Wednesday, March 25, 2020


After a delay of several days to get the transporter functioning
properly, the ferry minus pilot house moves out of #411.
(All blog photos by Rich Ellefrson)

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

At the Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding facility the beat goes on regarding the construction of the new
Washington Island Ferry Madonna.

It's been primarily steel work that has continued within the 411 Building during the past week, the former construction bay for Palmer Johnson luxury yachts.  A comparison of photos with those taken a week ago reveals that most electrical cords, hoses, ladders and so forth have been coiled and removed, and a general clean-up made, in preparation for the paint shop.  Rich Ellefson visited the yard yesterday (Tuesday, 24th of March) and he took several photos showing the wrap-up of details prior to moving the ferry out of #411 to the nearby paint building, where it will remain for approximately three weeks.

Then this morning, prior to returning home, he photographed the transport of the ferry.

It's hard not to get excited about the construction a new ferry: all of the details, skills, engineering and components that go into making such a vessel an impressive whole.  Quite an accomplishment of corporate shipbuilding spirit.  This production is something to stand up and cheer about, and to look forward to its launch and finish with the greatest anticipation.  But, immediate pay-back will be questionable, given our current situation.

Given the present downturn in traffic, what we are now building is excess capacity. That contract decision had been given extreme forethought, consideration and judgement, but without having an inkling of what would happen in our world, our nation, in the winter of 2020.

Although there is concern for whether or not the shipyard will be able to maintain its production schedule, in light of the Coronavirus currently threatening manufacturing elsewhere, for the time being it remains a fair estimation that this project is still on track for a late May finish, the target date when the contract was signed.

Following are photos that show production in progress.

Main deck, looking aft.

Pedestal, looking to port.
Fire station hose rack is in
center of photo.

Let's hope the virus spread eases back, that people can begin to travel once again without concern for contracting illness, and that we can get back to doing what we do best: providing regular, dependable ferry transportation across the Deaths Door passage to and from Washington Island.  There is no question that this newest ferry will be an excellent product, designed to enable customers to easily drive-on or drive-off, in any season of the year should it be called upon to do so.

Window openings make the former "duck blind"
look more like a pilot house.

Although I had previously entertained the likelihood of having a public christening in early June, after which the ferry might be placed in rotation, that idea now seems far-fetched and inappropriate.   For one, it might still be wrong to invite public assembly.  For another, given the present downturn in required ferry transportation, providing the Island with essential transportation only, this vessel could remain moored, dockside through the first months of its existence.

That would be a shame, but it could easily be the case, and for some time into the future.
   - Dick Purinton


This weather isn't inviting to travelers, but no matter.
That's not among the reasons for slow-down in ferry
traffic these days.   Here, the Arni J. Richter approaches
 the Island dock.  Washington, moored on the left, soon
will be ready to go from winter layup
 to assume the route's  daily operations.
(Purinton photo)
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

I met the ferry late afternoon yesterday afternoon at 3:30 pm (Tuesday, March 24), and coming off the ferry were two vehicles, a black pickup truck and the Ferry Line's box truck with the UPS/FedEx package freight.  There was but one paying passenger, the pickup driver.

Ferry Captain Tully Ellefson commented: "I don't think we had more than 20 vehicles Monday, all day."

The 8 am ferry departing Northport has typically been
a nearly full boatload, a mix of contractors, summer
property owners, and Island residents returning from
shopping and appointments off-island.  That pattern's
changed dramatically this week.
This morning, Wednesday, Mary Jo and I drove to meet the incoming Arni J. Richter's 8:00 am trip from Northport.  On board were: one bulk fuel semi, a dump truck modified to haul firewood to customers, and a contractor's van.  A total of three drivers and one vehicle passenger accompanied the vehicles.  Also, there was a bundle of morning papers for Mann's Store.  Waiting in line to board on the Island side were five autos and six occupants.

These are clear signs the public is heeding warnings.  On the one hand, a good thing: people are staying home, and we are carrying only essential traffic.  On the other hand, such low traffic volume provides minimal revenues to an operation that requires much higher numbers to sustain itself.

