Ice blockades Marquette’s harbors

Boats are stuck in an ice blockade off Picnic Rocks on June 3, 1917. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — While we’ve been dealing with record highs last week, this month marks the 150th Anniversary of a blockade of Marquette’s Harbor- an ice blockade.

That year, after several days watching boats visible in the ice some miles from shore, on May 17, 1873, The Mining Journal reported that winds had driven great quantities of ice into Marquette’s harbor “which now presents quite a wintry appearance with no water visible.”

Then on May 31, they finally reported, “The ice sailed majestically out of our harbor, last Tuesday [May 27], before a brisk southwest wind, but on Wednesday it was wafted majestically back again.” The ice lasted until mid-June.

There have been additional ice blockades over the years, in 1884, 1917 and most recently in 2014 and 2018. In 1884, the wind blew the ice out of the harbor on April 29 and the tug P. L. Johnson reached Marquette, opening navigation for the year.

The following day the wind shifted and blew the ice right back into the harbor, preventing all boats from entering or leaving the harbor. Even a special effort by several of the larger boats to break through failed.

Boats are stuck in an ice blockade off Marquette, probably June 13, 1873, but possibly 1884. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

It wasn’t until June 4 they were able to resume shipping and some ice remained as late as July 3.

In late April 1917, a report in The Mining Journal predicted that navigation would open within the week but this prediction proved overly optimistic. Reports throughout the month of May detail a total of 15 ships getting stuck in the ice — some stuck for up to two weeks — including some ships going out to help free the stranded boats and getting stuck themselves.

At least three of the boats, the Munising, the Theora and the Columbia, ran short of food, with their crews desperate enough to cross the ice to shore in search of supplies.

As news of the ice blockade spread, the mayor received several telegrams suggesting using airplanes to take food to the ships. But at that time “airplanes [were] yet a novelty to Marquette.”

On June 2, there was hope that the ice was thinning and beginning to break up, but on June 9 there were five more ships stuck in the ice.

As World War I took over the news, the paper failed to note the end of the ice blockade, but shipping appears to have returned to normal in late June.

More recently, in late March 2018, both the Kaye E. Barker and the James L. Oberstar were stuck in the ice off Marquette. Then, in mid-April strong winds and high waves from a storm compressed the remaining ice cover between Marquette and Whitefish Bay.

The Kaye E. Barker became stuck again in the compressed ice off Marquette. Fortunately for the shipping industry, advances have been made over the years and the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw was called in to break the ice and assist the Barker.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today