The "storm" of November 11, 1940 was one of the worst storms in the recorded history of Lake Michigan. In all, the storm claimed 5 vessels, and 66 lives. The storm occurred on Armistice Day, which celebrated the end of World War I in 1918.
The storm hit late Monday afternoon, November 11th, with winds of hurricane proportions. The winds struck suddenly from the southwest at about 2:30 P.M. and were accompanied by drenching rain, which later changed to snow. The winds reached peak velocities of 75 miles per hour, the highest in local maritime history. Telephone and power lines were down by the hundreds around Mason County. Several local firms had "gaping" holes where roofs once were. Trees were uprooted, small buildings were overturned, and brick walls were toppled, causing at least 1 serious injury. Very few places escaped without damage. Ludington, on the morning of November 12th, appeared to be a deserted city.
The Pere Marquette carferry City of Flint 32, attempted to make the harbor but wound up on the beach about 300 yards from the shore. She was ordered by her relief captain, Jens Vevang, to be scuttled to avoid being pounded by the incoming seas. On November 12th, a breeches buoy was strung and 27 year old crewman Ernest Delotowski of 406 First Street, Ludington, was brought ashore. Delatowski made a good portion of the trip in the icy waters of Lake Michigan. As a precautionary measure, he was taken to Paulina Stearns Hospital and was released later that day. He said he carried a message with him, but it got lost in the water. Later the buoy was used to carry a message to the ship, and then crewman Luther Ryder of S. Washington Avenue (Ludington) was brought ashore.
On November 14th, after the storm was over, she was pulled off the beach by the tug "Cushing" with the help of the Pere Marquette 21. After a preliminary inspection at Ludington, where sheets of ice and mud were removed, she was taken to the Manitowoc shipyard, and was found to be virtually undamaged.
The City of Flint 32 remained in service until 1967. She was sold in 1969 to the Norfolk & Western Railway Company, and converted to the river ferry barge "Roanoke".
The Pere Marquette carferry fleet kept it's remarkable record intact, sending out at least 1 ship per day in all kinds of weather. The Pere Marquette 21 departed Ludington late on November 12th. She was the only one to sail that day. The Pere Marquette 18 and the City of Saginaw 31 arrived Ludington early on November 13th. The 31 departed Ludington to Milwaukee later that day. The Pere Marquette 22 was also once again in regular service.
Photos taken from the City of Flint 32, by Captain John Meissner
Mary Edith Stram Perreault was a young girl
in 1940. The following is from a biography she has written on her father,
John W. Stram.
"Ludington, which sits on the coast of Lake Michigan received many severe storms, both in summer and in winter. On November 11, 1940 John W. Stram tapped his barometer before going to work at the First National Bank. He was supprised at the sudden drop in pressure and remarked about this to several customers at his bank teller's window. Lunch time he walked home on this beautiful warm fall day and received another shock at the pressure reading he got after he had tapped it again. John spent the next couple of hours telling the farmers of the big storm that was coming and how they should be hurrying home.
John and Ethel Stram were giving their daughter, Mary Edith, piano lessons. The teacher's house was only three blocks away on Ludington Avenue. Mary Edith walked over on this Indian summer day for her scheduled (half hour) 4:00 appointment. She had a terrible time making the walk home, for by 4:30 the wind was up and blowing an ice cold gale that kept pushing her back as she struggled to forge ahead by leaning into it. At the same time John W. Stram was making the same struggling fight on his walk home from the bank. This winter storm closed everything down with its sub-zero temperature. Many a farmer didn't make it home for three days.
On November 14th when the storm passed, John W. Stram drove his family to see the damage. The first stop was to watch the carferry (City of Flint #32) get freed from her grounding at the end of the breakwater, and then to check on the Pere Marquette #21 who, as she tried to get into the slip had struck the pilings and couldn't get free. The family was relieved to learn that Captain W.H. Van Dyke's ship (the #22) had sat out the storm safely in a Milwaukee dock. The family then drove on to Edith Van Dyke Stearn's home (Edith is Ethel's sister). This house sits on a high bank over looking Lake Michigan. The beach in front of the house had several bodies lying on it. The life jackets on these seaman told the names of their ships.
This storm was called the Armistice Day Storm and was the worst on the Great Lakes since the storms Captain W.H. Van Dyke had known in November 1905 and November 1913.
Captain W.H. Van Dyke's barometer had continued forecasting as faithfully for John Stram as it had for all its masters."
