Freighter Mystery: Can you help Great Lakes Now with more clues to identify people and places in a historic film?

Freighter Mystery: Can you help Great Lakes Now with more clues to identify people and places in a historic film?
March 29, 2021 GLN Editor

The Great Lakes Now supervising producer, Rob Green, wants your help figuring out more about an old movie shot aboard a freighter. He’s done what he can to identify the ship, ports, time period and people in a mysterious black-and-white video he found in an online archive.

Green knows someone out there can help with more clues to answer: who shot this footage? Why were they aboard the vessel from Duluth to Ohio? Who are the people with them?

That’s where you come in: Watch the video and then let us know through THIS ONLINE FORM if you recognize anyone or have any more information about anything in the film that we didn’t already catch.

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“We assembled a panel of Great Lakes historians and freighter experts who helped us decode a lot of this footage,” Green said. “But we are still missing some key pieces, and I know there is someone, someplace out there that can help us learn more.”

The panel included:

“I’m hopeful we can report back with some additional information that we get from someone in our audience,” Green said.

We had a team meeting and asked Green about producing this segment. Here’s an edited version of that conversation:

GLN: How did you find the original video?

Rob Green: I think it was just served up by the YouTube algorithm and I clicked and watched. I watch enough Great Lakes-related YouTube videos that the robots figured I wanted more, and in this case, they were right.

GLN: Why did you think our audience could help learn more about details in the film?

RG: Every time I need something freighter-related, the knowledge and energy of the freighter-enthusiast community surprises and impresses me, so when I saw this video I knew we could talk to people that would know exactly when and where each scene was shot. Just from working on Great Lakes Now I could identify a couple locations, but I knew the real experts would know much more.

GLN: How did you get all the experts to help?

RG: Producer Sarah Pagura found the people at various museums and websites, and she put together a great group who all added something a little different to help “decode,” if you will, what was in the film.

GLN: What were some of the visuals in the original video that were particularly interesting?

RG: The most surprising clue that anyone identified was the Chesterfield cigarette ad on a magazine that a passenger is holding. I didn’t even notice the magazine, and I certainly wouldn’t have thought we could identify the month it was published by the ad on the back. I’m not an expert, but I could identify the ore dock in Duluth where the film begins, just because I’d seen a very similar shot in footage we used for a earlier story. But to me the most interesting things in the video are the Hulett unloaders, which I think are absolutely amazing.

GLN: What is your dream about what happens from GLN producing this segment?

RG: I would love to hear from somebody who recognizes their grandmother or grandfather among the people in the film. Thousands of people see the Soo Locks or Duluth Harbor or the other places that are shown in the film, because they’re enduring landmarks that many people visit or know of. But the people in the film are likely recognizable to only a few hundred people at most — probably far fewer than that, since they were photographed over 80 years ago. I would love it if somebody recognized somebody on the freighter, or that Hulett unloader operator we see.

Catch more news on Great Lakes Now:

Stalled Ships: Shipping industry looks to infrastructure investments to boost demand

Freighter Photos: Check out some stunning images of the vessels traversing the lakes

Last dam standing: Traverse City fish restoration project on the ropes

Salt Levels: The effects of wintertime de-icing linger in Toronto-area rivers in the summer

Early Detection: When it comes to Great Lakes invasives, prevention is the only cure

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Featured image: GLN Show Producer Rob Green (Photo Credit: Danielle Dabney)


  1. Mack Smith II 3 years ago

    Important and seems like the right group to ask…… I have 8mm film of the Edmund Fitzgerald going through the Soo Locks. This footage has NEVER been released as the ship sank later that year and my parents locked it away in a safe. I very clearly remember sitting on my dads shoulders and details of that day. It is taken very close to the ship and you can clearly see crewman up close and working.
    I do not know who to reach out to now to get this footage digital and I am Paranoid to let this film leave my possession for fear it will get destroyed or stolen. Can anyone there help with this?

    • K SLADDEN 3 years ago

      The George Eastman Museum in Rochester NY are masters at archiving and repairing old films and movies. Perhaps someone there would be able to offer advice or help you out.

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