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Frank Mays, last living survivor of Bradley, remembered as adventurer

Courtesy Photo Frank Mays is pictured in this photo provided by Beck Funeral Home.

ALPENA — Frank Mays, the last living survivor of the 1958 wreck of the Carl D. Bradley, died on Thursday.

Originally from Rogers City, Mays was one of two people to survive the sinking of the Bradley, a self-unloading bulk freighter that split in two and sank during a storm on Nov. 18, 1958 about 12 miles south of Gull Island on Lake Michigan.

The 89-year-old died at Advent Health Hospital in Zephyrhills, Florida, according to his obituary. Mays moved to Florida in 1982 and lived in Dade City.

“Coming so close to death at such an early age, he was basically going to live life, and, if there was something he wanted to do, he did it,” his daughter, Laine Mays, said.

Laine Mays said her dad built a house on Grand Lake, but had always wanted to live on a farm. After about nine months in the Grand Lake home, Laine Mays said, Frank Mays got a job in Charlevoix and decided to buy a farm.

Courtesy Photo Frank Mays is pictured visiting the Great Wall of China in this photo provided by his daughter, Laine Mays.

She said he didn’t like to stay in one place too long and was always busy.

Son Eric Mays said he was not yet born when the Bradley sank and his dad was quiet about the shipwreck for many years. He said he was 13 or 14 years old when his dad started talking to him about what happened.

The first submarine expedition to the Bradley was led by Great Lakes explorer and documentary filmmaker Fred Shannon in 1995.

“We never really understood what went on until they did the dive on the Bradley with that submersible — and, after that, he opened up, and I tell you, it went,” Eric Mays said. “It was his thing and it was a release for him.”

Frank Mays was on deck the night the Bradley sank. He was one of four men to make it into a liferaft, according to the U.S. Coast Guard report, but two of them fell overboard as the raft flipped over several times in heavy seas.

First Mate Elmer Fleming also survived, but died decades ago, leaving Mays the sole living survivor of the shipwreck.

Thirty-three men died when the Bradley sank, 23 of whom were from Rogers City.

Laine Mays said her father co-authored two books during his life. The first book, “If We Make it To Daylight,” was written with Pat Stayer, Jim Stayer, and Tim Juhl, and recounted Mays’ story of survival the night the Bradley sank.

The second book, “A Lot More to Do: The Remarkable Life of Frank Mays,” he co-authored with Roger Hulett of the Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum. The book talked about the shipwreck and Mays’ life afterward.

“I know one thing, I’m going to miss him a lot,” Hulett said. “We talked regularly on the phone, and he was a great friend. We got together quite often for the book signing tours. I never thought the guy would die, to be honest with you, he was just in such good shape for a man that was in his 80s.”

The Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan and the Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum in Rogers City on Friday both commented on Mays’ death.

“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Frank Mays who passed away yesterday,” the Maritime Museum’s post on Friday said. “Frank was a survivor of the sinking of the SS Carl D. Bradley, author, adventurer, and a friend to many.”

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.

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