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ERIE COUNTY OHIO - Bio History of Kelley's Island - Winter Crossings
Darlene E. Kelley
donkeyskid@webtv.net                              
May 14, 1999
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Historical Collections of Ohio
The Kelley Family Book compiled by Hermon Alfred Kelley   1897   
And Then They Went West
by Darlene E. Kelley    1998   
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    Perhaps no one who has ever passed a winter on the island can
realize the anxiety that fills every breast, when man and his party are
seen to be having trouble.  Some one breaks through thin ice and great
care must be exercised in extricating him lest his rescurers also break
through.  When rescued, the man is fortunate if his dripping outer
garments are quickly frozen stiff, for this keeps out the cold wind,
which otherwise penetrates to his very soul itself and unless he is
wrapped in many blankets, he would perish if far from shore when the
accident occurs. Another cause of anxiety, is the boat being caught in
slush ice.  When this happens, it may take many hours of exhausting
labor to work thru a narrow strip of it.  In such cases, night often
falls and the men are lost from view.  In this case, or when a snow
storm rages or a sudden fog descends, the anxious ones on the island,
build great fires as beacons to guide the struggling men in the right
direction, for it is easy to lose one's sense of direction in the dark.
Should the storm or fog occur during the day time,the islanders ring
bells, fire guns and blow the quarry steam whistles to guide the
wandering ones to safety. Many an anxious hour is passed by those on the
island, who patrol the beach from end to end in an endeavor to locate
the missing ones.  For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with the
geography of the district and travel routes followed, it is necessary to
say that there are several routes taken in winter and this depends upon
wind and ice conditions. The Sandusky bay usually freezes across.  When
it is frozen sufficiently. one can walk across the bay on the ice from
Sandusky to Marblehead Peninsula.  When this is not possible, he can
take the train from Sandusky to Danbury and go across the Peninsula to
Marblehead. From Marblehead to the island is the more difficult and
uncertain passage.  If the ice is solid, one can go by automobile on it
if it is strong enough for so heavy a conveyance, then by horse or
sleigh.  If the ice is treacherous, thin or broken, then the boat  can
sail in water or run over ice as a sled.  Sometimes one can go to
Sandusky from the island all the way on the ice, avoiding crossing the
Peninsula. The conduct of horses when crossing the ice is interesting.
They are in great fear and once started, are eager to get across.  The
slowest horse on land, becomes a fast and spirited animal on ice.  Sweat
pours from him and the steam rises in clouds from his wet body.  Horses
are never taken on the ice unless " sharp shod" and rarely slip or fall.
Should a horse break through the ice, he is immediately choked into
quietness by a rope which has been previously put around his neck by his
driver.  Otherwse, the horse struggles until exhausted and then drowns.
No driver of experience, fails to adjust a rope-noose about his horse's
neck before taking or driving him out on the ice.  When the horse that
has broken through and has been quieted in this way, his harness is
loosened and a long plank is pushed under him.  The plank is also an
indispensable part of the expedition.  The plank forms an incline up
which the animal is pulled and in this manner brought out of the water
onto the solid ice.  The noose is removed or loosened and the horse
quickly regains his feet after he gets his breath. Not with standing all
these precautions, horses are sometimes lost.  In Vol. No. 6 of the
"Islander" 1865-66, we find the following:
" Not long since a man, while attempting to cross from the Peninsula to
Put-in Bay, on the ice, was carried down the lake by ice separating from
the shore and drifted down the lake.  He finally succeeded in reaching
the shore at or near Black River  
(Lorain) after being on the ice for two days and nights without anything
to eat.  He reached the shore in an almost frozen condition.  Also S.S.
Dwelle started for Sandusky the same day and barely reached the shore (
of the Peninsula ) before the ice began to go down the lake.  These
cases ought to make a person a little more cautious when crossing over
our 'Winter Bridge.' " No one not an eye witness can realize the danger
and fatigue undergone by the men who almost daily risk their lives in
crossing to and from the island with the mail and merchandise.  The mail
boat was flat bottomed with sled runners beneath so that on ice it could
be dragged or pushd easily.  To draw it out of the water onto the ice,
to drag it over rough ice, to force it through slush ice, to break the
way through ice too thin to bear its weight, required men of strength
and endurance.  To break through the ice was a common occurrence.  To
battle against a howling wnd as it swept across the frozen expanse of
many miles of ice, when the temperatures was about or below zero.
required courage of no low order.  Mr. Jerry Dean who was the mail man
at this time of 1871, was of this courage. Owing to the fact that there
are opportunities to sell goods on the island, traveling salesmen
occassionly brave the dangers and undergo the discomforts of crossing in
the winter time. If they are weather wise, they select a time when the
crossing is good, but if not, or their schedule of travel brings them
there during a bad time, it sometimes happens that they have a hard time
of it and suffer vexatious delays. It occasionally happens that two or
three salesmen may arrive at the same time and ready to depart, find
themselves unable to do so, because the boat has been delayed by low
water,high wind, slush, ice, or other causes.  Then it is, that they
pace the floor of the store raging like caged lions at the thought of
broken schedules and engagements.  Delays of five or six hours to as
many days are likely to occur when their is no ice crushing steamboat in
winter service and the little " monitor" mail carrier has to be counted
upon.  Even the steamboats have been delayed for many hours by heavy
running ice.  On one occasion, the steamer Olcott was all day going to
the island to Sandusky, less than an hour's run usually. because the
moving ice closed up the channel she had made on her outbound passage,
and she had such difficulty on her return trip in "butting" her way
through the heavy ice, and lost so much time hunting for an opening
between the heavy ice floes, through which to pass. An interesting
account is given by one of the islanders of a trip from Sandusky to the
island on the steamer Lakeside on a wintery day when the ice was
unusually thick.  No difficulty was experienced in Sandusky Bay, because
the channel had been kept open by the daily passage of the boat, nor
would there have been anything unusual if the boat had been going
directly to Kelley's Island for the same reason; but Mr. Graves, who was
a dealer in cattle, had notified the Captain that he had a drove of beef
cattle to be taken to the island.  The cattle were at Marblehead, and as
the ice had moved, it was necessary to break a new channel.  The ice was
almost, if not twenty-four inches thick and the boat was having a hard
time of it and making slow progress trying to ram its way.  It would
back up and then go forward full speed.  When it struck the solid ice
sheet, a tremendous jar would be felt, accompanied by crashng and
grinding of the ice as it yielded to the impact and broke into huge
blocks which fell against the steel sides of the ship or toppled over on
to solid ice and broke into fragments. The Captain at last requested
that the passengers go to the stern of the boat.  As there were almost
one hundred on board, the weight of this number of people cause the
stern to settle and the bow to rise.  The steamer was then driven full
speed ahead and she was run upon the ice until her weight caused it to
yield.  Even this method was slow, although the passengers did all the
could by running forward after the boat had run upon the ice. The
additional weight forward aided the boat to crush through.  There was
great excitement and fun among the passengers as they ran back and forth
alternately from bow to stern.  The largest and the fattest were the
butt of many jokes and the thin and small also came in for their share
of ridicule.  Some of the most daring, got out on the ice and watched
the boat plunge and plow its way through.  Occasionally they would get a
fright caused by a crack darting unexpectedly in their direction, and
away they would run for their lives.  After over two hours consumed in
breaking the channel, the boat arrived at the Marblehead dock, and
received the cattle aboard.  The return trip to the island was
uneventful, for the boat followed the channel already broken.

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