A blog sponsored by the Michigan State University Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program, a partnership with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Sharing news and information about the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Quilt Index, the MSU Museum's traditional arts activities, Great Lakes traditional artists and arts resources, and much more. Development of content for this blog supported by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

In Memoriam: Dennis Hale, 1966 Shipwreck Survivor and 2005 GLFF Participant

Shipwreck survivor Dennis Hale lost his battle with cancer September 2, 2015He is survived by his wife, Barbara, children, Cindi Titch and Katherine Scaife, stepchildren Jon C. Robinson and Melissa LaMar, and seven grandchildren. The family is holding a private funeral. A public memorial for Hale will be held at a future date.

Hale was a participant in the Great Lakes Folk Festival in 2005, sharing his story in conjunction with the maritime theme. As you can imagine, the audience was completely captivated by his harrowing tale and unassuming demeanor.

From the 2005 GLFF website:
Dennis Hale
Dennis Hale.  Photo courtesy of Dennis Hale.


In a terrible storm on Lake Huron on November 29, 1966, the ore freighter DANIEL J. MORRELL was in high winds and waves when suddenly, without warning, it broke in half and sank, killing 28 shipmates. Only Dennis Hale, a 26-year-old watchman from Ashtabula, Ohio, survived. After being thrown into the icy lake, wearing only boxer shorts, a pea coat and life jacket, he spent 38 hours on a life raft until he was rescued .The three shipmates on the raft with him perished. In 1996 Hale published Sole Survivor: Dennis Hale's Own Story. Although his sensitive story remains traumatic in each telling, he still speaks about his experience to select, appreciative audiences. Hale now uses the speaking engagement as a way of dealing with the experience and keeping the memory of his shipmates alive. Dennis Hale tells his dramatic story of survival and his role in Great Lakes shipwreck lore at this year's Great Lakes Folk Festival. 

- LuAnne Kozma, field worker


You can find his story as told to Tim Juhl and Pat and Jim Stayer in the book, "Sole Survivor: Dennis Hale's Own Story."

He was also featured in the documentary, "Graveyard of the Great Lakes: A Shipwreck Hunter's Quest to Uncover the Past," which profiles David Trotter and includes information about many Great Lakes shipwrecks, including that of the Daniel J. Morrell. In Trotter's words,"He was one of the most unique people in the history of the Great Lakes with his survival... I admired his ability to tell others his story. He certainly was a survivor and fought with all his energy to beat the cancer. He now belongs to Great Lakes history."