Ships 2


Ships 3


“Might Make It; Might Not!”


By James Donahue


The community of Grand Haven, Mich. was stunned by the news that the Grand Trunk railroad car ferry Milwaukee was gone.


The ferry, lauded as the flagship of the Grand Trunk fleet operating between Grand Haven and Milwaukee, disappeared with all hands in a Lake Michigan storm on the night of Oct. 22, 1929.


The steamer, with veteran skipper Robert H. McKay at the helm, was staffed with 52 crew members, most of them residents of Grand Haven.


The boat picked up a load of freight cars at Milwaukee before steaming off into the storm at 2:30 p.m. that afternoon. McKay considered his 338-foot-long vessel quite seaworthy and he never considered waiting for the storm to blow itself out before leaving port.


When the Milwaukee failed to arrive at Grand Haven the following day, the people in that community grew alarmed. The town held out hope for the next two days. Some theorized that the ferry anchored at the lee of an island to wait out the storm, and would show up late.


All hope faded on Oct. 24 when bodies and flotsam from the lost steamer began turning up on the Wisconsin shore. The bodies wore life jackets from the Milwaukee.


Four bodies were recovered by the Coast Guard at Kenosha and a fifth was found by the steamer Albert Gray floating off the Milwaukee coast. Captain McKay was among them.


By the next day, the motor ship Steel Chemist picked up two additional bodies 11 miles out in the lake, then found the ship’s wooden pilot house afloat in the same area.


Nobody knows what happened to the Milwaukee. The only clue was a note found in a message tube which floated ashore near Holland, Mich., the next week.


The note, dated at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 22, and signed by the ship’s purser A. R. Sadin, said the ship had turned around and was attempting to get back to Milwaukee. It suggested that a bad lead had developed in the slicker, a name for sleeping quarters for the crew.


 “Leaking water fast in slicker,” the note said. “Pumps working good. Have turned back to Milwaukee. Might make it; might not.”


They didn’t make it.