In our two most recent issues, we have featured lake ships that fell victim to the most destructive autumn storm that ever struck the Great Lakes. That tragic event has come to be known as the Great Storm of 1913. Suffice it to say, however, that the autumn of 1913 was not the only one that proved to be destructive to lake shipping. The autumn of 1905 was, perhaps, even more tragic, in that storm after storm raked the lakes that year, and numerous ships were lost in each onset of inclement weather, although none of the storms by itself could compare with the fury of the 1913 disaster. The fall of 1916 brought with it what has come to be known as the "Black Friday" storm, a disturbance whose effects were felt mainly on Lake Erie but which proved to be the undoing of a number of vessels. And, amongst other autumn gales, who could ever forget the storms of November 1958, 1966 and 1975. which, respectively, caused the destruction of the steamers CARL D. BRADLEY (II), DANIEL J. MORRELL and EDMUND FITZGERALD?
But another November gale must be numbered amongst the ranks of the Great Lakes' most destructive disturbances, even if its effects have today receded into the mists of the past. On November 11th, Remembrance Day or Armistice Day, most North Americans remember the men and women who gave their lives in the two great world wars. But some of us also remember the lake sailors who lost their lives in what has since come to be known as the Armistice Day Storm of 1940. That meteorological upheaval caused problems all around the lakes, but its fury was felt most on Lake Michigan. Two Canadian steamers and one U.S. vessel were lost along the east shore of the lake in that blow, and the ship we feature this month was one of them.
Our story really begins back in 1820 when, on May 14, Philip J. Minch was born in the village of Blankenheim, Germany. Minch was originally a shoemaker, but he also became a ship captain. He emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1840, and he settled in the community of Vermilion, Ohio, where he again practiced the trade of shoemaker. In 1841, Capt. Minch married Miss Anna Christina Leimbach, who was to be the mother of his eight children, two of whom would be active in lake shipping. Anna had been born on November 15, 1818, also in Blankenheim, Germany.
Capt. Minch eventually became interested in shipbuilding and the ownership of vessels, and he built nine wooden schooners at Vermilion. Three of these are particularly noteworthy, namely the first lake vessel to bear the name SAMUEL MATHER, the GEORGE H. WARMINGTON, and the SOPHIA MINCH, the latter vessel being named for one of the daughters of Philip J. Minch. Capt. Philip moved his family to Cleveland in 1875, and there he continued his shipbuilding activities. He was one of the founders of the Cleveland Shipbuilding Company, and is especially known for his involvement in the construction of the steamers JOHN N. GLIDDEN, A. EVERETT and ONOKO. The latter vessel was the first iron-hulled bulk carrier on the Great Lakes and, with her unimpeded cargo hatches, she was the prototype of a multitude of subsequent lake steamers.
One of the sons of Philip Minch, Capt. Peter G. Minch, who was born in 184 began his sailing career at the age of fourteen. He came ashore prior to his father's death on June 20, 1887, and continued the operations of the shipyard, as well as the management of the family's own vessels. He was the managing owner of the Nicholas Transit Company which, by 1892, operated five steamers and four schooners.
In 1892, the Cleveland Shipbuilding Company constructed the largest steel-hulled bulk carrier of her type on the Great Lakes, the 301-foot steamer WESTERN RESERVE. This vessel fitted out in August of that year, and Capt. Peter Minch, together with his wife and two of his seven children, sailed in the ship when she left Cleveland on her maiden voyage to Two Harbors, Minnesota. But the WESTERN RESERVE never completed that voyage, for, in a fierce gale on Lake Superior, on Tuesday, August 30th, 1892, she broke in two and foundered some sixty miles above Whitefish Point. Six passengers and twenty-five crew members were lost, the sole survivor being the wheelsman. Amongst those drowned were Capt. Minch and his family.
Peter's sister Sophia, together with her mother, Anna, continued to operate the family's shipping business, and associated with them was Philip J. Minch (ii), who was one of the surviving sons of the drowned Capt. Peter Minch. Sophia, after whom was named the fine three-masted schooner that has frequently been mentioned in these pages, eventually married Henry Steinbrenner i), and thus the famous Steinbrenner name came to be associated with the lake shipping industry.
Philip J. Minch (ii) formed the Minch Transit Company in August of 1893, and associated with him in this venture (together with Anna and Sophia) were Messrs J. B. Guthrie, William Gerlach, Robert Wallace and H. D. Coffinberry. Anna C. Minch was vice-president of the Minch Transit Company, and president of the Nicholas Transit Company.
Anna Minch retired from active participation in these corporations in 1901, when Henry Steinbrenner and Philip Minch formed the Kinsman Transit Company, a firm which was named for Kinsman Avenue in Cleveland, the street on which Henry and Sophia Steinbrenner lived. Anna Minch retained the title of president of the firm until she passed away in Cleveland on February 3rd, 1905.
