Steven Lawson of the Cleveland, Ohio area, and his aunt, 89-year-old Virginia McLarty of Alpena, sometimes joke that they owe their lives to a shipwreck.
Had the Hunter Savidge not gone down in a squall on Lake Huron on Aug. 20, 1899, neither of them would have been born, they said.
The first wife and 6-year-old daughter of the schooner's owner, John Muellerweiss, Jr., perished in the unexpected storm. Muellerweiss, who lived in Alpena and used the ship to transport lumber, coal and other goods on the Great Lakes, eventually remarried and fathered five more children, including McLarty and her sister, Ethel Anderson, who is Steve Lawson's grandmother.
News Photo by Diane Speer
Several family members related to the owner of the Hunter Savidge, a schooner that sunk in Lake Huron on Aug. 20, 1899, gathered last week to see a model of the ship currently on display at Alpena County Library. The family members include, from left, great-grandson Steve Lawson, granddaughter Julie Lawson, daughter Virginia McLarty and great-grandson Paul Lawson. At far right is historian Pat Labadie of the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center. Steve Lawson commissioned the building of the model by Charles T. “Ted” McCutcheon of Walloon Lake.
All joking aside, nephew and aunt have long been fascinated by the saga of the Hunter Savidge.
"I've learned more about the shipwreck from writings," McLarty said. "We didn't talk about it much when I was a little girl. I've got a lot of writing about it now."
Because of his keen interest in the subject matter, Lawson recently commissioned the construction of a model of the vessel from respected modeller Charles T. "Ted" McCutcheon of Walloon Lake. Completed last year, the model currently is on display at Alpena County Library in a glass case located just outside the library's entrance to its Michigan room.
"It's fun to be able to share it with people here since it's a part of the history of the area," Lawson said.
Four generations of the Muellerweiss family including McLarty and Lawson gathered last week at the library to see the model on display. Prior to their stop at the library, family members had visited the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center and took a ride on the new glass bottom boat, the Lady Michigan.
It was at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center that Lawson first conceived of the notion to have the ship's model constructed.
"I'd always heard the story of the Hunter Savidge and had visited the museum where Pat (historian Pat Labadie) works," Lawson said. "I saw Ted McCutcheon's name on a lot of their models and the idea just popped into my mind - I wonder if he'd be interested in building a Hunter Savidge model?"
Labadie helped put Lawson in touch with McCutcheon, and once contacted, Lawson learned that McCutcheon had always wanted to do a model of that particular schooner. Lawson paid $4,000 for the commissioned piece, which was based on early photographs from the Great Lakes Maritime Collection held at the Alpena County Library.
According to Labadie, the model appears to be extremely accurate.
"Ted McCutcheon is very, very skilled. He has built all of our models," Labadie said. "He is quite knowledgeable about sailing craft, and given the photographs we have, he was able to do the Hunter Savidge model very accurately."
The following history of the ship was provided by the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, which works to preserve shipwrecks and share their stories:
The Hunter Savidge originally was built for the Grand Haven-based Cutler & Savidge Lumber Co., and was named after one of the founding company members. Halfway through its 20-year sailing career, the 117-foot schooner was sold to Muellerweiss.
It was on a voyage from Sarnia, Ontario to Alpena that the Hunter Savidge encountered a whirlwind squall that caught all on board by surprise. Under full sail and riding high due to an empty cargo hold, the ship capsized near Point Aux Barques in a matter of seconds. The seven crew members were all on deck when the squall hit. They were thrown into the water and two of the men did not make it back to the surface.
Muellerweiss's first wife, Mary, and their daughter, Henrietta, along with the wife of the ship's captain, Fred Sharpsteen, were trapped below decks in the sinking ship. The steamer Alex McVittie witnessed the capsizing and rescued the surviving crew members. A total of five perished in the tragedy.
The shipwreck of the Hunter Savidge was discovered in 1988. Lawson's model is expected to be on exhibit at the library through at least September.