Collision with Norwegian ship sinks Cedarville 50 years ago

Front page of the May 7, 2105 Advance pays tribute to the Cedarville. (Artwork by Steve Witucki)

by Peter Jakey–Managing Editor

Five of the living survivors are expected to attend a special bell-tolling event Saturday at the Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum (GLLMM) on the 50th anniversary of the sinking of the SS Cedarville in the Straits of Mackinac. The bell will toll 10 times in remembrance of the men lost in the icy spring waters of the Straits of Mackinac five decades ago. The ceremony will be conducted at 2 p.m. with more than 100 hundred expected to be in attendance.

It happened 50 years ago today at 9:45 a.m. when the Norwegian freighter Topdalsfjord collided with the 588-foot Cedarville in fog. It was struck on the port side at hatch No. 7, putting a 10-by-20-foot hole in the Cedarville.

It sank 40 minutes later – taking with it 10 husbands and fathers, nine from Rogers City. Initially, seven bodies were recovered and three were missing. Two bodies were later found – one, a decade later. To this day, the body of stokerman Eugene “Casey” Jones has never been recovered.

Sixteen other crew members were injured while nine rescued were uninjured. The loss of the Cedarville was estimated at $3.5 million with an additional estimated cargo loss of $21,000.

There were no injuries or loss of life on the Topdalsfjord and the damage, confined to the bow section, was estimated at $30,000.

The loss of life can never be measured.

The Cedarville is presently lying deck down in 102 feet of water, covered with quaga mussels, almost unrecognizable.

According to conclusions in the Coast Guard report, Martin “failed to reduce speed” in the fog, prior to the collision. The Coast Guard believes the beaching action was proper, but the course was wrong, and the master (captain) should have immediately realized this. It is tragic that the Cedarville steamed enough miles following her fatal wound to have made the beach at Mackinaw City,” the report states.

Erickson said Joppich died a broken man, “that he lost 10 of his crew that day.”

The men continued to be remembered every year during the Nautical Festival’s sailors’ memorial ceremony, as well as the annual bell-ringing event at GLLMM.-–The complete story is in the May 7, 2015 edition of the Advance—

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(Front page painting by Steve Witucki.)