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Traveling Around - Paradise, Michigan - Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Updated on February 25, 2016
Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point, MI
Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point, MI | Source

The Museum Location At Paradise

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is located in a remote area of the Upper Pensinsula of Michigan. It is near the top of the state and in located on Lake Superior. It is located on one of the northernmost Michigan promotories. It is some 11 miles north of Paradise, Michigan near Whitefish Point and is the site of the Whitefish Point Light Station. The Station was established in 1849 and is the oldest active lighthouse on Lake Superior. The museum was founded 1978 by a group of divers and teachers to begin exploration of historic shipwrecks. It was established near Whitefish Point in this scenic upper pensinsula of Michigan. Today, the non-profit organization operates two sites. The museum location is at Whitefish Point Light Station at Whitefish Point, MI, and the offices/museum are at the U.S. Weather Bureau Building in Sault Sainte Marie, MI.

The Offices In Sault Ste Marie, MI

Although it is 60 miles away from Whitefish Point, the offices are located in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan. They are open from 10 am to 4 pm weekdays and there is a small museum with appropriate exhibits located near the offices that are open during the full year.

Edmund Fitzgerald Ship's Bell
Edmund Fitzgerald Ship's Bell | Source

The Paradise, MI, Museum Complex

The museum complex consists of 5 buildings

The museum proper houses many artifacts from the thousands of ships that sank on this area known as “The Shipwreck Coast”. There are 320 recorded deaths in the 200 miles of Lake Superior coastline. Most well known of the artifacts in the museum is the ship's bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald, a freighter that sank in 1975 taking all 29 crewman down with the sinking. The freighter was christened on June 8, 1958, and was the largest ship on the Great Lakes. She remains the largest ship to have sunk. The bell was recovered in 1995 and lodged in the museum. A replacement bell was installed on the deck of the ship 535 feet below the surface with the names of the lost seaman engraved upon it.

A separate building houses a video presentation of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald and the recovery of the bell on display in the museum.

The Whitefish Point Light Station has been restored and a docent not only lends atmosphere to the tour of each of the buildings but imparts specific information about the living conditions in the station and the operation of the light. A retired light is on display in the museum. There are 344 leaded crystal prisms that cause the light to concentrate and be seen as far as 28 miles away. The light is turned by a grandfather clock-like mechanism that is balanced in a mercury base to reduce friction when rotating. The clock-like mechanism has to be wound every 2 ½ hours and the lighthouse keeper was on duty to do so from dusk till dawn. After daily maintenance when the sun came up, he had the daytime hours for rest and recuperation. Until the early 1900s, a lighthouse keeper was paid $600 a year for his service. He and his family lived at the remote station. A foghorn activity was added in about 1900 and the station was remodeled to be a duplex to accommodate the added personnel. Each half of the duplex accommodated the families of the employees.

The lighthouse proper is open for touring and a guided tour ascends from the ground level. It is a strenuous climb and patrons are cautioned.

The Whitefish Point United States Coast Guard Lifeboat Station houses a replica of a surfboat. There was a surfboat station every 12 miles on the coast of Lake Superior. The boat was manned by 8 surfmen and a captain. It was their job to row to the aid of distressed ships and render assistance to those in peril with no regard for personal safety of the surfmen. The docent in the Lifeboat Station imparts many facts and has an interesting array of exhibits. The Crews Quarters have been restored and has five themed rooms each with private bath where patrons can spend a night or two. These rooms are in demand (at about $150 per night) and reservations should be made.

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society has been awarded $30,000 under the Capital Improvement or Facilities Improvement Program designated for cultural and historical facilities in Michigan. These new funds are targeted at rehabilitation and adaptive restoration of the U.S. Navy Radio Station Barracks Building at Whitefish Point, more commonly known as the Video Theatre.

During the season of 2014, the present video theatre space was moved to the newly relocated 1923 U.S. Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat House. Interior work on the Navy Radio Building will allow a new Changing Exhibits Gallery to be installed in this building, so that rotating (changing) museum and artistic exhibits can be presented, increasing the cultural experience for old and new audiences. The MCACA awards assure an exciting, interesting, and busy museum season.

The museum wasn't very crowded when we were there in early May. The wife and I took our time and probably enjoyed most seeing and touring the living quarters of the lighthouse keeper, his family, and his assistant. The Coast Guard Lifeboat Station was also very interesting.

Adjacent to the museum proper is the Whitefish Point Unit (53 acres) of Seney National Wildlife Refuge. It has a display of migrating birds and is a stop-over for birds migrating to and from Canada.

Hours And Admissions At Paradise

Because of the strong Michigan winters and almost inaccessibility in the winter, the museum is open only from May 1st to October 31st. The office in Sault Ste. Marie. Michigan is open all year. Paradise, MI, is remote and overnight accommodations are not plentiful in the area. One of the closest is in Brimley, Michigan (about 1/2 way between Paradise and Sault Ste Marie). It's at Bay Mills Resort which is a casino/resort where you can if you wish, stay in the hotel and access the restaurants without being near the casino. The website for the casino is at Bay Mills Casino The restaurant at the resort – Sacy's – is outstanding.

There is an admission charge to the museum in Paradise. More information is available on the the museum's website or by calling 888-492-3747.

Taveling To Paradise, Michigan and to Whitehouse Point

Finding the museum is pretty straightforward. I-75 is the major road from the Mackinaw Bridge to Canada. Driving north on I-75 about 8 miles north of the bridge, take exit 352 and go west towards Newberry. Stay on MI-123 until getting to Paradise, MI. In Paradise, go straight ahead when the highway turns left and get onto Whitefish Point Rd. The museum is about 12 miles north of that intersection. If in Sault Ste Marie, it is easiest to go south on the business loop of I75 and turn left on S. Mackinaw Trail. In about 3 miles turn right on W 6 Mile Rd and a few miles down the road will be Brimley where the suggested resort is located. From Brimley so south on highway M-221 then turn right on MI-28. Some 22 miles will pass and you will connect with MI-123. Turn right and follow the instructions above. Even during the late spring months and the early autumn months, weather conditions should be consulted before making the trip. We made the trip from central Michigan to the museum in May and when we drove from Paradise to Whitefish Point (only a few minutes) the temperature dropped 20 degrees. If it had been at all cold, the driive would have been treacherous.


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