Northern Michigan in Focus: Conversation With Descendant of W.C. Kimball Shipwreck

We have an update on a story we did for Northern Michigan in Focus a couple weeks ago on the discovery of the shipwreck W.C. Kimball.

The man who found it, Ross Richardson, also found a descendant of the wreck. He invited Corey Adkins along to have a conversation with the relative and now, after 129 years, maybe some questions are answered.

This is a story when lore becomes reality after shipwreck hunter Ross Richardson discovered the W.C. Kimball.

The Kimball sank in May 1891. Dr. Will Thomas is a descendant of one of the four who lost their life that day.

“My dad’s sister, my aunt, in 1950 did a thorough genealogy of the Thomas side and the Kehl side, and then she had this history of Charles Kehl disappearing with the boat,” explained Dr. Thomas.

Charles Kehl was Dr. Thomas’s great uncle and, even after 129 years, there are still questions on how the Kimball went down.

“From what I could tell, they were possibly in the fog or the smog of the Manitou Passage because of all the forest fires. After the logging, the area gets a lot of debris which caught fire. So you had smoked going over the Manitou Passage, especially at night, when things cool down so that was the theory that the boats collided in the smog and went down,” said Dr. Thomas.

But because of how it’s sitting on the bottom, almost like someone gently put it there, Ross has another theory.

“We now think it was covered in ice and it was in a storm and got covered in ice and just sank slowly, and the crew was slowly washed overboard, probably one at a time. There’s no damage to the hull, there’s no collision damage. There is nothing missing really,” explained Ross.

One of the mysteries is the perfectly preserved lifeboat. Why didn’t the men use it?

“Hey, may have been surprised when the boat went down, but they probably all left the boat,” said Dr. Thomas.

Ross said, “I think they were washed off during the storm. There wasn’t much freeboard and the side railing was not even knee-high.”

So after a century, because of this discovery, some questions may have been answered.

“I’m very excited and the fact that I have this relation whom I never knew being involved but didn’t survive the sinking. I’m sure encouraging you to learn more about it,” said Dr. Thomas.

And maybe the best part of this story is it starts a conversation and helps us all learn about our own history, and the people lived it.

“I think that’s the bonus of history is we might have never thought about this person, but now they’re historically significant. This brings their history to light,” explained Ross.

Categories: Northern Michigan In Focus