Valerie credits Michigan’s state archaeologist with inspiring her writing career, when in 2001, he asked her to write an article for Michigan History Magazine about the discovery of the wreck of the H.C. Akeley. The article was well received and the effort was gratifying, propelling her to undertake more writing assignments for a variety of magazines and then her first book, Icebound! The Adventures of Young George Sheldon and the SS Michigan. Receiving a State History Award from the Historical Society of Michigan for Icebound convinced Valerie to keep writing. To date, she has written six books. Whether full-length books, feature articles, exhibit text, or documentary films, Valerie harnesses her creative and interpretive energies to make history come alive! Check out some of her books and read some of her articles below.
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The Mysterious Disappearance of NWA Flight 2501and the Quest for Answers
Winner of a 2014 IPPY AWARD
As a furious squall swept down Lake Michigan on June 23, 1950, a DC-4 with 58 souls on board flew from New York toward Minnesota. Minutes after midnight Captain Robert Lind requested a lower altitude as he began crossing the lake, but Air Traffic Control could not comply. That was the last communication with Northwest Airlines Flight 2501. Shredded human remains washing up on the beaches of West Michigan served as evidence of the country’s worst commercial aviation disaster. The Navy and Coast Guard never located the wreck, rendering it impossible to determine a cause for this tragic accident. Over a half century later, nationally-acclaimed author and explorer Clive Cussler teamed up with V. O. Van Heest’s Michigan Shipwreck Research Association and set out to do what the government had been unable to do: discover the wreckage and solve the mystery of its loss. Van Heest’s unexpected meeting with a victim’s son prompts a search of a different kind, one that would be more illuminating than submerged sections of twisted aluminum. Through meticulous research and heart- rending interviews, the author paints a captivating portrait of the victims, recreates the last few hours of Flight 2501 in vivid color, and reveals that the answers are not always found where you would expect them.
Read more about the book and project at the link at right.
LOST & FOUND:
Legendary Lake Michigan Shipwrecks
Titanic sank in 1912 and the stories of amazing survival and tragic loss made the ocean liner famous. Titanic’s discovery in 1985—and the images captured of the grand staircase, the pilothouse, and the dripping rusticles—made Titanic legendary. Likewise, the many shipwrecks presented in Lost & Found became even more famous after their discoveries than at the time of their losses, gaining notoriety as historic attractions, archaeological sites, and in some cases, over bold salvage attempts or precedent-setting legal battles. Through riveting narrative, the award-winning author and explorer takes the readers back in time to experience the careers and tragic sinkings of these ships, then beneath the lake to participate in the triumphant discovery and exciting exploration of their remains and the circumstances that led to their status as legendary shipwrecks. The vessels in this comprehensive publication span the age of sail, steam, and diesel on the Great Lakes from the earliest schooners to the sidewheel steamers, propellers, carferries, self-unloaders, and yachts. They include ships lost in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan waters that were discovered by some of the lake’s most prolific wreck hunters, including the author’s own organization—Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates—in partnerships with legendary wreck hunters David Trotter, Ralph Wilbanks, and nationally acclaimed author Clive Cussler. Most assuredly, the compelling sagas of these important vessels did not end when the waves of Lake Michigan washed over them.
The Shipwreck Thomas Hume
On May 21, 1891, the lumber schooner Thomas Hume and its crew of seven sailed out of Chicago, into a spring storm, never to be seen again. The vessel’s owners, Charles Hackley and Thomas Hume of Muskegon, Michigan, could not believe the sturdy lumber hooker could be overcome by rough water. Perhaps a freighter hit it, sank it, then steamed north. Or maybe the crew stole the Hume, repainted it, and sailed away under a different name. The disappearance of the Thomas Hume lingered as one of the great unsolved mysteries of the Great Lakes. In recent years, it even became fodder for UFO stories on the internet. More than a century after its disappearance, the discovery of the wreck of the Thomas Hume solved the mystery of its disappearance. However, the collection of shoes, clothing, jewelry, coins, and tools found inside generated even more questions. An archaeological investigation by Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates and the Lakeshore Museum Center has attempted to solve the riddles posed by the shipwreck. After survey dives, historical research, and detective-like reasoning, the team pieced together not only the Thomas Hume’s career, but how its crew lived, worked, and died on the lake.