Following an analysis of the traffic vs. revenues experienced Friday through Sunday (March 20-22), and by projecting expenses vs. income for the next two months, Ferry Line management and Board took action to reduce our expenses and exposure (both the economic and the viral variety) through immediate modification of the ferry schedule.  Beginning tomorrow, Thursday, March 26, there will be only four daily round trips.  This change to the schedule will apply until further notice, with exceptions for medical emergencies, of course. We will need to be flexible from here on.

In light of previously published ferry schedules and web information, anyone who anticipates traveling by ferry, beginning tomorrow, should note the new departure times as follows:   
                          Lv. Is.                                        Lv. Northport
                        8:00 am                                         9:00 am
                      10:00 am                                       11:00 am
                        1:00 pm                                        2:30 pm
                        3:30 pm                                        4:30 pm

Our projected ferry activity, coupled with the governmental urgings for the public to isolate, stay home and not travel, an even deeper look considers elimination of weekend trips.  Possibly all weekend trips.  That decision has not yet been made.

Ferry runs are being scheduled now with essential traffic only in mind.  The typical weekend traffic experienced in past springs would include folks coming for one or two days, such as property owners who are not full-time residents, with minimal or no commercial traffic.  Presently, folks who might show at Northport and take the ferry for sightseeing purposes - a good part of tourism revenue - are being discouraged from traveling to the Island.

Several other measures are being taken to protect both the public and Ferry Line workers.

    *  One ferry only will be utilized.  Currently, it is the AJR.  But several crew members are readying the ferry Washington, and going forward that will be the single ferry utilized.  One set of three crewmen will be on hand daily, along with shore administrative staff.  Shore maintenance work will be reduced to the most necessary tasks, or as required.

    * Package freight will continue to be transported daily from Northport, and then transferred from WIFL's vehicle to shelving or freight garage, as before, but with the aid of a conveyor transfer system.  This same set of rollers can also be used to provide a package to a customer, helping to minimize close interactions.

    *   At the Island's west terminal entry, normally used for customer package pickup/drop-off, visitors are asked to enter one at a time and then remain at a sensible distance, behind two chairs displaying the instruction to "Wait Here For Service."

Customers at the Island Ferry Office are requested
to stay a distance from the service counter, 
and to request assistance as needed. 
Janet Hanlin can always be reached at the
customer service desk.
UPS packages slide down conveyor. One way to reduce
package handling in an operation that requires
 repeated handling.
    *  The Northport upper lobby and restrooms are now closed, in part to reduce use by "Sunday drivers" and the general public.  This also reduces need to repeatedly clean those restrooms and associated surfaces.   (Please ask the crew if you need to use a restroom ashore.).  Rest rooms onboard the ferry will continue to be open for use by ferry passengers.

   *   The Island terminal lobby front door is closed, but restrooms will still be accessible from the package freight/customer entry.

    *  There will be no dedicated ticket seller.  As during wintertime operations, one crew member will man the ticketing booth on either side of the run, once the ferry is moored.

    *  New Island office hours will also go into effect:  Monday thru Saturday:  8:00 am to 4:30 pm
                                                                                         Saturday 9:00 am to 1:00 pm
                                                                                         Closed Sundays

All of the above changes seem drastic, severe, even.  And they are.  And they are meant to be.  The health and lives of our Crew and Customers may hang in the balance, even though as this is being written there have been no recorded cases of Coronavirus in Door County.  It may be a matter of days, or weeks, but protection now is best, we are convinced.

Secondly, we have grave concerns for the health of all island businesses, the Ferry Line included.  The only way to come out of this, we think, is to look for a more normal set of activities in the second half of the summer.  But, we'll see how it goes.

Employee door to freight garage.
Thanks to everyone for your understanding, and for your willing participation in what appears to be the greatest social disruption in Island history. It's totally different from anything we've previously experienced.

 -  Dick Purinton

Saturday, March 21, 2020


Summer 2019, cars lined up for the ferry on State Highway 42. (WIFL photo)

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Washington Island and its residents have been pleased and proud to welcome visitors for 170 years.

That welcoming attitude may have come to an end with a Town Board meeting, Friday, March 20.

Washington Island greeted spring by holding a meeting with 26 persons present in the Community Center gym, where fifteen or so chairs were set out on the basketball court, six feet apart. Town Chairman Richard Tobey stated a rational argument for protecting Island residents' health by encouraging  isolation, and at the same time, expressing concern for the health of anyone who might seek refuge and hospitality within this island's rural setting, now in reality a false refuge some might otherwise perceive as "idyllic."