The steamer ANNA C. MINCH, named for the matriarch of the Steinbrenner in terests and the Kinsman Transit Company, to whose order she was built, was constructed in 1903 as Hull 415 of the American Shipbuilding Company. She was built at the company's Cleveland shipyard, which had been taken over from the Minch-operated Cleveland Shipbuilding Company. (It is interesting to observe that the American Shipbuilding Company itself is today controlled by George M. Steinbrenner (iii), although it no longer maintains a shipyard at Cleveland.)
The new steamer was launched on Saturday, April 18th, 1903, and was enrolled at Cleveland as U.S.107846. She was 380.0 feet in length, 50.0 feet in the beam, and 25.0 feet in depth, those dimensions giving her Gross Tonnage of 4285 and Net Tonnage of 3229. She was powered by a triple-expansion engine which had cylinders of 22, 35 and 58 inches, and a stroke of 40 inches, and steam was supplied by three Scotch boilers which measured 12 feet by 12 feet. The engine and boilers were all built for the vessel by the shipyard.
ANNA C. MINCH was a typical lake freighter of her period. She was given a half-forecastle (raised only half a deck level above the spar deck) and on it sat her small, round-fronted pilothouse and the texas cabin. As was the custom of the day, an open navigation bridge, from which the steamer was piloted, was provided on the monkey's island located atop the pilothouse. The vessel had two well-raked masts, the foremast rising just abaft the forward cabin and the main behind the stack. She carried a large after cabin, whose boilerhouse and coal bunker were flush with the sides of the cabin.
The MINCH was built for the coal, grain and iron ore trades in which the Kinsman Transit Company was engaged. She originally carried a green hull. with white cabins and a black stack with a large white letter 'K' on it. An attractive triangle-shaped logo painted on her bows contained the initials 'K.T.Co.' For a while, ANNA C. MINCH was also given a white forecastle. About 1905, her stack design was changed to the colours that the Kinsman fleet still sports today, namely a black stack with a wide green band edged with narrow silver bands, and a large silver letter 'S' on the green. In time, the triangle logo disappeared from her bows, but we do not believe that the steamer's hull was ever painted in the red colour that the Kinsman fleet uses today.
The steamer was painted up with a red boot-top and a dark green hull which really was not that much different from the colour she wore during her Kinsman years, except that it had a tendency to fade out to a lighter shade when weathered. Her forecastle and cabins were white, and her stack was black with a large white letter 'W' on it. Apart from the paint scheme, the sale of the MINCH brought about no other changes in her appearance. It is to be noted, however, that she had, by the early 1920s, acquired an enclosed upper pilothouse to provide shelter for her officers. (A very flimsy upper house had been added during the steamer's early years, but this had soon been replaced by a more permanent wooden structure which she sported until the end of her days.) As well, her tall stack had previously been cut down to more moderate proportions.
The MINCH served Western Navigation by carrying cargoes of grain down the lakes and returning upbound with coal for the Canadian Lakehead. We believe that it was in 1933 that the management of the ship was taken over by Capt. Robert Scott Misener. This famous gentleman was then operating Sarnia Steamships Ltd., which had six canallers at the close of the 1932 season. The fleet was comprised of JOSEPH P. BURKE, RALPH GILCHRIST, C. H. HOUSON, JOHN 0. McKELLAR (I) and SCOTT MISENER (I), together with the RAHANE, which Misener had acquired from Canadian Terminal Steamships Ltd., Toronto, as a replacement for the JOHN J. BOLAND JR. This steamer had been lost on Lake Erie, off Dunkirk, New York, on October 5th, 1932. ANNA C. MINCH was the first upper laker ever operated by Capt. Misener, although he never took over actual ownership of the vessel.
Even under the Canadian flag, the MINCH lived a rather uneventful life. The only major accident involving the ship, prior to her eventual loss, came early in her first season of Misener operation. Upbound for the Canadian Lakehead on Wednesday, April 26th, 1933, she grounded on Vidal Shoal in the St. Mary's River above the Soo Locks, and put a hole in her bottom amidships. According to her master, Capt. E. C. Hawman, the accident was caused by poor visibility, which resulted in the mistaking of a black spar buoy for a red one. Capt. Hawman succeeded in getting the steamer free of the shoal without assistance, and she was taken to the Algoma Steel dock at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, for inspection of the damage and temporary repairs .
ANNA C. MINCH might well have carried on in these useful trades until well into the 1940s, and probably even into the 1950s, but her career was cut short in a particularly tragic manner. During the first full week of November, 1940, ANNA C. MINCH loaded a cargo of grain screenings at Fort William for delivery to Chicago, Illinois. In due course of time, under the comma of Capt. Donald A. Kennedy of Collingwood, the steamer cleared the Lakehead, crossed Lake Superior, and passed downbound through the St. Mary's River. She entered Lake Huron and passed westbound through the Straits of Mackinac shortly after noon on Monday, November 11th, 1940, only a few hours behind the Interlake Steamship Company's 33-year-old steamer WILLIAM B. DAVOCK. The DAVOCK had a cargo of coal for South Chicago, Illinois, and would thus take roughly the same route down Lake Michigan as would the MINCH.
