Michael Schumacher doesn’t know why he is so fascinated with the Great Lakes, but it’s been a lifelong passion. When he was a child in Milwaukee, Wis., he recalls, he was so drawn to the water that he insisted that his parents take him regularly to play on the shores of Lake Michigan. As an adult, not only does he take a walk by the lake every day, “even if only for a few minutes,” but he has made a living chronicling the history of the Great Lakes. Torn in Two (Univ. of Minnesota, Oct.) is the third book Schumacher has written about a Great Lakes shipwreck; his two previous books are Mighty Fitz (2012), about the 1975 sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior, and The Wreck of the Carl D. (2010), about the 1958 wreck of the Carl D. Bradley on Lake Michigan.
Torn in Two is the story of the destruction of the Daniel J. Morrell, a 600-foot freighter, during a storm on Lake Huron on November 29, 1966. Watchman Dennis Hale, 26, dressed only in a peacoat, a life jacket, and boxer shorts, spent the 38 hours clinging to a life raft, surrounded by the bodies of four other ship mates who’d escaped the ship’s wreck only to freeze to death. Fatefully, Hale had three days earlier missed boarding the ship when it left port and caught up with it on its next stop. Another sailor who was supposed to be on that ship was more fortunate: ill with pneumonia, he had not even attempted to board it.
“Hale always wondered why he survived and others didn’t,” Schumacher says. “It was a miracle, but he suffered from survivor’s guilt.” Hale died last year, at age 75.
Schumacher is intrigued that he’s now written about the three biggest shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, and each book turned out so different from the others. Mighty Fitz, he says, is a mystery-thriller: how and why did the Edmund Fitzgerald sink, with all of its 29 crew members lost? As for The Wreck of the Carl D., it’s not just about a shipwreck, it’s also the story of a small town, Rogers City, Mich., the hometown of 23 of the crew’s 33 members, and of a loss that devastated the entire community. Torn in Two, Schumacher says, is really “just a story about a survivor, trying to get back home again.”
The author signs advance copies of his latest at the University of Minnesota Press booth (511) today, at 2 p.m.
This article appeared in the May 12, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.