Monday, July 12, 2010

Maritime Monday: The Fate of the FAME

In the book "My Recollections of Early Grand Lake," George H. Kauffman tells the tale of how his grandfather (and most well-known pioneer of Presque Isle Township) John Kauffman sailed from Germany at the age of 14 for the United States. Once arriving in Detroit, he got work on a bark called the FAME, and the ship headed north on Lake Huron. The year was 1854.

A storm hit, and upon rounding the point at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse, the ship capsized and John floated ashore near one of the only structures in the area, a long wooden dock owned by Frederick Burnham. As the old story goes, though he escaped with his life, all of his money and possessions were lost in the wreck. With no money to continue his journey, he decided to stay put where he was and earn money bringing lumber down to Burnham's dock, where steamers would stop and pick up wood for fuel. John would settle in the area and remain there for the rest of his life, other than his time of service in the Civil War.

Fast forward to 1887. After escaping a series of over 10 other accidents, a ship called FAME flounders and is driven ashore at the Old Lighthouse. Finally incapable of sailing again, the ship is disassembled and her timbers are incorporated into the Old Lighthouse Keeper's House as well as rumored other structures.

Could this be the same FAME that had almost met her doom at this same place 33 years earlier? I believe so. According to the stats found at, the FAME that wrecked in 1887 was built in 1853, one year before John Kauffman was shipwrecked. This accident is not, however, mentioned in the long list of close calls found on the site:

Lengthened 24 feet over the winter of 1853-4.
Stranded at Goderich, Ont, in Oct, 1854 and pulled off the following spring.
Stranded at Thunder Bay, MI in May, 1856
Struck by lightning in June of 1856 while all of her crew were trying to take in sail. All 10 injured, some seriously.
Collided with the bark SUNSHINE in Nov, 1856, on Lake Erie, with significant damage.
Collided with another vessel in Chicago harbor in 1857 with significant damage.
Capsized in a squall on August 17, 1858, 6 miles off Monroe, MI, Lake Erie. Her crew were rescued, but the owner’s nine-year old son floated off into the night on a plank. He was finally picked up 70 hours later, alive but suffering from exposure. Out of Sandusky, OH, at that time, owned by William Blosier.
Ashore at Eagle Harbor. Lake Superior, in August of 1863, and struck by lightning while being towed back to her homeport, Detroit. Owned by E.W. Hudson.
Sunk in a collision near Chicago in November, 1865.
Ashore on S. Manitou in May of 1866 with heavy damage. At least three other damaging accidents including a collision during 1866.
Damaged in a collision on Lake Huon in Sep, 1867.
Rerigged as a lumber barge in 1871.
Sprang a leak and sank at Sand Beach, MI, in 1885
As many as three other accidents.
Sources: mv,slh,nsp,letter,lhdc,hgl,usls,ledc

It seems very plausible that the "John Kauffman incident" could easily be one of those in the "as many as three other accidents" category. If one believes in such things as fate, this is certainly a stunning example. A ship which should have sunk in 1854 fights its doom - surviving accident after accident until it ends up in the same place it should have been in the first place - 33 years later.

A great man (well, boy at the time) traveling around aimlessly, finds his destiny when he is stranded alone in a place with next to no people and nothing but trees around him. And anyone who knows the history of Grand Lake knows it
was his destiny - it is hard to imagine a history without John Kauffman in it.

The timbers of this ill-fated ship end up in the Old Lighthouse, which seems to be where they belonged. They became a part of the very fabric of the place, just as John was a huge part of the community. This beautiful "false island" seems to be where they were both destined to remain, and they did.

I have yet to verify if these two FAMEs were indeed the same ship - I've heard Bill Lewis is "the authority on all things FAME" so perhaps he has some conclusive evidence.

Hope you enjoyed the forever-intertwined tales of a man, a boat, and the place they both eventually called home.

John Kauffman Homestead

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse (by Flickr user jackdk)