By Mary Edith Stram Perreault, Torrance, CA
More about Captain W. H. Van Dyke
Note: Captain W. H. Van Dyke presented this barometer to his son-in-law, John W. Stram, the father of Mary Edith Stram Perreault. Along with the barometer were these words from Captain Van Dyke (Andy):
"This barometer has forecast the weather for the Masters of that wonderful ship Pere Marquette 17 for the past thirty-three years. Str. Pere Marquette 17 was brought out in the year 1901, Commanded by Captain Kilty, who went down with the P. M. 18 in 1910. He was followed in turn by Captain Joe Russell, Captain John Ackerman, Captain Wm. La Fluer, Captain John Crawford, Captain John Stufflebeam and Captain W. H. Van Dyke. During the thirty years of her continuous service under these Masters, this ship made more miles then any boat in the world during that period of time. This barometer forecasting the summer breezes and the winter blizzards faithfully and accurately each and every day of those thirty years as been studied and watched closely in turn by each one of those masters while they were in command.
For over ten years, summer and winter that I was Master of this good ship this barometer was my constant study. Its readings became a part of my daily life. I prized it very highly and it now recalls many memories of those years.
It is with pleasure that I present it to you; John, as a Christmas gift, today, knowing that you will cherish and take care of it in the years to come. And when I to, have reached my last anchorage, it will still continue forecasting the weather as faithfully as it has done in the past for all those Masters who have stood their last watch."
December 25, 1935
Captain John Meissner was an 18 year old
deckhand on the City of Flint when she ran aground during the storm.
"I got on the Flint in October. You couldn't pick a worse time for a deckhand because it is the time you begin throwing gear up everyday. I was green. I was 18 years old, a young husky kid. But the jacks and chains didn't go up too easy. On top of that, I was getting seasick all the time. So I'd go to my dad's cabin after my watch and complain about the work and tell him I couldn't take this much anymore. And everytime he'd say the same thing, 'Just go to bed John and you'll be all right tomorrow.' Sure enough, I got used to it and didn't get seasick anymore and didn't mind the work, either.
The wind was already blowing about 50 knots, and the glass (barometer) was down to 28-point something. It was very low. I still don't know why he (Capt. Vevang) took her out that day. At first, though, it wasn't bad because for a couple of hours we were in the lee of the Wisconsin shore. But by the time we hit the midway point, it got bad. We were told to put on our lifejackets and I went to my dad's office and I was laughing about it. He said, 'John, this isn't funny.'
The wind was behind us and we were wallowing pretty good. But the Flint handled good with the wind at her stern. The rest of the trip over to Ludington was something else. I mean it was rolling and pitching like you couldn't believe.
I knew we were in some trouble when we got up to the breakwaters and we couldn't bring her around, she wouldn't turn. I was in the fo'c's'le looking out a porthole and I saw the breakwater getting closer and closer. Finally, I said to myself 'I'd better get the hell out of here.' It looked to me like we were going to hit something pretty quick. The captain tried to swing her right to get her inside but the wind took her left, to the North, so he went North and we slammed up against the North breakwater just inside the lighthouse. We hit it hard enough to punch a hole and it did some damage. But he took her right on in and up to the beach. Once we got her up on the beach, they opened the seacocks and let the water pour in to anchor her right there, about 300 yards from the shore.
The Flint, her crew of 43 and the four passengers aboard her, rode out the storm the rest of the night and as daylight came, the wind eased. The Coast Guard eventually fired a line to the Flint and a breeches buoy was rigged from the ship to the beach.
Someone had decided it would be better to get the passengers off because no one really knew what was going to happen. So they tested it by sending two crewman ashore in the breeches buoy. I don't know if they volunteered or were picked, but they got soaked in that icy water when the big rollers went right over them. I know they took them up to the hospital and they were there a couple of days, but they weren't hurt or didn't get sick either.
I think we saw 8 or 10 of them (bodies). Of course we didn't know what happened (on Lake Michigan) and we didn't know until we got ashore. Then we learned about the 3 ships that were down around Ludington."
By Captain John Meissner, Ludington, MI
Deckhand aboard the City of Flint 32
His father was purser on the City of Flint
Special "thanks" to Mary & Andy Perreault, and Captain John Meissner for contributing so much to this page!
The image of the City of Flint 32 on the beach is the image that comes to mind when "Armistice Day Storm" is mentioned. Near the Historic Site Marker at Stearns Park in Ludington is a plaque which reads:
Back to The Carferries of Ludington
Launched: 10/30/97 Refitted: 11/09/97
Copyright © 1998 M. Hanley