Schooner Passage: Sailing Ships and the Lake Michigan Frontier/Windjammers: Songs of the Great Lakes Sailors

Article excerpt

Schooner Passage: Sailing Ships and the Lake Michigan Frontier. By Theodore J. Karamanski (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2000. Pp. 262. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Cloth, $34.95).

Windjammers: Songs of the Great Lakes Sailors. By Ivan H. Walton and Joe Grimm (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2002. Pp. 262. Illustrations, glossary, notes, bibliography, index, audio CD. Cloth, $39.95, paper, $26.95).

Individually, these two books are worthy contributions to the history of the age of sail on the Great Lakes. Each reflects the prodigious research of the scholar and the romantic attention of the enthusiast. Together, they are a compelling introduction and testament to the vitality of life and labor under sail. But they are also very different in tone and execution.

Schooner Passage is a thoroughly traditional historical narrative of the role of sailing ships-particularly schooners-in the economic development of the Lake Michigan coastline during the nineteenth century. Theodore Karamanski has dug deeply into archives and published material to trace the design of the ships, the business and labor history of the shipping industry, and the life stories of individual ships. Although readers looking for a guide to Great Lakes shipwrecks will be disappointed, Karamanski has included his share of stormy disasters and, more importantly, stories of the gradual transformation of once-proud schooners into barges and ultimately land-locked hulks.

It comes as no surprise that the economic and population growth of the Great Lakes region in the nineteenth century was intimately tied to maritime commerce. What is surprising and enlightening are the insights provided by adopting a point of view from the deck of a schooner in middle of the lake. Karamanski chronicles the rise and decline of schooners but along the way he also provides perspective on the rise and decline of landlubbers and their dreams. From the lumber trade to the wheat trade to moving coal to the building of canals and port facilities, the importance of the nearly 1,855 ships plying the Great Lakes in the late 186Os is undeniable.

As Karamanski says, "It was schooners that brought the market revolution to the Lake Michigan country" (22). And it was steam and steel that finally ended the reign of sail in the early twentieth century. …


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