A Small Press Independent Publisher


By Valerie van Heest

Lightning tore through the slate-black sky above lower Lake Michigan during the early hours of Saturday, September 8, 1860, illuminating the sidewheel steamer Lady Elgin as she struggled north from Chicago through raging seas and gale winds. The vessel’s perilous journey ended abruptly when the schooner Augusta collided with the steamer, piercing a fatal wound in her side, and forcing terrified passengers and crew into the churning maelstrom as the ship broke up around them. Some drowned quickly; others clung to bits of wreckage as they drifted toward shore, only to die in the pounding surf. Newspaper headlines announced the “Terrible Calamity.” Over 300 people perished in the deadliest disaster on the open waters of the Great Lakes. More than a century after the sinking, the Lady Elgin became headline news again when the discovery of her wreckage and a cache of gold and silver coins incited a legal battle over ownership of the shipwreck. Award-winning author and diver Valerie van Heest, who led an archaeological survey of the wreckage, takes the readers back in time to the turbulent antebellum era, then on board the Lady Elgin for a journey that would end in tragedy, and later beneath the waves to explore the fascinating remains of the ship strewn over a mile of lake bottom. This Special Edition includes dozens of photographs of the shipwreck and artifacts recovered from the wreck—historical treasures that provide a more comprehensive understanding of the steamship, her passengers, and their final moments.

Nonfiction ISBN: 978-0-9889772-3-5 | Soft back | $26.95 Free U.S. Shipping

Winner – 2011 INDIE Book Award for Nonfiction History
Winner – 2011 Illinois State History Book Award
Finalist – 2011 Midwest Book Awards

Valerie van Heest is a principal in Lafferty van Heest and Associates Exhibit Design Firm, Director of Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates and a member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame, and has explored, documented and interpreted shipwrecks for over twenty years. She is a recipient of multiple awards from the Historical Society of Michigan for the collection, preservation and promotion of state and local history through her interpretation, writing, filmmaking and exhibit work. She has written several books, magazine/journal articles and more than a dozen documentary films. Her work has been featured in numerous books and articles as well. Valerie is a regular presenter at museums, libraries, and film festivals, sharing the dramatic stories of ships gone missing on the Great Lakes and has appeared on television news networks as well as on the Discovery Channel. Valerie spearheads MSRA’s search for ships lost off western Michigan, which has resulted in the discovery of many new shipwrecks.

Contact the author at shipwrecked@chartermi.net

2017 Recipient of Joyce S. Hayward Award for Historic Interpretation from Association for Great Lakes Maritime History
2009 State History Award for the Exhibit “From Hennepin to the Thousand Footers” at the Heritage Museum and Cultural Center
2006 Induction into Women Divers Hall of Fame
2007 State History Award for the volunteer contributions to the Preservation of Michigan’s submerged maritime heritage

What Readers are Saying:

“Valerie van Heest combines her masterful knowledge of shipwreck history in an enormously spellbinding account of one of the worst tragedies of the Great Lakes. She reveals in vivid detail the treacherous events that unfolded with the sinking of the Lady Elgin and the terrible loss of men, women and children into the dark waters of Lake Michigan. A must-read, captivating, vivid narrative.”
– Clive Cussler,
Internationally acclaimed action/adventure author and shipwreck hunter

“With careful scholarship, an eye for detail, and an obvious passion for her subject, Valerie van Heest has given us the definitive history of one of the most tragic incidents in the history of the Great Lakes.”
– John Gurda,
Historian and award-winning author of The Making of Milwaukee

“The storm-tossed waters of the Great Lakes are the graveyard of thousands of vessels and their crews. These dramatic losses have long fascinated historians, divers, archaeologists, and the public. But few have caught the public’s attention as did the sinking of the palace steamer the Lady Elgin in September 1860 – a disaster in which hundreds of men, women, and children lost their lives. In Lost on the Lady Elgin Valerie van Heest, long time shipwreck diver, maritime historian, and avocational archaeologist, captures this tragic loss in human terms by skillfully embedding the detailed testimony of survivors and witnesses in the broader story of the nineteenth-century maritime business, regional history, and the tumultuous political and social events on the eve of the Civil War. She further documents the modern discovery of the Lady Elgin wreck site and the ship’s unique role in defining the limitations of historic shipwreck preservation and protection on the Great Lakes. Van Heest’s riveting and authoritative tale of the fearful loss of the Lady Elgin, the human toll, and the ship’s controversial legal case and ultimate loss to the public stands as the definitive account of this historic and human maritime tragedy.”
– Thomas E. Emerson, PhD,
Director, Illinois Archaeological Survey

“Weaving first-hand statements of the survivors into a compelling and fascinating narrative, Valerie van Heest has produced the most comprehensive and accurate account of the Lady Elgin disaster yet written. Lost on the Lady Elgin shows that many of the urban myths surrounding the vessel’s sinking are just that, myths. I am gratified that my Lady Elgin passenger research contributed to this factual account.”
– Carl Baehr,
Genealogist and award-winning author of Milwaukee Streets: The Stories Behind Their Names

“At last! The complete story of the tragic Lady Elgin’s loss, discovery, and subsequent years of litigation that determined ownership. Valerie van Heest has written a compelling account of the Lady Elgin’s history, brought forth new information, and dispelled many of the rumors. The book is a great read for all of us who love and enjoy the history of our Great Lakes.”
– David Trotter,
Subject of the book, Shipwreck Hunter by Gerry Volgenau