I've been a regular visitor to our family property at Pickerel Lake Near Petoskey, Michigan for nearly fifty years and lived here for the past four. It wasn't until the last couple of years that I'd even heard about the worlds only know freshwater, underwater crucifix and it was located right here in Little Traverse Bay, about 1200 feet out from the Petoskey Harbor in about 20-25 feet of water. Luckily, this year conditions were right and for the first time in 4 or 5 years, it was available for winter time, through the ice viewing.
I suppose for some, it's like, ya OK no big deal, but for me it was inspiring on many different levels. So, for some quick history on the crucifix, provided by the Emmett County Historical Commission .
The crucifix is made of white Italian marble and weighs 1,850-pound. It’s 11 feet long and 2.5 inches thick with a 5-foot by 5-foot figure of Christ, all attached to a metal pedestal sitting on the bottom of the Bay.
Its origins date back to the late 1950s, when a grieving mother and father from Rapson in Michigan’s Thumb area had it crafted in memory of their son, Gerald Schipinski. Gerald was 15-years-old in 1956 when he was accidentally killed on the family farm. After being crafted in Italy, the cross was broken during shipping to the Rapson Catholic church; the family rejected the damaged crucifix and it was sold in an insurance sale to the Wyandotte-based Superior Marine Divers Club in 1962. The club had the crucifix repaired and was placed in Little Traverse Bay by the U.S. Icebreaker Sundew 1,200 feet off the Petoskey break wall on Aug. 12, 1962 to honor Charles Raymond, a Southgate diver who drowned in Torch Lake. Over time it has grown to become a memorial to all those who have died by water, including victims of shipwrecks.
The original placing of the crucifix drew hundreds of people and several dignitaries. The actor Lloyd Bridges was invited, but he sent a telegram to event organizers declining the invitation due to a heavy film-shooting schedule. Bridges’ telegram is kept in a thick binder of memorabilia preserved by Jessick (then president of the Little Traverse Bay Dive Club) and his wife, Susan, a copy can be viewed on the Emmet County website. About 20 years after the original installation of the crucifix in the Bay, the Michigan Skin Diving Council tried to salvage what they could of the structure (as you can see int he above photo the arms are broken). It was lifted from the water and a new base was built in the Petoskey marina and replaced in the Bay at the current location, about 800 feet off shore, west of Sunset Park in about 21 feet of water.
At that time – in the early 1980s – Jessick was president of the Little Traverse Bay Dive Club, and he proposed a winter viewing of the crucifix. The first was held in 1986, affording the community the chance to view the statue through a hole made in the ice. Lights are placed under water to help with viewing. The viewing usually attracts a couple of thousand people each year and this year was no exception. Once we trekked the 1200 or so
feet out to the crucifix we had approximately a 90 minute wait before we spent our 30 seconds or so inside the tent looking a the crucifix through the hole in 6 foot of ice.
While it was a fairly nice day with temperatures actually in the high 30's, the winds were blowing out of the east at about 25 MPH, blowing in the next storm. The snow was perfect packing snow, tempting all
the kids to either quietly stand in line or go play in the snow. For most, the choice was easy and the large vast area of Little Traverse Bay was soon transformed into an ever growing city of snowmen.
For a great video of the crucifix and the people that made this event happen see Alex Childress's Facebook page. This page has some very good photos of the crew preparing for the days activities, including cutting the hole in 6 foot of ice and the divers setting underwater lights to enhance the viewing experience.
Ahh, the joys of ice diving. When I was 16, I had the opportunity to ice dive in a gravel pit in southern Michigan. It is a surreal experience. At the time, dry suits were not readily available for recreational diving and I had a 1/4 inch thick neoprene wetsuit. I just remember that first bit of cold water entering the suit as I eased into the water and yes, it was very cold. Soon, I was down exploring the wonders hidden below the ice. I remember looking back up at the hole in the ice, thinking I don't ever want to lose sight of it. Also, thinking how weird it was that the surface was fairly bright compared to the hole being very dark. Totally opposite as I would have thought. Then, just as I thought I was getting used to the cold and feeling pretty good about my dive, I noticed each breath was getting harder and harder to draw. So I flipped over to my reserve and surfaced. Total time under water, about 15 minutes, an a tank I normally got between 45 - 50 minutes. But, that's what cold water does to you!
I feel very fortunate to be able to experience these little treasures in and around Michigan and finally having the time to be able to enjoy them. It has not been an easy mental adjustment to take the time, to ditch the 40 hour work week life, and realize I have the time to take in all these wonders about me, for this is why I spent all those years working.
Till the next time, the next adventure, take care,