No Stranger to Precious Cargo

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This cane with an ornate gold-plated handle was recently found at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. While the golden handle is certainly the most eye-catching feature, the humble wood below has quite a story to tell—it was once part of a steamship called the Independence. Built in Chicago in 1843, the 118 foot long Independence was the first propeller-driven ship built on Lake Michigan and eventually the first steamship to operate in Lake Superior. There the Independence played a role in Michigan’s valuable copper industry, once carrying a 1,750 pound chunk of ore out of Copper Harbor in 1846. However, her career was cut short by a boiler explosion in 1853 which not only shattered the ship but took the lives of four people. The maker of this walking stick preferred to focus on the Independence’s triumphs rather than its tragedy as the central band around the handle reads, “Wood of the Independence first boat sailed L. Superior.” Other pieces of the Independence have been fashioned into souvenirs, making this beautiful, if unexpected tribute, apparently not an isolated case.

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