ESCANABA - Some float in on mists and fog and silently appear like ghosts on the horizon. Some make their curtain call in port Escanaba in a shroud of darkness.
The ladies of the lake have danced over the waters of Little Bay de Noc since the 1890's, when Escanaba was dubbed the "Iron port of the world."
Ore boats and Escanaba have gone together for many years. Ore boat watching is something like bird watching to residents. It has long been a relaxing pastime.
Karen Wils photo
Above, an ore boat disappears into the mist.
Karen Wils photo
The above photo shows the Mesabi Miner heading out into Lake Michigan, and was taken by Karen’s brother Jim Rose from Washington Island, Wis.
I grew up in the shadow of the Escanaba's last wooden ore docks (through the years Escanaba had several ore docks at both the south and north harbor).
Oh how I remember the thrill of watching that first boat of the year slip into the harbor near my home. From my parents' attic window, the view of the Bay was good and seeing the first ore boat meant it was spring time.
As a child and a teen, my siblings and I spent a great deal of our summer days down at the Bay Shore. From picking wild strawberries to catching frogs and swimming, we were always watching the ore boats come and go.
Over the years, the size of these ships grew. We knew most of the boats by name and almost every northtown kid had a relative or neighbor who sailed on one of the ore boats.
The bellow of one of the ship's horns in the late hours often meant one of the sailors had stayed too long at one of the saloons and he'd better darn well get back on board!
It was common for visitors to Escanaba to marvel at the big majestic boats. Tourist from all over would climb the berm across from our house to get a closer glimpse of the ore boats as they lay waiting to be filled.
Today, many local people do not even know that we still ship iron ore out of Escanaba. The reason for that is back in the 1970's, The Chicago North Western modernized the way it got the ore pellets from the train to the ship. Gone was the huge wooden ore dock and a conveyor belt system was installed to move ore from piles to the boats. Unfortunately the ore piles blocked off the Bay Shore to nearly half of Escanaba.
But the ore boats still sail and port Escanaba still prospers. There is something romantic about watching one of the big ladies of the lakes cruise across the summery, baby blue, Little Bay de Noc. The golden sunlight glistens on the boat and on the Bay.
A rite of summer and the passage of time floats with the current. Take a few minutes to go with the flow and enjoy the boats and the Bay de Noc.
Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong resident of north Escanaba. Her folksy columns are published weekly in Lifestyles.