Programs Available

Sisters in the Storm: The Great Storm of 1913 is unparalleled in the devastation of ships and sailors; 17 wrecked ships, nine of them big steel freighters lost with all hands and an estimated 250 sailors killed. Each loss had it’s own deadly saga of horror. But there is an extraordinary tale of two ships and crews, “sisters in the storm.” One would live and one would die and but for the twists of circumstance their fates might have been reversed. This is a story of government intransigence, remarkable seamanship, an unlucky decision, poor ship design, tremendous courage in the face of near certain death and just plain good luck, all proving when it is said and done, “fate is indeed the hunter!”

Metamorphosis – The Edmund Fitzgerald Sailing From Reality into Legend: 40 years after the wreck the arguments of why the Fitzgerald sank still rage but mostly among historians, engineers and conspiracy theorists. To the general public the ship has become in a sense bigger than the mere fact of her career and tragic loss. Many recognize the name and that it is a story of “good ship and crew”  lost in a terrible storm but don’t realize it is a true story. How did this transformation happen and how does it fit into Great Lakes maritime history? Fred Stonehouse explores this unique aspect of the Fitzgerald Phenomenon.

Target – Great Lakes: Today we think of the Great Lakes as a calm and tranquil haven. Fierce storms may occasionally roar across the waters but they are a rare occurrence, the aberration of natural violence rather than that of man.

However during World War II the Great Lakes were a boiling cauldron of naval activity, most long forgotten by the public. The US War Department National Threat Assessment designated the Soo Locks one of the top four national defense priorities in the Western Hemisphere. The others were the Panama Canal, New York metropolitan industrial complex and California aircraft factories. At the height of the war, when every soldier was desperately needed overseas, 12,000 plus encircled the Soo Locks. Three fighter bases complete with still secret radar, protected the locks against air attack with torpedo nets strung across the entrances “just in case.” Barrage balloons dotted the skies and anti-aircraft artillery dotted various back yards.  Armed guards shipped on ore carriers and federal agents searched for enemy saboteurs.

Key to it all was keeping shipping moving, transporting vital supplies of iron ore, grain, timber and other industrial commodities.  Shipyards across the lakes worked overtime to build vitally needed combat and support craft including cutting edge technology fleet submarines all of which saw extensive war service.

This presentation pulls back the blanket of mystery long thrown over the Inland Seas during the Second World War.

Cruising the Inland Seas – Yesterday and Today – Some historians believe today’s seven-day cruise originated on the Great Lakes. In 1894-1895 the Northern Steamship Company launched their, “state of the art” cruise ships North West and North Land, with their motto, “In all the World, no trip like this.” One of their first passengers was Samuel L Clemens, better known to the world as Mark Twain. Since it took seven days to go from Buffalo or Chicago to Duluth, and another seven for the return, the standard was set for a seven day cruise that continues today. Cruising the Inland Seas died off following World War II with the advent of automobile driving vacations and cheap air travel. However over the past 20 years cruising the Great Lakes on large passenger vessels has seen a significant resurgence. What is really happening and why? What challenges does the industry face? What does the future hold? What was cruising like a century ago? This presentation answers those questions and more as it brings you back to the heyday of Lakes cruising and contrast it to that of today.

Attack – Great Lakes! – The Great Lakes were not always the quiet peaceful seas of today. They have seen their share of bloodshed, real and potential. Gunpowder drifted over the water when Perry fought off a British fleet on Lake Erie while lakeside forts at Mackinac Island, Dearborn (Chicago) and Oswego were attacked from the water with deadly outcome. In the Civil War it was spy and counterspy as North and South maneuvered for advantage. During both world wars Great Lakes shipyards churned out hundreds of small warships including submarines. The big freighters fought the wars their own way, driving through storm and ice to deliver record cargos of iron ore to hungry steel mills. Thousands of American soldiers stood alert guard over the critical Soo Locks, waiting for enemy attacks that never came.
But it was during the early 1920s through the eve of World War II that the greatest conflict that never happened was carefully designed, the assault on Canada – War Plan CRIMSON! The military plans were classified secret until 1974 and have been examined by historians in only a surprisingly cursory manner (in my opinion). This presentation focuses on military activity on the Great Lakes, especially the infamous War Plan CRIMSON. (This program is still under development)

