It May Have Been Thanksgiving, But This Lifesaving Crew Saved 18 Men

November 28, 1889

In one of the more noteworthy operations of its kind in the Great Lakes region, the crew of the U.S. Life-Saving Service (USLSS) station at Evanston, Illinois, rescued all of those on board the stranded and storm-battered steamship Calumet on Lake Michigan.

While traveling from Buffalo the previous day to deliver coal to Milwaukee, the Calumet’s commander Captain Orville Green and his crew encountered a fierce gale. Since the gale’s blinding sleet and snow made it impossible for those on board the Calumet to see the lights of Milwaukee, Green decided that the ship should bypass that city in favor of Chicago.

With the gale continuing to hammer away, however, the Calumet never made it to Chicago. At around 10:30 p.m. on November27, the ship ran aground on a shoal about 1,000 yards (914.4 meters) offshore from the U.S. Army post of Fort Sheridan, Illinois. Green and his crew had to wait there for help, which came from the Evanston-based USLSS station (approximately 11 miles, or 17.7 kilometers, from Fort Sheridan).

It was at half past midnight on November28 – incidentally, Thanksgiving Day – that the station’s keeper Captain Lawrence O. Lawson received word of the latest calamity out on the waters of Lake Michigan. Lawson and the members of his crew, who were students at nearby Northwestern University, finally managed to get themselves and their life-saving equipment to the vicinity of the shipwreck despite the horrendous weather.

“The gallant fellows, encouraged by a cheer from crowds on the bluff and the shivering crew on the Calumet, started with a vim through the dashing breakers for the wreck,” recounted the next day’s edition of the New York Times. The USLSS crew prevailed against strong winds and high waves to get a lifeboat to the Calumet and bring the men onboard that ship safely to shore. The New York Times also asserted that “it was in succoring the eighteen men on the steamer that the students added to their already famous record.”

For more information on the Thanksgiving Day rescue of the men on board the steamship Calumet, please check out

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