The morning of that fateful Armistice Day had dawned bright and clear on Lake Michigan and in the areas to the west of the lake, with exceedingly mild temperatures and light southeast winds. The weather on the day before (Sunday, November 10th) had been almost summer-like, with temperatures up in the 60s, and such conditions had lured people into the outdoors to enjoy what would probably be the last good weather of the autumn. The pilots of towboats on the Upper Mississippi River had noted that duck hunters were out in great numbers along the river and, because of the prevailing weather conditions, most of them were wearing only light clothing, a fact that they would very soon regret.
Unknown to these hunters, as well as to the crews of freighters on Lakes Superior and Michigan, was the fact that a tremendous cyclonic storm was brewing over the western states and speeding toward the Great Lakes area. Before long, however, the weather began to change rapidly, with the winds backing into the west and the temperature dropping rapidly from the 60s to almost zero Fahrenheit. Blinding snow developed, and shipping on the Mississippi River was badly disrupted, particularly in the area of Burlington, Iowa, where much damage was caused by the storm. Most of the duck hunters were caught out along the river without proper shelter, and many of them died of exposure before they could reach safety. In fact, fifty of those hunters perished, and many more people died ashore as the storm swept rapidly through the towns of the midwest, felling trees and utility poles, and burying cities under mountains of snow.
On Lake Michigan, the weather began to change during the morning of November 11th, and many vessels were eventually caught on the lee shore whilst making their way up or down the east side of the lake. Gigantic seas developed very rapidly, and the blinding snow reduced visibility to almost zero. In fact, conditions were very similar to those experienced by those steamers unfortunate enough to have been out on Lake Huron during the Great Storm of 1913, twenty-seven years previously, almost to the day.
Many ships were out on the lake when the full fury of the storm struck, but those that were hit the worst were those that found themselves on the east side of the lake in the area of Pentwater, Michigan, located to the south of Ludington. Trapped on the lee shore were the upbound Paterson canaller NOVADOC (II), and the downbound WILLIAM B. DAVOCK and ANNA C. MINCH. The NOVADOC was swept ashore at Little Sable Point, but the DAVOCK and the MINCH simply disappeared, and nobody knew of their fate until bodies from the two ships began to come ashore in the area of Pentwater. Even Capt. Misener himself went to the area in the hope of discovering something concerning the fate of the ship that he had operated under charter.
The mystery remained unresolved until Wednesday, November 15th, when the fishing tug THREE BROTHERS, which had earlier rescued the crew of the stranded and broken NOVADOC, sighted an unusual object projecting above the surface of Lake Michigan just south of Pentwater and in relatively shallow water. The tug investigated, and found the object to be the windvane atop the steering pole on the bow of a sunken freighter. Divers were summoned to the scene and they discovered that the steering pole belonged to ANNA C. MINCH, which
was resting in an upright position on the bottom, with her pilothouse and foremast missing, victims of the huge seas that had been running during the storm. The divers also discovered that the MINCH had broken in two, and that more than 100 feet of her after end were missing.
As it was known that WILLIAM B. DAVOCK had been downbound in the same general area of Lake Michigan, only slightly ahead of ANNA C. MINCH, and as she had never arrived at South Chicago, it was assumed that the DAVOCK and the MINCH had collided during the height of the storm. Of course, the fact that the hull of the MINCH was broken only served to strengthen this assumption. In spite of a comprehensive search of the area, the remains of the DAVOCK were not located, and this was interpreted at the time to mean that she had foundered in deeper water after a collision with the MINCH. Just as all 24 members of the crew of ANNA C. MINCH had perished in the storm, so did every member of the crew of the DAVOCK, so there were no survivors who could testify as to how the two ships had met their fate.
The collision theory was held for some thirty years, but during May, 1972, divers finally located the hull of WILLIAM B. DAVOCK. It was discovered to be lying bottom-up on the floor of Lake Michigan off Little Sable Point. An inspection of the remains of the steamer failed to produce any signs of a collision, and thus that theory was finally discarded. It is, accordingly, now thought that both the DAVOCK and the MINCH, although in close proximity to each other during the storm whether their crews knew it or not, did not collide, but simply were overcome by the storm and foundered, the ANNA C. MINCH having broken in two as she sank.
As a result of the fact that many of the members of the crew of ANNA C. MINCH had come from the town of Collingwood, the metal windvane from the steamer's steering pole was later donated to the Huron Institute Museum at Collingwood, where it was placed on display as a reminder of the loss of the vessel. As fate would have it, however, the museum was later swept by a disastrous fire which destroyed many of the invaluable relics that had been preserved there. We do not know whether the famous windvane was saved, but we presume that it was not, and that this last relic of the ANNA C. MINCH had perished in a shoreside disaster which was as unexpected as was the storm that destroyed the steamer itself.
And so, to those of us involved with the history of lake shipping, Remembrance or Armistice Day, November 11th, means more than a recognition of the sacrifice paid by members of our armed forces during the wars. It is a day on which to recall the sad fate which befell the ANNA C. MINCH on that stormy day in 1940, and to pay tribute to modern technology which has served to reduce the likelihood of a recurrence of such an event.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.