As a non-profit organization, MSRA can accept artifacts that relate to Michigan Shipwrecks or Michigan maritime history. The artifacts remain in the collection of the organization, are used in exhibits designed by the group and can be loaned out for other exhibits at accredited institutions. The following items are those currently in the collection.
SS Muskegon Lifeboat Oar: In July 2015, MSRA’s Craig Rich was contacted by a resident of Bluffton, the resort community along Muskegon, Michigan’s channel area who was selling their home. For as long as the owner could remember, this heavy, twelve-foot long oar (probably for a lifeboat) had been in their basement.
The morning of the disaster brought hundreds of Muskegon area residents out to pick through the wreckage looking for valuables and collectibles. No doubt this oar was collected that morning, and hidden away until now. The donor also had a lifering from the SS Muskegon but reported it stolen from a display in their yard many years ago.
The name stenciled on the oar is S.S. Muskegon, the vessel that crashed into the pier at Muskegon at 4:00 am on October 28, 1919, claiming as many as 30 lives. Close examination reveals the words “STR. HOLLAND” beneath the stenciled named, verifying the authenticity of this artifact.
The Muskegon had been built as the City of Milwaukee by Frank Kirby in 1881, renamed Holland under the Graham and Morton Line in 1904, then named Muskegon under the Crosby Line flag in 1919.
Andaste Nameboard: In May 2011 Bud Gebben of Holland contacted MSRA to make an artifact donation to the group. Gebben’s father, Gerald, was just 11 years old in 1927 at the time of the Andaste’s loss, when he discovered the nameboard of the Andaste. Gerald Gebben sailed his family’s small sailboat out of Pigeon Lake just a few days after the disappearance of the big freighter. In shallow water between the sandbars, he found the 8-foot length of wood planking from the upper pilothouse, on which lead letters spelling the name Andaste were screwed. Years ago, Gerald Gebben offered the name board to a museum, but was turned down. He held onto his cherished artifact, hoping it would find a suitable home one day. When he died a few years ago at the age of 90, his son Bud kept it in memory of his father — until a move prompted him to find an organization to take over its care. MSRA plans to feature the artifact, the only known item to exit from the wreck, in an exhibit when the shipwreck is finally found.
Seamar III Life Ring: MSRA Board Member Craig Rich discovered a Sea Mar III life ring by happenstance In January 2006 in a West Michigan antique store. The hand-painted boat name and the stamped manufacture date on the USCG tag is identical to the life ring found soon after the vessel sank in 1980, which remains in the possession of attorney Jack Coté, who tried a liability case in the wake of the sinking. Antique shop employees provided the contact information for the man who consigned the life ring to the shop. Clinton Bekins of Grand Haven found it on a beach, just south of M-45 in West Olive about a week after the sinking of the Sea Mar III and simply stored it away for 25 years before his brother, Clifford Bekins, sold it to the man who placed it on consignment at the antique store. The two life rings were brought back together for the first time in 25 years on January 22, 2006. It was an emotional moment for Jack Coté as he held the two life rings from the lost vessel to which he devoted almost ten years of his life. MSRA hopes to display both life rings in an exhibit should the wreck of the Sea Mar III ever be found.
Thomas Hume Artifacts (Similar): A permit to recover artifacts from the Thomas Hume while MSRA and the Lakeshore Museum Center were conducting an archaeological survey in 2010 was not granted by the state of Illinois. Instead, MSRA sought out and purchased antiques, similar, and in some cases identical, to the artifacts documented on the wreck. The collection includes the following artifacts.
Fairbanks Scale: A crows-foot scale identical in size and model to this one was documented near the aft cabin of the wreck of the Hume. The scoop that would have held the content, probably food used in preparing large scale recipes for the crew, was not found on the wreck and so is not displayed here.
Edwardian Locket: Similar to the swivel locket and chain found on the wreck of the Thomas Hume in the forecastle among other personal possessions, the locket features a tiger’s eye cameo on one side and a smooth onyx stone on the other side. It is made of brass, an alloy developed in the 18th Century and used by jewelers to replicate gold. Perhaps it held photographs or a lock of hair? These items may have been part of a pocket watch fob.
Taff Rail Log: The “rotator” of a John Bliss brand speed recording device, like this sample, was found on the wreck of the Thomas Hume. Pulled through the water, it spun and the revolutions were counted by a mechanical reader on the schooner, which established speed.
Garments: Although the thread of the seams of both garments decayed, most of the individual pieces of a heavy wool jacket and undershirt remain on the cable tier in the forecastle of the Thomas Hume. These garments were sewn from a pattern based on the pieces on the wreck to replicate those on the wreck. The wool jacket may have been made by tailor Alexander Nicol, based on a designer button found nearby. A similar undershirt was found listed in a 1902 Sears Catalogue as “the coolest undershirt made.”
Designer Button: A “Nicol the Tailor” button similar to this one was found in the forecastle on the wreck of the Thomas Hume nestled among the panels of a wool suit coat. An 1890 New York Times advertisement provides information that indicated that Alexander Nicol made high quality expensive garments.
Cigar Holder: Identical to the one found on the wreck of the Thomas Hume, this Victorian cigar holder is made from Meerschaum (a white, clay-like mineral) with an amber tip. The holder protected the user from direct contact with tobacco. Many Meerschaum holders were elaborate, but this plain one would have been less expensive.
Graham and Morton: A Berth Check from the City of Milwaukee and promotional mirror are relics from the time when Graham and Morton ran a thriving passenger and cargo service on Lake Michigan. (These items are currently on display at the North Berrien Historical Museum in Coloma, Michigan)