His concern stems from the Island's lack of sufficient health support and supplies, and the means of treating and testing individuals who may exhibit Coronavirus symptoms. There is a total lack of facilities, beds, etc. in which afflicted patients may be treated.  Even our nearest hospital facility, in Sturgeon Bay, would soon find itself taxed beyond their means to provide care, should an outbreak of the virus occur.

Noting that we cannot block entry to Washington Island by ferry, we must continue transportation for necessities of life, yet at the same time reducing all non-essential travel.  Tobey noted that "Our Town may be legally challenged later by some.  But I do not wish to have the deaths of any resident on my hands should we have a Corona virus outbreak here, having ignored measures reasonable and possible to help stem the spread of that disease."

Those words admittedly reflect this writer's memory in paraphrasing what Chairman Tobey said, as the exact words he spoke, and those comments and questions from audience members, were often inaudible to an otherwise attentive audience, seated within the acoustically-challenged, cavernous gymnasium.  Unfortunately, no microphone or amplification was employed.

Following a presentation of the resolution, summarized in slides of the text, Town of Washington Resolution 2020-06 was then passed by unanimous consent:  Andersen, Foss, Jorgenson and Tobey voting Aye, Lux being absent, with the vote recorded by Clerk Carpenter.

Tobey then offered to modify a statement in hand made by the Town of Beaver Island, using words and phrasing that echoed the many points already outlined in Washington Island's formal resolution. It is a reader-friendlier version, he noted, minus the Whereas, Wherefore and Therefores.  That more readily understandable version is what is reprinted below, in its entirety.  

We should not ignore Tobey's comments about how essential certain services are, as will be the health of the people who provide them.  He named Mann's Store, the Island Clinic, the Ferry Line, and (following a gentle reminder by Co-op Manager Robert Cornell) the maintenance of our electrical grid by the REA crew.

I've heard expressed over national telecasts recently how isolation brought about by this virus strangely also brings us closer together.  We synchronize in our hearts and minds with those we know and love and rely on.

There may be no question that this virus and its aftermath, in community, state and nation, will take its toll.   Not yet comprehended, but of equal concern long-term, will be our economic health.  How many businesses will survive?  Can individuals and families continue to live well?  Will daily activities return to normal soon enough to bring about commerce at sustainable levels?  Those questions will remain to be answered in the coming weeks and months.

*                      *                      *

Following is the Town's "Public Statement regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic" dated March 20, 2020:

 To Washington Island full-time residents, seasonal residents, families, businesses, and visitors:

Washington Island should not be considered a “safe haven” for those seeking to avoid the Coronavirus. On the contrary, Coronavirus cases are likely to occur on Washington Island, and the consequences to those on the Island could be more devastating than in mainland locations with greater access to medical resources and supplies. The Island is home to numerous individuals with compromised immune systems, as well as many aging and elderly residents who are at greatest risk. 


Coronavirus (COVID-19) has now been identified in most areas of the U.S., including northeastern Wisconsin. It is highly contagious, and is especially dangerous to those with compromised immune systems. As a result, health officials are discouraging travel of any kind, and local health providers strongly recommend against travel to Washington Island. Beyond the imminent threat of exposure from those traveling in from other parts of the state and country, the Island lacks the medical resources and facilities necessary to provide care to those who may be affected.

Unfortunately, this will impact the plans of those who normally return to Washington Island in the spring, as well as family members wishing to visit Island relatives, and other visitors. Island residents may encounter a delay in obtaining essential supplies, and travel on or off the Island is discouraged. Our Island businesses and services are forced to take special precautions to limit potential exposure and transmission of illness.

