2014-10-02 / Front Page

Museum Presents Shipwreck Artifacts

By Erich T. Doerr


Drummond Island residents Chuck and Jeri Feltner spent decades diving on shipwrecks in the Straits of Mackinac and salvaged many artifacts, at a time when it was legal to do so, in the hopes one day they could be used in a museum. That day arrived Friday, September 26, as their collection formed the basis of Mackinaw City’s new Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum. Here the Feltners stand alongside a display case filled with artifacts they recovered from the sunken wooden bulk freighter Eber Ward, including a giant steam whistle from its smokestack and a capstan bearing the vessel’s name. Top, left: This shriveled life ring was a witness to the most recent major shipwreck in the Straits, when the lake freighter Cedarville went down May 7, 1965. Drummond Island residents Chuck and Jeri Feltner spent decades diving on shipwrecks in the Straits of Mackinac and salvaged many artifacts, at a time when it was legal to do so, in the hopes one day they could be used in a museum. That day arrived Friday, September 26, as their collection formed the basis of Mackinaw City’s new Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum. Here the Feltners stand alongside a display case filled with artifacts they recovered from the sunken wooden bulk freighter Eber Ward, including a giant steam whistle from its smokestack and a capstan bearing the vessel’s name. Top, left: This shriveled life ring was a witness to the most recent major shipwreck in the Straits, when the lake freighter Cedarville went down May 7, 1965. An early opportunity to see the artifacts salvaged from Straits of Mackinac shipwrecks and to learn their stories was offered to those who attended the inaugural opening of the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum in Mackinaw City Friday, September 26. The grand opening offered a look for one day only, and the interactive museum will open again with regular hours for the public next spring. Artifacts from the Sandusky, the Eber Ward, and the Cedarville are among those on display.

The museum, on the property of the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse near the Mackinac Bridge, is housed in a reconstruction of the lighthouse’s original fog signal building. The first building stood on the site from 1890 to 1940. Admission to the museum will be included with the lighthouse next year.

Among others, the museum features many artifacts collected by Drummond Island divers Charles Feltner and Jeri Baron Feltner, who preserved items from various wrecks before it was made illegal to do so, with the goal of seeing them displayed for the public in a museum someday.


The diving suit Jeri Feltner used when working on the bottom of the Straits was also donated to the museum, and she stands alongside it here. She recounted finding many of the artifacts now displayed. The diving suit Jeri Feltner used when working on the bottom of the Straits was also donated to the museum, and she stands alongside it here. She recounted finding many of the artifacts now displayed. The Feltners were thrilled that the museum came together. The pair has dived on all the known wrecks in the area and discovered several shipwrecks in the Straits, including the wooden bulk freighter Eber Ward and schooner Northwest.

“We are so proud to know this museum will preserve our artifacts and the history of the Straits,” Mrs. Feltner said. “I feel like a child visiting the candy store for the first time.”

“This is the fulfillment of a dream I have had since 1977,” Mr. Feltner said. “We are so pleased I can’t tell you…The worth of a society can in some sense be found by how much it values its history.”


The Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum at the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse was inaugurated Friday, September 26. The grand opening ceremony took place in a tent on the western side of the lighthouse. Just before the program began, an early morning fog lifted to reveal the Mackinac Bridge in the distance. (Photograph by Greg Teysen) The Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum at the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse was inaugurated Friday, September 26. The grand opening ceremony took place in a tent on the western side of the lighthouse. Just before the program began, an early morning fog lifted to reveal the Mackinac Bridge in the distance. (Photograph by Greg Teysen) The Feltners have become respected authorities on shipwrecks in the Great Lakes and compiled their research in a book, “Shipwrecks of the Straits of Mackinac,” published in 1991.

The museum was slated to open earlier this summer but construction and installation of the exhibits took longer than expected. Many of the artifacts were installed in the museum two weeks before the grand opening and more exhibits will be installed before the museum begins regular operations next year. Mr. Porter said he finds the artifacts to be centerpieces of the collection, and pointed out the variety of items and vessel types they represent.


