Wild Ride on the Steamer Manitou
By James Donahue
The small passenger boat Manitou enjoyed a relatively long and successful
career that lasted from the day she was launched in 1893 until it was scrapped for steel in the early days of World War II.
Although owned by three different steamship companies, the Manitou spent
40 consecutive years carrying passengers between Chicago and Mackinac Island. It was a popular boat and thousands of Chicago
area vacationers enjoyed the ride each season.
There was one ride, however, that was far from pleasant.
In the fall of 1905 the lakes were swept by a series of serious storms that
sank a number of boats, drove others aground, and an untold number of sailors died. The first of the triple set of blows struck
the first week in September, catching the Manitou at the upper end of Lake Michigan as it was entering the Straits of Mackinaw
and approaching the island. The gale was so severe, the captain of the steamer, identified as Captain McIntyre, decided not
to try to enter the harbor for fear of wrecking his command.
Thus the passengers were forced to endure a night of terror as the Manitou
remained out on the lake, steaming into the teeth of the gale.
Louis Rosenbaum, a resident of Kalamazoo, Mich., was among the passengers
on the Manitou that night. In an interview with a reporter for the News Palladium, in Benton Harbor, he told about the horrors
endured by the passengers. He said he did not expect to come out of the experience alive.
“We left Chicago at 6:30 p.m. Friday,” Rosenbaum said.
“The trip all the way to Mackinaw was stormy and nearly everybody was sick. However we arrived outside of Mackinac (Island)
around 6:30 p.m. Saturday. When we arrived in sight of the harbor, Captain McIntyre got uneasy about trying to reach the harbor.
He said there was a chance that he would damage the ship and even wreck it, putting the crew and passengers in jeopardy.
“He decided to stay out in the lake all night. He said he had
not failed to make harbor in some 14 years. The storm was so bad the vessel was dipping water over her sides and all passengers
were fearful of sinking. The captain stayed on the forward deck and stood watch about 40 hours. He said it was the worst storm
he had ever seen.
“I stayed on the deck all night and was the only one of the passengers
who was not sick. My wife was with me as were Mrs. S. J. Dunkley and Miss Clara McDonald, all of Kalamazoo. They were very
sick. I was dashed down a flight of stairs but only got a lame shoulder.
“I was on deck when a very sick woman came out. I went up to
her to warn her to get back in the cabin. Just then a large wave swept the deck and started carrying her over the rail. I
grabbed her and succeeded in pulling her back and carrying her back in the cabin.
“Inside the stateroom I found people frantic. Some were lying
on the floor and some were hanging to chairs and other pieces of furniture to keep from being dashed against the bulkheads.
Glass dishes were smashed and pieces of glass were everywhere. Furniture also was broken. Everything was turned upside down.
People were sick and crying for the captain to take the vessel ashore and let them off. Women were on their knees praying.
Everyone was horribly frightened.
“The waves were dashing to the top of the ship and no one could
keep a balance. The only thing to do was to lie down, and even there, women and children were rolling over on top of each
other on the deck. They were thrown from side to side of the staterooms.
“In the lower deck, I found the waves had washed the deck and
everything was water soaked. Some people there were worse off because of the water. People floated in the water. Several people
were badly bruised. Three women had broken collar bones and one man had his leg broken. These were the only serious injuries.
Hardly anyone escaped without bruises.”
By the next morning the storm had abated, and the Manitou steamed into the
harbor where the passengers limped to shore. They were very glad to still be alive, Rosenbaum said.