Carl Brehrend
Press Release

Song Writer Inspired by Great Lakes Legends


What do a bold pirate, a maritime evangelist, an Indian massacre and a couple of tragic Great Lakes ship sinkings have in common?

They're all story threads of local history tugged and woven into the songs of Munising area balladeer Carl Behrend, an increasingly popular singer and sailor whose songs are inspired by the people, legends and the historical record of the Great Lakes.

My shows feature a lot of my better-known songs and several from my new CD," Behrend said.

The upper Michigan native released his More Legends of the Great Lakes CD this past spring. The disc follows a theme Behrend established on his first two releases, Ballad of Seul Choix (1997) and Legends of the Great Lakes (1998), that of creating euphonious folk music versions of local maritime tales.

"Dan Seavey the Great Lakes Pirate" is Behrend's turn to spin a tale of the infamous "Lake Michigan Pirate." Born in Portland, Maine in 1865, Seavey earned a reputation around the lakes as a man who'd "rather fight than eat."

But the gritty ship captain, known for various thefts and several hideouts along the Lake Michigan coastline, also earned the approval of others as a seafaring type of Robin Hood character-stealing, yes, but also taking the time to help others.

Behrend's yarn tells how Seavey is tried for pilfering the ship Nellie Johnson. Before his penniless death in Wisconsin in 1949, Seavey was eventually made a U.S. Marshal once his pirating days were done.

"Captain Bundy's Gospel Ship" snaps a photograph of the missionary captain who traveled the Great Lakes with his family on the boat Glad Tidings. Bundy spread the gospel to sailors, fishermen, lumberjacks and others situated in remote places where no regular evangelists were available. By 1887, Bundy had been traveling the Great Lakes for 18 years.

In "Face on the Rock," Behrend retells the legend of the Grand Island Band of Chippewa Indians and their massacre at the hands of the Sioux. In 1820, the Lewis Cass expedition passed through the Munising area, heading west. Cass, along with expedition mineralogist Henry Schoolcraft, went to Grand Island and was told the story of Powers of the Air, who was the sole survivor of the battle the Chippewa's reluctantly engaged in.

Impressed with the story, one of Cass's men carved an image of the Indian brave's face into the sandstone cliff face near AuTrain. The crumbled and worn face remains there to this day.

Tales of disaster and death are staples for most true folk balladeers and Behrend's repertoire is peppered with many of these solemn shipwreck odes. In addition to performing standards like Gordon Lightfoot's classic Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Behrend offers self-penned stories of lesser-known Great Lakes tragedies.

In "The Christmas Ship," he details the saga of the Rouse Simmons, which sank in 1912 after sailing out of Manistique bound for Chicago. Since 1877, the Rouse Simmons schooner had brought evergreen trees to the Clark Street Bridge in Chicago where they were sold. The ship would sail south each year just before Thanksgiving.

"It was kind of an annual event and people would be looking for the coming of the Christmas Ship." Behrend told The Mining Journal for a 1999 article. "So this particular season they loaded their wares and took off for Chicago right into the jaws of a northwest storm."

Captain Herman Schuenemann had set sail with the 127-foot schooner and its crew on Nov. 22, 1912. The voyage had become so popular over the years that on this holiday season, all the space on board the schooner was filled with Christmas trees.

As the storm surged, ice started building heavily on the ship's deck and the freshly-cut Christmas trees that were lashed across it. The next day, ship was seen briefly off the Door Peninsula in Wisconsin. The crew had their distress flags out, and sails tattered, but the rescuers couldn't reach them, Behrend said.

The ship disappeared into the storm. The 200-ton schooner sank in 180 feet of water off Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Ultimately, 17 sailors would lose their lives on the tragic voyage. In 1971, a scuba diver found the sunken ship with Christmas trees still strapped to its decks.

In an interesting twist, Behrend's "The Captain and the Lady" uses the ominous 1860 sinking of the side paddle steamship Lady Elgin as the backdrop for a folk song describing the love between the ship's captain and his doomed vessel. More than 300 people died in the sinking, which stood as the worst Great Lakes shipping tragedy on record for more than half a century.

Some of Behrend's other songs highlight lake commercial fishing families, a race between captains of the Porter and Moonlight and refuge sought by French sailors in the quiet bays near Seul Choix Point on Lake Michigan.

Behrend hopes his upcoming performances will be fun, entertaining and educational for listeners.

"It gives people something different to do," he said. "There's really something for everyone."

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