Downtown Grand Marais has been hit by major early winter lake storms going back to the turn of the 20th century. In the spirit of the Storm Season🌊, we asked local historian and seasonal Information Center guru, Dan Helmerson, to share some of his favorite stormy season photos and stories he could find from the Cook County Historical Society. We hope you'll enjoy this photographic journey through history.
December 31, 1937
Possibly the most dramatic documented storm was on December 31, 1937 known as the “New Year’s Eve Storm”. Pounding waves 25 feet high on some parts of the lake swept over the business district and inundated four square blocks with nearly two feet of water (not as high as the five feet of water that accompanied the storm of 1905). Fifteen families were forced to abandon their homes and the Coast Guardsmen rescued four families. Three fisherman’s 30 foot boats were sunk in the harbor; two fisherman’s shacks on the shore front were smashed by the waves, and hundreds of yards of tackle in the lake were destroyed.
Photo: 1937 -View looking south on Broadway from in front of Bally's Blacksmith Shop. (Photo courtesy of Cook County Historical Society)
Photo: 1937 - Coast Guardsmen rescuing stranded people downtown. (Photo courtesy of Cook County Historical Society)
The “Thanksgiving Storm” of 1958 is perhaps best remembered for the valiant effort of Helmer Aakvik to rescue fellow commercial fisherman Carl Hammer who perished and his boat was never recovered. The Coast Guard reported that the west breakwater pier had been moved 15 inches out of line by the power of the mountainous waves, and that the whole lighthouse on that pier would have to be rebuilt at considerable cost to the Government. The canoe part of the Gunflint Trail entrance sign was torn off and the large electric sign on the Shoreline Motor Lodge came down. It was reported that live fish were thrown up by the waves on the Bear Tree Park area and sea gulls were gobbling them.
Photo: 1958 - Fish houses in the harbor were decimated. The destruction from this storm prompted the US Army Corps of Engineers to construct the rock breakwater in 1959. This was intended to shelter the remaining fish houses and now serves to shelter the marina. (Photo courtesy of Cook County Historical Society)
Photo: 1958 - Dick and Tom Eckel Jr. are here shown hoping to save their boat slide to which they have a line fastened. At the upper end they snubbed the line around a birch tree, and each time the waves pushed the slide forward they took up the slack around the tree. (Photo courtesy of Cook County Historical Society)
Just two years later at the end of November 1960 the lake kicked up another monster storm. As the Cook County News Herald described it:
“Perhaps a thumbnail sketch of the business district could be summed up like this: Broadway a lake; Wisconsin Street a river! One of the hardest hit buildings was the beautiful Shoreline Motor Lodge, when four large windows facing the lake were broken by the impact of the waves. Water, gravel and even a pulp log came crashing into the room! Part of the retaining wall had been broken in front, which gave the waves a better chance to come over”.
Photo: 1960 – The aftermath of the storm looking west along Wisconsin Street. All these businesses suffered major water damage. (Photo courtesy of Cook County Historical Society)
Photo: 1960 – Looking east to the end of Wisconsin Street where the lake water had washed up into the street. The COOP Store is now the Beaver House. (Photo courtesy of Cook County Historical Society)
Photo: 1960 – Looking west on Wisconsin Street, the Shore Theater was showing “The Unforgiven” starring Audrey Hepburn and Burt Lancaster. The Standard Station is now the location of Harbor Park. (Photo courtesy of Cook County Historical Society)
Photo: 1960 – Debris floating in the flood water on Wisconsin Street. Humphrey’s is now the Sivertson Gallery. (Photo courtesy of Cook County Historical Society)
Photo: 1960 – Plows attempted to clear Wisconsin Street of flood water and snow. The IGA Foodliner is now the location of the Security State Bank. (Photo courtesy of Cook County Historical Society)
Photo: 1960 – Lake water and snow flooded Broadway. This photo shows the East side of The Market and the Bakery (now the shuttered business Inga & Lena’s). (Photo courtesy of Cook County Historical Society)
Photo: 1960 – Howard & Rosemary Joynes sweep water through their Bargain Barn (now the Joynes corner parking lot). (Photo courtesy of Cook County Historical Society)
Photo: 1960 – Ed & Millie Ruck push water through the Northern Lights Bar (now Picnic & Pine) where a virtual small river ran out the front door, and pressure from below formed small fountains in the cracks in sidewalks. (Photo courtesy of Cook County Historical Society)
Do you have your own favorite Lake Superior storm memory? Share your thoughts and/or photos with us in the comments below.