For those with no choice but to travel to Washington Island, including those residing on the Island who leave and plan to return, it is essential to take all of the following precautions for self-isolation:

·      Abide by all COVID-19 precautions established by the CDC and other government agencies, as well as the Town Board resolution and transportation companies serving Washington Island.
·      Avoid exposure to other persons at the harbor/marina, and all other points of access. Avoid sharing vehicles and/or riding in others’ vehicles, where the virus can easily be transmitted.
·      Upon arrival, plan to self-isolate by remaining on your private premises for no fewer than 14 days. Like elsewhere in Wisconsin, our food service establishments are unable to provide dine-in accommodations, by order of the Governor’s Office, until COVID-19 precautions are lifted statewide. At time of this release KK Fiske, Karley’s, and Middle Bar are providing limited take-out and/or delivery service, along with limited hours. Mann’s food store, the Mercantile and Death’s Door Fuel remain open at this time.  
·      If you have signs or symptoms of flu-like illness, including fever, cough, congestion, nausea, diarrhea, shortness of breath, and/or body aches and pains, consult your physician immediately and before any travel. Please do not travel to Washington Island if you have any alternatives whatsoever.

Washington Island Ferry Line has established COVID-19 response plans, and will abide by all recommendations from CDC and local health officials.

Coronavirus testing is available on Washington Island. The Washington Island Clinic will continue to operate. Anyone needing medical attention is asked to call the Clinic first, no walk-ins will be accepted. ALL patients will be evaluated over the phone by the provider with on-site visits scheduled for those with acute illnesses or urgent needs. Testing for COVID-19 is available for those with pertinent symptoms.

If you are returning to the Island, please follow the CDC guidelines and self-isolate for 14 days. After 14 days continue to practice social distancing, wash hands frequently, and avoid non-essential travel. 

If you are already on Washington Island and feel that you, or someone else in your family, party or household, are experiencing flu-like symptoms, remain isolated in place (i.e., in your home or cottage) and contact the Clinic for further instructions. Avoid contact with all other persons. If you experience an emergency requiring urgent medical attention and/or are in respiratory distress, call 9-1-1 and alert the dispatcher if anyone in your party or household has flu-like symptoms so that EMS responders can don appropriate personal protective equipment before entering. 

Travel and self-isolation precautions will remain in effect for Washington Island until they are lifted statewide by health officials and state government.

We will update this statement periodically as appropriate.

These websites provide guidelines for dealing with the current health emergency:

Local – Town of Washington
            Washington Island Ferry Line
            Washington Island Community Health Program (WICHP)
            Washington Island Police
State - Wisconsin Department of Health & Human Services

If you have additional questions or concerns, please contact:

Richard Tobey, Chairman or 
Valerie Carpenter, Clerk
Town of Washington
(920) 847-2522

   *                 *                 *

-  Dick Purinton

Thursday, March 19, 2020


Madonna, port side looking aft.  (Rich Ellefson photo)

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

We enter a new phase in the construction of the Madonna at the Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding yard.  Not in the physical sense of putting a vessel together, one that is intended to provide service for five and more decades.  Rather, it is in the aura of societal symptoms that surround us, symptoms of a breakdown, of what feels at times like overwhelming darkness.

But, we have good news!  Construction goes forward, and the Madonna looks more and more like a ship each day.  We hold fast, anticipating placing this ferry in operation alongside other fleet vessels during this coming season, hopeful there will be patrons waiting in line to board.  Are we being overly optimistic?

*           *            *

Before we show you the nuts and bolts on this vessel's progress, I'm going to pause to don my WIFL officer's hat, and then make a few statements in light of the news circulating around the Island:

1.  Washington Island Ferry Line will continue to provide regular, scheduled ferry service to and from Washington Island.  That is what our authorization from the Wisconsin Railroad Commission requires of us.  (At one time it was the Wisconsin Public Service, then Transportation Commission).

Crew members are working daily to prepare our fleet for the season, and they will be available for each ferry departure to assist you as they have in the past.  A few new techniques may be utilized to minimize exposure to one another, such as: you may be required to swipe your own credit card to help minimize contact - yours and the ticket selle.    **   UPS, FED EX and other package freight, plus U. S Mail and important shipments by truck, such as Mann's Store grocery truck, True Value Hardware, and so forth, will be transported, as before.  Due to governmental recommendations for quarantine, closures and restrictions we've come to know as social distancing, we anticipate an increase in the volume of certain goods shipped to the Island.

