Ever hear the story of the schooner Ben Flint? Well, it’s just one of many inspiring tales of heroism and heartache recounted in the Trumans’ book about the Big Sable Point Coast Guard Station on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, not too far from where we live. I’ll share the story of the Ben Flint, and if you’re interested in curling up on a cold winter’s night to read more remarkable accounts of bravery and self-sacrifice, details are at the end. Here’s their first tale:
Back in the autumn of 1870, the two-masted ship Ben Flint left Manistee, Michigan, bound for Chicago, fully loaded with lumber. Ten miles off shore, the Ben Flint was caught in a gale and started taking on water. Around ten p.m. the schooner filled with water and rolled over on its side. As the vessel went over, a passenger, Patrick McCuin, fell overboard and drowned. Captain Thomas Roberts and his crew of eight clung desperately to the portion of the rigging above water.
The ship drifted until about one a.m., when the vessel ran aground approximately four miles north of Grande Pointe au Sable Lighthouse. As the Ben Flint struck the lake bottom, it righted, but split open. All of the men then tried to make themselves secure in the rigging, but they remained exposed to the bitterly cold wind and frigid drenching of the waves. At the beginning of the storm, Captain Roberts had thrown off his coat in order to work more easily, and he died from hypothermia at daylight.
When the Grande Pointe au Sable lighthouse keeper, Alonzo W. Hyde, spotted the wreck from the tower, he recognized the dire need. In their frozen and exhausted state, the crew could not survive a swim to shore through the tumultuous waves. The telephone had not yet been invented, and going for help would take too long. Keeper Hyde knew that he and the assistant light-keeper, his wife Elsa, were the only hope of rescue for the Ben Flint’s crew. They quickly loaded the lighthouse’s small boat onto a wagon, along with blankets and other supplies, and set off up the beach. Upon reaching the site of the wreck, the two of them launched their boat and managed to reach the stranded schooner. After multiple trips, they succeeded in bringing all of the men safely to shore.
The crew reached Manistee by wagon that evening. The account of the disaster in the Manistee Times said, “All unite in praise of the kindness and heroism of the lighthouse keeper and his lady. But for their efforts, others and perhaps all would have perished.”
(My friend Grace Truman serves as president of S.O.S. Vermilion, a nonprofit organization working to preserve an 1876 U.S. Life-Saving Service station on Lake Superior near Whitefish Point. If you are interested in what they’re doing, the website is sosvermilion.org. Grace, her husband, and their son also wrote the book Storms and Sand: A Story of Shipwrecks and the Big Sable Point Coast Guard Station. It tells the true stories of rescues made by the men of the U.S. Life-Saving Service/Coast Guard at the Big Sable Point station near Ludington. If anyone wants to order a copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The list price is $29.95, but you can get a special price of $20.00 with free shipping and tax included, if you mention “Summer Setting.” Thank you, Grace, for sharing this record of courage and valor! May we be inspired to respond as bravely in emergencies should the need arise, and may we be quick to share with others that Jesus can save!)
“Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them out of their distresses” (Psalm 107:13).
(—Ronny and Kenny Hinson, 1970)
There’s a lighthouse on a hillside
That overlooks life’s sea
When I’m tossed, it sends out
A light that I might see
And the light that shines in darkness now
Will safely lead me thru the night
If it wasn’t for The Lighthouse
My ship would sail no more.
Chorus: And I thank God for The Lighthouse
Well, I owe my life to Him
For Jesus is The Lighthouse
And from the rocks I’ve seen
He has shown a light all around me
That I might clearly see
If it wasn’t for The Lighthouse
Tell me where would this ship be.
Ev’rybody that lives about me
They said tear that lighthouse down
‘Cause the big ships they don’t sail this way anymore
There’s no use of it standing ’round
Then my mind goes back to that stormy night
When just in time, I saw that light
Yes that light from that old lighthouse
That stands up there on the hill.