Pirates, Crooks and Killers – The Dark Side of Sailing the Great Lakes – While the Great Lakes never had swashbuckling pirates like those that swept the Caribbean Seas, there were low-lifes willing to rob and pillage when the opportunity presented itself. Others were not above “moon cussing” or showing false lights to lure ships to wreck on inshore reefs where they pillaged the cargos and murdered the crews. When the economy “went south” some ship owners were not above purposely wrecking or sinking their own ships to collect the insurance money. Whether the crew survived was not a critical consideration. Even while ashore sailors were not safe from the clutches of evil doers. Unknown crewmen were “slipped a Mickey” in a waterfront bar and once out cold, were robbed then dropped through a trap door in the floor into the river or harbor. Local papers usually didn’t even mention it when their bodies were eventually found. This presentation focuses on a fascinating aspect of Great Lakes maritime history little explored.

The Civil War on the Great Lakes – While the Union and Confederate armies bludgeoned each other on the battlefields what was happening on the Great Lakes? How did the lakes contribute to the ultimate Union victory? What Confederate plots were hatched to attack the unprotected Great Lakes? This program looks at this fascinating and largely ignored part of Civil War history.

Lake Michigan Maritime Ghost Tales – The environs of Old Lake Michigan are filled with chilling tales of lost mariners and cursed ships, sea monsters, UFOs, ghostly echoes of Prohibition-era murders and a deliciously horrible host of other hauntings on, in and around the water. The presentation blends traditional stories with previously unpublicized accounts of spooky and strange occurrences. Did you know there are three haunted World War II submarines on Lake Michigan? Be ready to learn of tales that really “twist” your imagination and open doors to a world we often ignore.

Lost on Superior, shipwrecks Still Missing – Increasingly sophisticated search technology is revealing the locations of more and more missing shipwrecks on Lake Superior. But what about the ones still lost, those big and small, important and meaningless, that seem to defy discovery?

The Enemy That Never Came – Homeland Security on the Great Lakes from Columbus to Bin Laden. Is homeland security really a new issue, or have we dealt with it before? What can we learn from the past? This presentation examines the checkered history of defending the homeland and projects it into the present and future.

Rum Running and Red Lights – Throughout Prohibition the Great Lakes were the back door into America’s heartland. Hundreds of boats hauled millions of gallons of illegal booze over the Lakes to wet the dry throats of honest citizens. Although bribes were often paid to assure a safe passage, sometime bullets flew wild as bootleggers and government agents fought it out on the Inland Seas. On shore, a different kind of vice was practiced where the old saying that “a sailor has a girl in every port” often meant the “girl” insisted on a cash payment. This is definitely an “R” rated program.

Haunted Great Lakes – The Inland Seas are filled with tales of, “things that go splash in the night,” flickering specters of doom, ghost ships, haunted lighthouses, sea serpents and maritime superstitions. These tales range from ghosts on ships and in lonely beacons to strange creatures and underwater spirits: from ships that “talk” to their captains to specters who dwell in the nether world between water and shore. All are become part of the lore of the Great Lakes and encompasses the period from the early 1700s until present. Collected during years of research, they are a truly fascinating part of Great Lakes folklore. I will customize this program for the area presented. This is a great program for Halloween!

Forgotten Heroes, The U.S. Life-Saving Service on the Great Lakes From 1874 until 1915 when it became the U.S. Coast Guard, the men of this remarkable organization displayed incredible courage and bravery in rescuing over 55, 000 people from potential death on the Great Lakes. Despite personal danger or difficulty, the life-savers invariably accomplished the rescue. Their unofficial motto was, “Regulations say we have to go out, they say nothing about coming back.” It was a motto they lived and in some cases, died by.

