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Northern Michigan in Focus: Bottled Goodbyes, Lake Fury

It’s a form of communication that goes back centuries, finding a message in a bottle, and now there’s a brand new book that unlocks some of the mysteries behind some  of those messages.

Corey Adkins spoke with Ric Mixter, who explains in this week’s Northern Michigan in Focus.

“I’ve been looking at newspapers for 30 years now and every time I look at a newspaper I would always look for an article that said a message was found in a bottle from so-and-so’s shipwreck.” Mixter says. “I put those away in a folder and I thought one day if I ever get the time I’m going to write a book about that, and guess what, COVID came and with a layoff that gave me the time, so there was that silver lining to a horribly dark cloud.”

From that dark cloud comes the brand new book by author and maritime historian Ric Mixter, “Bottled Goodbyes: Final Farewells From Maritime and Aviation Disasters.”

“We do know that this is an act of desperation by sailors that threw it out to hopefully get either rescue or worse, they know that they’re going to be lost and they say their final advice.  Or in many cases there’s ones where they just threw it in a river system and just to say hi or look for a pen pal.”

Like from the SS Benjamin Noble that sank in 1914 in a Lake Superior storm by Knife River, Minnesota. John Eisenhardt was a brand new captain.

“They needed to transport all these different railroad iron across the Great Lakes all the way up to Superior Wisconsin and he didn’t know how much to put on board. He tried to put too much on. It turns out that a guy went to the end of the dock and snapped a picture of the Noble.  As we found out this picture was so foretelling as it was overloaded and it was just decks to the water.”

After the noble sank, with all hands, two different messages came from the doomed vessel.

“There was two different kinds of messages that were came out of that wreck.  One of them basically said that we’re so far off of this River which was probably a fake message because the location.  The other one just said that we are doomed and we’re going down so it was a real nondescript, as many as the bottles are, and sadly as many of the bottles are, they do turn out to be fake.”

Because many of these bottled messages weren’t what they seem.

“I don’t know if that’s people trying to put a good message out to make the family feel better that their loved ones tried to reach out or if it was just to get their name in the newspaper. We really don’t know for sure what the end game is on that, but many of these bottles turn out to be not written by the people that they’re supposed to be written by.”

With so many fake messages out there, one that Ric believes is real is from a man named Christopher Keenan who was on the SS Plymouth that sank during the great storm of 1913.

“Sadly here comes a bottle on shore then says ‘Dear wife and children, we are left here by McKinnon in a huge storm for over 20 hours.’ And at the very end of the story he said, ‘I felt so bad that another man wrote this part for me, Hubble owes me $35, so you can get it.’ So here’s this tragic message from this husband and father to his family and at the very end there’s this part where, oh yeah, by the way, collect this money that’s out there.”

Bottled goodbyes has 23 chapters and takes you on an incredible journey through history.

For me that’s the best if I can bring something new even to a story that’s been told over and over and over again, like the Christmas Tree Ship, if I can bring a new chapter then it’s totally worthwhile.