Seasonal resident uncovers information on mystery of deceased West End man

The initials ‘E.V.P.’ found on the back of a cross appear to signify the person who rebuilt the mystery cross found in Robinson.

Gravesite on Western Manitoulin dated 1900

WESTERN MANITOULIN—A seasonal resident of Western Manitoulin is getting closer to uncovering the mystery of the man who lies at the bottom of a makeshift gravesite in Robinson Township.

As was reported previously, Jim Howlett of Hamilton is researching the identity of the man in the Robinson Township area gravesite. The gravesite is dated 1900 with lettering “Unknown” on it. He believes the body washed up on the shore in early spring of 1900 and explained that about 20 years ago he and his wife were looking for shipwrecks off  the West End of the Island. When they got back to the shore just off Walkhouse Bay they came across a fair-sized wooden cross. It was not far from the water’s edge on the east side of Walkhouse Bay and in a little clearing. The marker read “1900-Unknown.”

Mr. Howlett said he asked around for years about it and was eventually told by the late Whit Blackburn that his dad had found the body. “Whit said his dad was cutting lumber there on the south shore in the late winter or early spring of 1900, along with two other men. They came upon the body and he said his father had told him they had contacted the RCMP and it took three to four days for them to arrive from Little Current. Whit said (the man who was found) was not a black man or an Indian First Nation man, he was a male Caucasian, and that he was a mariner—Whit was fairly certain of that. The representatives of the RCMP had authorized the burial of the man’s remains near the scene of his being found. It was a bit significant to find out that it was a male’s body that was found.”

Mr. Howlett also said a few ships went missing in the same time period, in the same area, in the late fall of 1899 and none in early 1900. Mr. Howlett noted that through research he has found out that one shipwreck, the Typo, had gone down in the area on October 31, 1889 with several people on board not having been found. That wreck has been located in the past few years. “Where the shipwreck was found, winds could have directed the body toward the shore where the remains were found.”

“I have received quite a bit of information from Janice Frame, through George Purvis, Arthur Ainslie and Art Harper, and all three agreed that they had heard that the body had been on top of something, such as the roof of a pilot house from a boat, or a door or hatch cover of some kind. Two of their stories indicated that the body found on the shore had been tangled up in some type of rope or cable, which also could have come from a boat,” said Mr. Howlett.

“The Typo had been hit in the stern by a steamer, named Ketchum,” said Mr. Howlett. “The Typo was a sailing ship, and when the Typo got hit the bow was ripped off and sunk fast (stern first) with a gigantic hole in the ship. When sailboats sink, the sails act like a parachute. So, picture the crew members on that boat after being hit by a gigantic steamer. The boat would be going down fast, and I can see the crew scrambling to latch on to something, anything that they can, like a pilot house roof or hatch cover. Well, there are no remains of the pilot house on the Typo. It was destroyed, but the wreck itself is intact.”

Mr. Howlett continued, “it’s missing the roof off the pilot house, and a hatch cover. Either of those could have become a desperate life raft, and maybe was the final object the man—whose body washed up on the shore—was on.” 

He said that in looking at videos of the Typo shipwreck, the hatch covers are missing, the stern is intact but there is no wheelhouse. “And the steering gear got all caught up in the ropes.”

“Of the four people that died on the Typo, one was a woman. A cook by the name of Mrs. Adams. 

Also the captain and owner of the ship, who didn’t die, was listed in the October 15, 1899 edition of the Detroit Free Press as being Hiram Henderson. He sued the people who owned and piloted the Ketchum. A mate on the ship, Henry Ledford also died, and two seaman as well, Dan Carr and John Campbell. I talked to two people about the possibility of the body being transported by wind and currents from the wreck to the site on the Island, Ed Nowlan from Hamilton Beach Rescue unit and Charlie Witherington, chief of the Coast Guard Auxiliary in Hamilton. Both stated that a body could travel that distance, especially in the winter and on a floating object. Just a body on its own can travel a considerable distance because of the buoyancy of gases inside it.”

Mr. Howlett further explained, “I talked to (author/researcher) Chris Kohl, who has a lot of expertise in shipwrecks. He stressed it would require an uncommon wind to carry just a body as far as it did. We both agreed the man may have been frozen onto the object, and could also have been preserved unusually well by the extreme cold of winter.”

“One other West End resident stated they heard that at least one leg of the body was stuck in a hole of some kind on the object,” continued Mr. Howlett, “and I note that if the body at Deadman’s Point is the body of a Typo crew person, it would not be Mrs. Adams because the body had been identified as being a male.”

“Also, there is one body still lying in the stern wreckage of the Type, and it’s visible on YouTube,” said Mr. Howlett, “and it would be interesting to know if the remains are a woman’s. If it is, it would have to be Mrs. Adams. She was the last woman on the ship.” He continued, “I can’t say for certain that the body in the grave came from that ship, but for about 20 years I’ve been looking for other shipwrecks in that area and time, and there wasn’t any other that reported loss of life in the area. There was one shipwreck six to eight months earlier, and much further away on the far south shore of Lake Huron and I ruled that one out. So, when I do my overview of the available evidence, I think it is reasonable to presume that the remains on Deadman’s Point are from a sailor from that wreck.”

“The collision took place on Lake Huron well offshore of Presqu’ile and the wind could very well have drove the deceased crewmember and whatever he was on eventually into Walkhouse Bay,” said Mr. Howlett. He pointed out as well the mast of the Typo still reaches 80 feet off the bottom of the lake.

He said he will be researching the names of the owners of the ship and trace the insurance records and newspaper clippings about the four people who had died on it. If he can, he will then get in contact with the next of kin and let them know that the body in the gravesite at the West End of the Island may be a relative of theirs.

“And if the RCMP could do a little archival digging and find their old field notes, that might add something else to it,” said Mr. Howlett, “and it would be nice to hear who rebuilt the cross in September 1978 because that was marked on the back of it along with the initials, EVP, but at this point I’m running out of leads to chase down.”