Brutus resident David Potter tries one of the interactive exhibits. At this display, guests can pick up this telephone and listen to Straits of Mackinac shipwreck historian Chuck Feltner talk about diving on the sunken brig Sandusky while a video of divers examining the wreck plays on a monitor. The Sandusky sank in a gale on September 20, 1856, taking all seven of its crewmembers. Mr. Potter was impressed by the museum and said it will be a “real treasure” for Mackinaw City. Brutus resident David Potter tries one of the interactive exhibits. At this display, guests can pick up this telephone and listen to Straits of Mackinac shipwreck historian Chuck Feltner talk about diving on the sunken brig Sandusky while a video of divers examining the wreck plays on a monitor. The Sandusky sank in a gale on September 20, 1856, taking all seven of its crewmembers. Mr. Potter was impressed by the museum and said it will be a “real treasure” for Mackinaw City. The artifacts on display represent many ships that have sunk in the Straits, including the brig Sandusky, the Eber Ward, and the modern selfunloading lake freighter Cedarville. The collection includes the original ram figurehead from the Sandusky, the ship’s wheel of the Northwest, various pieces from the Eber Ward ranging from a giant smokestack steam whistle down to the crew’s eating utensils, and even a paper station bill from the Cedarville listing crewmember duties in the event of an emergency. The dive suit Mrs. Feltner wore when she salvaged many of the items was also on display. The artifacts were acquired for the museum through the state park commission’s own collection, donations, and arrangements with the State of Michigan and other museums.

All of the artifacts on display were salvaged before it became illegal to remove items from shipwrecks. The Sandusky’s famous figurehead has been in the state’s possession since it was damaged in an attempt to remove it in 1988 and it was replaced on the bottom by a new replica. The real one was previously displayed at the Alpena’s Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center.

The artifacts were joined by several interactive displays. A touchscreen computer monitor allows guests to look up all of the Straits’ shipwrecks by year or name and then place dots on a large map of the area to show where each sank. The exhibit on the Sandusky included a telephone that visitors could pick up and listen to Mr. Feltner talk about what it was like to dive on the wreck.

Frankenmuth visitor Marie Koch praised the museum and its setting. The walls are painted a watery blue, which Ms. Koch said helped set the scene, almost making a visitor feel like they are underwater.

“It’s really user friendly,” Ms. Koch said. “Everything is like you’re living that moment. It appeals to all the senses.”

The Feltners recounted memories of their dives, noting they sometimes dove at night to prevent others finding the wrecks while they studied them.

“I remember finding that 140 feet down,” Mrs. Feltner said as she examined a chipped china pitcher she recovered from the Eber Ward.

The museum’s first visitors included Midland and St. Ignace resident Dan Friedhoff of the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve. He donated to its construction and helped ask museums to loan their artifacts for it. He recounted his personal connection to the area, as his father, William Friedhoff, was an oiler on the Cedarville and survived when it sank following a collision with the Norwegian freighter Topdalsfjord on the morning of May 7, 1965.

The elder Mr. Friedhoff was off duty, sleeping when the collision occurred. While there was never an order to abandon ship, he and several other members of the crew were working on deck to prepare a lifeboat as the ship took on water. When the freighter capsized suddenly and sank, he was flung through the air and broke his leg bouncing off the ship’s funnel.

The fact that the elder Mr. Friedhoff was off duty during the emergency may have saved his life. Ten members of the Cedarville’s crew died in the sinking, including much of its engine room staff. Years later in 2001, Mr. Friedhoff took up scuba diving so he could dive into the Straits of Mackinac and see his father’s ship. When his father died, as a last request, Mr. Friedhoff placed his cremains in his room onboard the sunken ship.

Several of the Cedarville artifacts on display came from other collections. Sault Ste. Marie’s Museum Ship Valley Camp loaned the museum a bell from the Cedarville used before the sinking, when it called the A.F. Harvey. A life ring and a telegraph on display both came from the State of Michigan after being acquired from a collector in Wisconsin.

“This is very impressive,” Mr. Friedhoff said. “I’m glad to see this collection brought back to its home.”

A number of artifacts from the collection of the late Ken Teysen, a diver and former state park commissioner from Mackinaw City, are also on display.

Speakers at the opening were Phil Porter, director of Mackinac State Historic Parks (MSHP) which houses the museum, Mackinac Island State Park Commissioner Bill Marvin, and MSHP Deputy Director Steve Brisson.

“It’s rewarding to see all that work pay off,” Mr. Porter said of the effort.

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