Forgotten Heroes, The U.S. Life-Saving Service – This is a variation of the previous program but focuses on the USLSS as a national organization.

Great Lakes Shipwrecks This program takes a close look at the historic causes of shipwreck on the Lakes as well as relating the tales of many famous shipwrecks and disasters. There are program variations for Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron.

Great Lakes Lighthouses There are five separate parts to this program. Segments include a general introduction to lightkeeping, lighthouse construction, lighthouse technology, lighthouse keepers and local area lighthouses. Each segment is approximately 45-60 minutes.
• Early Great Lakes Lights – Covers ancient designs, early US lighthouse management, Lighthouse Board creation, early Great Lakes lighthouse placement and construction, Canadian Great Lakes lights, takeover by US Coast Guard.
• Lighthouse Construction – Includes construction methods and techniques, general characteristics, types of light stations and examples of difficult construction.
• Lighthouse Technology – Examines illumination methods, fuel, Lewis lamps, Fresnel theory and lenses, light characteristics, lamps, rotating methods and mechanisms and lightships.
• Keepers – Looks at the “Instructions to Lightkeepers,” daily routine, tenders, family life, appointments, tourists, famous keepers.
• Local Lights – This section is adjusted to reflect the area the program is being presented. It typically includes lighthouse design and construction as well as tales about the keepers and their experiences. It brings the information in the previous sections into local focus.

Freighters of Destiny Covers the history of Great Lakes navigation including schooners, wooden steamers and modern steel freighters. Includes an examination of shipping on the Great Lakes today.

Shipwreck of the MESQUITE, Death of a Coast Guard Cutter Tells the tale of the loss of the 180-foot buoy tender on Lake Superiors dreaded Keweenaw Point on December 4, 1989. Program includes the history of the ship, built in Duluth, Minnesota in 1943, duty in the Pacific during World War II, later service on the Great Lakes and the tragic circumstances of her final mission on Lake Superior.

The Wreck of the EDMUND FITZGERALD Based on the mysterious loss of the 729-foot ore carrier with all 29 hands on November 10, 1975 on Lake Superior. The shipwreck is still unexplained. Stonehouse is considered the leading authority on the FITZGERALD story.

Women on the Lakes From deep sea diver to ship’s captain, lighthouse keeper and rescuer, women fill virtually every job of the Great Lakes maritime trades, both past and present. This program relates many of their untold tales of these very remarkable women and their impact on the Great Lakes and sailors lives. The program relives the history and stories of these truly remarkable women.

Great Lakes Maritime History, Charting a Course Into the Classroom – Provides a basic understanding of Great Lakes maritime history and explores ways to integrate it into everyday teaching opportunities. The program is designed for an education conference setting and is customized to the group and location.

Beaver Island, the Emerald Isle – Beaver Island on Lake Michigan, has an incredibly rich history. Once the home of King Strang and his Mormon sect, later the commercial fishing center of the Great Lakes, this remarkable island always surprises. Presentation covers the wonderful history or this very special place.

Great Lakes Shipwrecks, A Continuing Saga – Program concentrates on modern day shipwrecks and disasters from the Edmund Fitzgerald to date. It also stresses present day safety issues and concerns.

Shipwreck Research – This program focuses on sources, methods and techniques for researching Great Lakes shipwrecks. It examines the National Archives, regional archives, major and minor Great Lakes maritime museums and other sources of information.

Special Programs – Based on my extensive experience and knowledge of Great Lakes maritime history, I can usually assemble a custom program as needed. If you have an out of the ordinary area of concern, please contact me. Also, I have a number of other programs that as I consider their appeal too specialized, are not listed.

Author Program – Intended for elementary students. Focuses on why I am so excited about the Great Lakes and includes the mechanics of how I write. The program is tailored to age of the students and any specific needs of the school.

Note: All programs are Power Point presentations.

Contact: stonef@charter.net

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maritime Historian, Author, Lecturer