2.  While the tourism season is not yet here, indicators tell us that due to requests to stay in or close to our homes, we will not see travel traffic volumes as we might have otherwise anticipated with the break of winter to spring, spring to summer.  This will ultimately impact Island businesses for whom tourism is lifeblood.  That same shortage of people and vehicles also will impact the Ferry Line, causing real concerns for the longer term.   Few people + few cars = reassessment on a regular basis. Will revenues from ferry service support a full schedule of departures, as published?  Our longer term ability to provide a multitude of departures daily is something we must seriously review as we progress into the 2020 summer.  We are as concerned as anyone, as any Island business, for what may lie ahead regarding business economic viability.

3.  Our ferry and shore crews will sanitize vessel and shore surfaces commonly utilized, touched by the public such as handrails, counters and restroom fixtures.  However, every passenger needs to be reminded to follow best practice after making contact with such surfaces (frequent hand washing, etc.) and to remain a safe distance from others as much as is possible.  Those who travel in their vehicle may consider remaining in their vehicle for the duration of the 30-minute crossing.

Upper deck, outside seating area.
Rail and screening detail, upper passenger deck.

4. We've been asked, in so many words, "Can you determine who should or who should not use the ferry?"  The answer is "No."   As a provider of public transportation (even though privately owned and managed) WIFL provides transportation open to ALL customers.  Screening each one or each group for one reason or another is not an authority we've been granted (nor do we want).  Unless so ordered by the Governor of Wisconsin, we will continue in service to the general public, and the Island community, as e have for 80 years, to the best of our ability.

5.  Our new brochures are out now with the 2020 ferry schedule and rates, effective March 20th, the same date when trips increase in number to six daily.  Our new rates reflect our discussion back in the fall of the year, before the corona virus became known.  Also, this is the first rate increase for autos made in 8 years, and for the adult passenger rate in six years.

Below are several key categories with rates that will go into effect March 20.

   Round trip pricing per auto will increase from $26.00 to $27.00
   Round trip pricing per adult will increase from $13.50 to $14.00
   Round trip pricing per child (6-11 yrs.) will increase from $7.00 to $7.50
   Round trip pricing per motorcycle will increase from $15.00 to $16.00
   Round trip pricing per bicycle will increase from $4.00 to $5.00

For information on other rate changes, such as particular freight or truck/trailer categories, please inquire at the WIFL office, or call 920-847-2546.
   *         *         *
 We have a contract with Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding for a new, multi-million dollar ferry, and that work will continue apace, unless unforeseen circumstances arise (such as the corona virus debilitating members of the shipbuilding workforce).  Like many manufacturing groups, ship workers are often isolated from one another in separated work areas.  Lunch breaks and work progress meetings are held in small numbers, as per the State of Wisconsin's current guidelines for social distancing.

We appreciate the understanding of all ferry patrons, past, present and future, as we strive to meet water transportation needs.

  -  Dick Purinton     (all photos courtesy of Rich Ellefson)
Engine room looking forward, with two gensets in center covered with 
fiberglass blankets (for protection from hot work, etc.)  Bilge is open, and deck 
plates will be added at the very last, when piping access, etc., is no longer needed.

Overhead section showing insulation partly installed
Deck insulation is a fire requirement for passenger areas located
 above the vehicle deck. Shown here is the single, outboard lane for 
vehicles running fore and aft on the port side.

Saturday, March 14, 2020


Looking aft across a boarding gangway.  At this point
the port king post that will support the bow ramp was not yet
installed.  Ramp sections fabricated by an
outside facility will be assembled and then connected with
toggles on the outer ends, and installed by the shipyard
later in the construction schedule.  (Rich Ellefson photo)
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Harbor ice here has receded.  Ice fishermen are all but gone. A party of three experienced a break-through with their machine as the sun was setting last evening.  A six-wheeled unit carrying two men encountered a thin spot not far from the old Ida Bo Inn dock.  It took a bit of work, a long cedar pole as a pry, and a tow from Eric DeJardin's 4-wheeler with chains on rear tires, to retrieve it.  Wet legs appeared to be the only setback, as their machine is designed to float and not sink.

forward bulkhead of engine room looking starboard to port. 
Access ladder to main deck in background, piping manifold
 in foreground, right.
Island maple trees have been tapped, and given the many warm sunny days of recent weeks, the sap supply for cooking to syrup should be plentiful.  Rich Ellefson (when not at the Fincantieri shipyard in Sturgeon Bay, or at the ferry office) and his family tap trees each year. Their syrup helps fill our pantry shelf annually.

