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A Voyage into History with the Cyprus

By William Forsythe


From the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

Part 1: My Interest In The Cyprus

My interest in the loss of the steamer Cyprus has been a long one. Many different sources have slightly different versions of the story surrounding the Cyprus’ short life and death. In the traditional story, Captain Huyck is blamed for failing to batten down the hatches (i.e. apply canvas tarpaulins and clamps to the telescoping hatch covers) to his brand-new ship. In mid-October 1907, the Cyprus was overwhelmed by a storm that caused the ship to capsize and kill all but one of her crew.

In August 2007, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS) sent its research vessel David Boyd to perform a side-scan sonar search near Deer Park, Mich., in Lake Superior. They found a solid target and expected it to be the D. M. Clemson (I), a mystery ship since her sinking in 1908. Everyone was surprised one week later, on August 18, 2007, when the Shipwreck Society’s Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) swam down to film the stern and found the words “CYPRUS FAIRPORT.” The ROV’s dive occurred 100 years and one day after the Cyprus’ launching at the American Shipbuilding Company in Lorain, Ohio. I found it fascinating to see what they would find on the wreck.

Part 2: My Search Begins

In early 2008, my curiosity peaked about what had been learned of the Cyprus since her discovery nine months before. What was to follow was a one-year journey into rewriting a small piece of Great Lakes history.

After many Internet searches, I struck up a conversation with Luanne King, great-granddaughter of the Cyprus’ Chief Engineer, James J. Norcross. In turn, I was introduced to Captain Ann Sanborn. She is not only a maritime attorney and a professor at the U. S. Merchant Marine Academy at King Point, N.Y., she is the great-niece of the Cyprus’ sole survivor, Second Mate Charles Pitz.

Three events changed my curiosity into an obsession. Captain Sanborn sent me still photos that were taken by the GLSHS’ ROV that showed the spar deck outboard of the starboard side of three pairs of hatches. There looked to be an unusual drive mechanism that could be for no other purpose than to open and close the telescoping hatch cover leaves. But how?

Matthew Andrews (I) in the 1909 postcard. The only known photo of the Harry Brousseau style telescoping hatch cover and operating mechanism. Note the starboard side drive shaft and steam engines (William Forsythe collection)

Being a machine designer by trade, the mechanism caught my interest and the search was on. I began looking for photos by inquiring of friends old and new, through books, the Internet and my postcard collection. I did find a postcard of the steamer Matthew Andrews (I), postmarked 1909, where I saw a similar hatch drive system. She was launched January 12, 1907 at the American Shipbuilding Company yard in Cleveland, Ohio. This must have been an unusual design. Photos of the system are almost non-existent, and many of my questions came back with more questions.

I was also shown photos of the steamer John Stanton, launched September 16, 1905 from the American Shipbuilding yard at Lorain, Ohio, two years before the Cyprus was launched at the same yard. The photos were from 1951 and showed Cyprus-style hatches. Sadly, the hatch drive system, if it had been on this ship, had long since been removed.

My second reason for studying more on the Cyprus came in the form of an e-mail from Ann Myers. Ms. Myers is a relative of the Cyprus’ captain, the delegated Huyck family historian, and had been included in my correspondence with Captain Sanborn. She told me how Captain Huyck’s family was aboard the Cyprus on her last upbound trip. During one of the last days he saw him alive, Captain Huyck’s 12-year-old son overheard a conversation between his father and the Cyprus’ first mate. She also sent me a copy of a handwritten note with the letterhead “From the desk of - - F. S. Huyck,” the captain’s younger son. His sentences were short, but strongly worded. It was the Huyck family’s record of what happened to the Cyprus. Twelve-year-old Franklin had been eyewitness to history.

This news intrigued me. It added a human-interest angle to what had begun as a dry technical research project.

With so many publications telling the Cyprus’ story, only one 1965 article, from the periodical “Inland Seas,” spoke of the conversation. The Huyck family story of the Cyrpus had by then faded into oblivion. I wanted to breathe new and accurate life into the Cyprus story.

My final reason that drew me to this story was Ms. Betty Huyck Cornwell. Her father was Franklin Samse Huyck. In 1907, he was the captain’s 12-year-old son, who was to lose his father a few days after watching him sail off into Lake Superior. After the tragedy, young Franklin collected as many news articles as he could about his dad, his ship and their final voyage. His father’s conversation to the first mate stayed with the boy well into adulthood.

The handwritten note with the letterhead “From the desk of - - F. S. Huyck” said so much on a 5x7 sheet of paper. The text was “The Cypress, a new boat, with a capacity of 7,400 tons, was owned by the Lackawanna Transportation Company. It was on his second trip down the lakes with a cargo of iron ore. When it was 30 miles from Grand Marias all her crew of 22, excepting the second mate, were lost. It had patent (new) hatches and so was thought to need no tarpaulin hatch covers and had none.”

Where did the phrase “patent hatches” come from? Ms. Myers’ enthusiasm motivated me to search deeper for the real, rarely spoken story of the ship and her crew. Franklin followed his chosen career and became a respected educator and superintendent of the Wauseon, Ohio, school district. He deeply believed that his father had not been neglectful in the operation of the Cyprus.

After 58 years, his news articles were the chance he had to clear his father’s name. They were used as the topic of the 1965 Inland Seas article written by Teddy Remick.

I was taken by Ms. Cornwell’s devotion to family, as she still has possession of the now 103-year-old news articles collected by her father. She hoped that the family story could be heard again, and finding the wreck of the Cyprus was the impetus. I feel honored to be given the opportunity, with the technological advances of the early 21st century, to show how Captain Frank Brainard Huyck and his crew were victims of early 20th century technological advances.

My thanks to all that have participated in this venture.

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