February 19: 1902: Ice harvesting team saved from drifting ice

On this day in Duluth in 1902 thousands of Duluthians gathered along the shore of Lake Superior near 21st Avenue East to witness the novel rescue of a team of ice harvesters stranded on drifting ice. Six men and two horses of the East End Ice Company were working a large section of the ice field just before noon when the ice broke away and began to drift away from shore. Small boats were launched, and the men were saved quickly. Once safe, crew members led by foreman William Meier “agreed the only sure way of saving the horses was to cut out a huge cake of ice [surrounding the horses] and float them across the ever widening strip of water to the solid shore ice.” They set to work cutting an “ice island” 75-feet wide and 200-feet long while two of them kept the horses calm. They then cut a hole in the ice slab about 15 feet from the side that faced the shore. One end of a long rope was tied to shore; a board was tied to the other end, then thrown through the whole, securing the rope to the ice cake when pulled tight. A rowboat then pulled the ice and horses to shore. Planks were set in place as a walkway to displace the horses’ weight and prevent tipping the ice slab. The newspaper explained that the Duluth Ice Company “almost every year has trouble of some kind while gathering the ice harvest.” Two years earlier, the company had lost “a fine team” of horses that broke through the ice in the same location.

Ice harvest outfits in Duluth ca. 1902 operated much like this crew on Michigan’s Orchard Lake. (Image: Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society)