The corona virus has within the past several days closed many public places and cancelled major and minor events across the nation, from the NBA to the NCAA tournaments, and to Wisconsin's public schools (for three weeks, beginning Wednesday, March 18th).

We have yet to experience the first case of corona virus locally.  It will be interesting to see what our local and national situation will be four weeks from now.

Fincantieri's Italian shipyards are closed for a few weeks, given the high number of corona virus cases there.  We hope that won't happen here, but...

So where do we stand on the new ferry Madonna?  

According to regular reports from Rich, work continues on many fronts inside the large 411 Bldg.     Steel work, welding and fitting details, much of it on the upper deck structures, is high priority.  The forward stairway was set in place a day ago, a moment of truth to see how the fit of steps will match up with surrounding support members.  Painters have been spraying during second shift in the forward most voids: two coats of primer, one gray and the second and final in white.  The insulation crew is subcontracted by Bay Shipbuilding, and these men work hours that fit around the main Bay Ship workforce, so that steelwork and other yard trades can continue uninterrupted.

Cabin and upper deck superstructure is coming along.  Name is applied to the
forward fashion plate, with a notch for stairway from uppermost
deck to mezzanine cabin deck.

By March 20, just one week from now,  hot work is to be wrapped up, at least on the hull and exterior surfaces.  The vessel will be rolled across former First Avenue (that portion now incorporated as private Fincantieri property) to the large indoor paint facility.  Once inside, over an approximate three-week time period, all outer surfaces will be coated including the main deck.  Marine coatings as supplied by Sherwin Williams are epoxy formulations and must be applied within the manufacturer's recommended limits for humidity and temperature for superior adherence to bare steel, and also proper bonding between successive coats.  A Sherwin Williams representative will be on hand to verify surface prepping and conditions that will satisfy and guarantee the coating applications.

Pilot house, prior to window openings being cut.
Lower openings are for access to wiring, piping beneath
sole of pilot house.  Height of structure will help to attain
pilot's visibility over bow and stern, without having to leave
main steering and control station. (all photos by Rich Ellefson)

A mid-April date for immersing the hull still looks to be on schedule, as does completion by end of May.

- Dick Purinton

Wednesday, March 11, 2020


The car carrying six young men went through the ice of Deaths Door Sunday,
 March 10, 1935.  It was Tuesday when the car was finally grappled
 on one of the front wheels and pulled to the surface.  Three of the
victims remained in the back seat.  Bodies of the other three, found outside
the car, had been brought to the surface earlier.  (Island Archives photo)
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Although it's been 85 years since the death of six young men who drowned while crossing the Door over the ice, the memory still carries a considerable sting for this family, as I suspect it might for other families who lost a loved one on March 10, 1935.

These were the circumstances that led to the incident:  A basketball game was played in Ellison Bay on Saturday, March 9, with six young men from the Island forming a team.  That evening the team car and several other cars with fans drove to Sturgeon Bay to spend the night before returning to the Island Sunday.  Although the group had agreed to gather in Gills Rock at mid-day, prior to crossing the ice, the car with the team arrived in Gill Rock earlier that Sunday morning (based upon observations and pieced-together accounts) and proceeded home.  A fog or a haze hung low over the Door, not unusual in certain winter conditions.  Despite what might have impeded visibility, the car with the six men started home.

Later that afternoon it was presumed the ball players had returned safely to the Island, but their absence was soon apparent.  By nightfall, those concerned realized what had happened. The six men who lost their lives were:

    Ralph Wade - 28
    John "Bub" Cornell - 22
    Leroy Einarsson - 21
    Norman Nelson - 19
    Raymond Richter - 21
    Roy Stover - 19

[SUGGESTED: ADDITIONAL INFORMATION is available in my blog posted March 9, 2015]

While looking for information related to the recent Mariner Sunday at Trinity, I found several pages about this 1935 incident in Clara Jessen's book, "I Remember," a book based upon her recorded history of March 1987, and later published in 2003. Clara wrote (starting p. 36, with a few edits):

Early Days of Marriage

Our first home was ready for us.  We lived in the house on the corner where the Albaqtross is now.  We rented it from Bill Engelson for $5 a month and John was to repaper it. He had bought a new rug and a new couch and with the furniture that was there it was a lovely, homey place.   The living room was quite comfortable with our hard coal burner.  We had kerosene lamps, but I know we used a lot of candles that first winter.  Thje kitchen was always real cold.  I think if you'd washed the floor on a old day, the water would have turned to ice.

