point Lighthouse, dropping off supplies or personnel for the light station.

   Endress did quite well with his business until late November 1912. November is never a good time to have to sail the Great Lakes. The unpredictability and the utter and complete violence of the gales have taken hundreds of ships to the bottom. And hurricane-force winds and blizzards can—and often do—come with these November storms. Endress was sailing the South Shore toward Grand Marais from Sault Ste. Marie when the ship became engulfed in a blinding snow. A northeast gale had blown up, and things were getting dicey fast. The waves had built, and it became apparent that the South Shore wouldn’t be able to get into Grand Marais harbor.

   Endress had spent many years on the Great Lakes. He was well seasoned and knowledgeable, but now he had to make a difficult decision. With four passengers and ten crewmen on the ship, Endress chose the option he thought would give the ship and those on board their best chances of survival. He decided to try to ride out the storm in the open water. He put the bow to the wind and hoped for the best.

   The storm blew mercilessly into the night. But Endress, keeping his bow to the waves, was working his way northeast out into Lake Superior. He had sailed almost halfway to Caribou Island, about twenty-five miles out from Grand Marais. The waves were beating against the ship and rolling over the decks. Slowly, the ship’s seams started to open. A huge wave came and swept away the part of the cabin house. Another wave pounded in part of the wheelhouse. The raging surf broke out windows and covered the South Shore in a sheet of ice. Water coming in the hull reached the boiler fires and extinguished them. The South Shore was without power.

   The helpless ship was driven before the storm. It rose and fell between the massive troughs of waves. The wet and cold passengers and crew all manned the hand pumps, trying to keep the beleaguered ship afloat. It was a long night, but as morning rolled around, the ship was still afloat.

   In the morning, the Grand Marais Life Saving Station spotted the South Shore about ten miles out. Endress, who was likely too busy trying to save his ship, wasn’t flying any distress flags. But Captain Trudell, Commander of the Grand Marais Life Savers, deduced that they might need help, and there just might have been a small desire to take out the station’s new motor-powered surfboat, named the Audacity. The days of rowing were behind the lifesavers—at least as long as the motor didn’t conk out. Motorized surfboats made the Life-Saving Service more efficient. They were quicker to respond to wrecks and quicker to unload passengers and crew. It had been a major improvement for the lifesavers and those who depended on them.

When they reached the South Shore, the ship was nearly awash and foundering, as it was very full of water. They tried everything. They jettisoned the cargo and helped work the pumps. At one point, they even tried to rebuild the boiler fire, but it was to no avail. A decision had to be made. The lifesavers took off the four passengers and the ten crewmen and headed back to shore.

   The abandoned South Shore was now at the mercy of Lake Superior. It was blown west toward Au Sable Point and Grand Sable Dunes. All the while, Lake Superior continued to batter the ship. Eventually, it rolled toward the shore and sank in twelve feet of water. The South Shore’s final resting place would be the location Au Sable Point meets Grand Sable Dunes, west of the Devil’s Log Slide.

   The loss of the South Shore caused considerable hardship, as it was carrying was the winter stockpile for many along the route. The winter was lean for those waiting for the South Shore to make its run, a run it never completed.

   The South Shore can sometimes still be seen. It’s quite visible when standing atop the log slide and gazing across the vastness of Au Sable Point, the lighthouse in the distance. When you look down at Lake Superior, look below the log slide but toward Au Sable. The shape of the South Shore can be seen under the shallow water. From time to time, the sand will cover and uncover the remains of the ship. So, like the ghost it is, the South Shore appears only occasionally, when the conditions are just right.

Author’s Note: This is a story that I came across while researching my book “Au Sable Point Lighthouse, Beacon on Lake Superior’s Shipwreck Coast.” The photos, I discovered too late to make it into the book while the story is a part of the finished edition along with dozens of other stories, like this. If you enjoyed this tale of life on Lake Superior, please consider picking up a copy of my book, It can be ordered here. https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781626194830

Content copyright . Mikel Classen. All rights reserved.