I taught school all day and John was home. (John sailed on the Great Lakes)  He did the cooking, the dishwashing, cutting wood for the kitchen stove.  He had lots of company because the house was on the most traveled intersection on the Island.  I never knew when I came home from school who our dinner guests would be, but there was usually someone there.  John was a person who loved people and loved company.

I recall he always picked me up at school promptly at 5 o'clock and I was ready.  But one afternoon Varian (married to John "Bub" Cornell) and Mary (Cornell, sister of Bub) stopped in shortly after four and said, "Come on, Clara.  Let's go for a ride before John picks you up."  I don't remember where we went; it was just three of us stopping here and there, visiting, having a good time. 

John had to have his tonsils out and he could have this done for free at the Marine Hospital (in Chicago).  So after we had been married about six weeks he went to Chicago planning to be there three for four days at the most.  However, after he got his tonsils out infection set in and they kept him there for four long weeks.  

I had never stayed alone up to this point and I didn't want to stay alone.  I remember Florence Jess, who was single then, stayed with me a good many nights. So did Merle Johnson who was one of the other teachers at the school.  The last week Varian and Bub offered to stay with me.  They lived two miles down the road near the ferry dock and the traveling was rough and their home was cold.  They just moved in with me until John got back.  He got back on a Friday afternoon and Varian had a good dinner ready for us. We were real happy as the four of us sat down to dinner that evening.

In telling about his trip, John confessed that he did not enjoy traveling across Death's Door on the ice.  He admitted that he was nervous and he was real happy to hear that Bub and some of the others had come to meet him.  I remember Bub teasing him and laughing and saying, "Oh, you know that ice is perfectly safe. Those roads are marked. How silly you are to be afraid."  That was Friday.

The next day Bub and five other boys drove across on the ice to play a basketball game with one of the county teams. And two other cars full of Island fans went with them.  Varian didn't go because she was going to have some scout activities on Sunday and felt she had obligations to stay on the Island.  Sunday morning on our way to church John and I saw Varian on the road. We stopped and talked and she told us about the terrible dream she'd had the night before - that Bub had gone through the ice.  We laughed about it and said, "Aren't dreams awful?" and went to church.

Shortly after lunch we went to Tom's Hall to supervise or watch the Girl Scout practice. Varian, I think, was scout leader.  When I mentioned we had seen some of the people who'd gone the night before she lit up and said, "Oh, was it Bub's car?"  I didn't know which car it was.  I didn't know she had already started to worry.

It wasn't Bub's car. When that car wasn't home by evening and the other two cars were, everybody knew that something was terribly wrong. Those boys had taken a shortcut and gone through the ice:  six young islanders between 18 and 25 years old.  I went to school the next morning and realized that many of my students, at least four of them, had lost brothers in that tragedy. Everyone had lost friends.  We tried to have classes but every once in a while someone would be sobbing out loud.  I walked across the street to the clerk of the school board and said, "Mrs. Andersen, I can't teach and the kids can't study.  I'm going to close school down." And there was no school that week.

*      *      *

Islanders continued to travel over the ice, to the peninsula and back, but with a great deal more caution, it can be assumed.  There was no choice in the matter, as there was no ferry winter transportation until 1946, when the first steel hull ferry, Griffin, was placed in service.  Even then, there were no Sunday trips for many years. And the going with the 65-foot ferry often encountered ice conditions too much for the minimal horsepower.  But, it was safer than crossing the ice in a vehicle, that is, on days when ice conditions were considered suitable for crossing by vehicle.

Today, mindful of the loss of life years ago, we must still respect ice conditions in the Door passages, despite having an excellent piece of equipment in the Arni J. Richter.  Although they are fewer, there are still times when moving ice fields or blizzard conditions can place ferry operations on edge, at the limits of what may be considered prudent.  Better navigational instruments, greater horsepower, and excellent basic design each give ferry captains an edge on such occasions.