LOST ON THE LADY ELGIN
Winner of three awards including First Place INDIE New Generation award
Award-winning author Valerie van Heest recounts the worst disaster on the open waters of the Great Lakes when the palatial sidewheel steamer Lady Elgin sank in Lake Michigan on September 8, 1860, taking with it over three hundred souls, mostly Irish from Milwaukee’s Third Ward. This copiously researched historical narrative takes the readers back to the eve of a pivotal presidential election during the golden age of passenger travel on the Great Lakes, describes in detail the terrifying loss of the steamer, and recounts the discovery of the vessel’s remains more than a century after the disaster, offering testament to the trauma that brought it to the bottom.
BUCKETS AND BELTS:
Evolution of the Great Lakes Self-Unloader
Winner of a 2009 Michigan State History Award from the Historical Society of Michigan
On a warm summer afternoon in 1927 off South Haven, Michigan, an old barge began taking on water. Helpless to staunch the flow and realizing their vessel would inevitably sink, the crew escaped to the accompanying tug, and watched as their ship plunged beneath Lake Michigan. Its loss unlamented, its career unheralded, it slumbered on the sandy bottom in the same obscurity that had shrouded its earlier working days as a steam freighter sailing the Great Lakes. However, the vessel’s anonymity ended in 2006 when Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates located the sunken wreck of the Hennepin. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the world’s first self-unloading vessel. Buckets and Belts: Evolution of the Great Lakes Self-Unloader traces more than a century of innovative technological advancements in the conveying of bulk cargos from the Hennepin’s conversion to a self-unloader in 1902 to today’s mammoth thousand-foot long lakers. Enhanced with the most comprehensive collection of self-unloader images ever published and dozens of underwater photographs, the book also explores the lives of the people who designed these vessels, the crewmen who sailed them and the self-unloaders that tragically went to the bottom, often taking entire crews with them.
The Adventures of Young George Sheldon and the SS Michigan
Winner of a 2009 Michigan State History Award from the Historical Society of Michigan
Icebound! is an inspiring illustrated two-part story of perseverance and bravery that begins in 1885 and concludes in the present day. Young George Sheldon, a porter aboard the steamship SS Michigan, is drawn into the adventure of a lifetime when his ship becomes trapped in the pack-ice in Lake Michigan during the great winter storm of 1885. Because of George’s heroic efforts, the captain and all twenty-nine crewmen live to tell the saga of how after thirty-nine icebound days, their ship is slowly crushed by the ice and sinks far from Holland, Michigan’s shore. More than a century later, a determined team of scuba divers spend three long years searching the depths of Lake Michigan until they finally find the wreck of the SS Michigan in 275 feet of water. When they dive down to the shipwreck they discover that it’s a time capsule with everything just the way George and the crew left it when they abandoned their ship to make the dangerous walk across miles of frozen lake.
Click on the links to sample the articles
“Caught in the Vortex; The Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940” Michigan History Magazine, Jan./Feb. 2016.
“Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940.” Wreck Diving Magazine, Fall 2015.
“DeZwaan” Michigan History Magazine, April/May 2015.
“Lake Michigan’s Most Visible Shipwreck.” Wreck Diving Magazine, Summer 2014.
“Remembering Northwest Flight 2501” Michigan History Magazine, May/June 2014.
“The Sidewheel Steamer that Took the Lives of Over 300 People.” Wreck Diving Magazine, Issue 25, Winter 2012.
“Anatomy of an Archaeological Investigation on the Schooner Thomas Hume.” Inland Seas, Winter 2011: 297-306.
“In All But Name” Michigan History Magazine, Nov./Dec. 2011.
“Trapped in the Ice.” Wreck Diving Magazine, Issue 21, Summer 2010.
“Lake Michigan’s Secret Mixed Gas Dives of 1959.” The Journal of Diving History, Spring 2010: 11-17
“A Well-Kept Secret…Until Now: First Dives on the Carl D. Bradley.” Wreck Diving Magazine, Issue 18, 2009: 42-48.
“Mystery Solved.” (The Minch/Davock Controversy) Michigan History Magazine, July/Aug 2009: 53.
“What No Captain Expects.” Lakeland Boating, June 2009: 24-25.
“Buckets and Belts.” Seaway Review, January 2009: 24-25.
“Rogers City Remembers.” Michigan History Magazine, Jan/Feb 2009: 32-41.
“50 Years of Remembering.” Great Laker, Oct-Dec 2008: 69-72.
“Seek and Ye Shall Find.” Wreck Diving Magazine, Issue 16, 2008: 68-73.
“Whispers From the Past: Michigan’s Underwater Preserves.” Michigan History Magazine, May/June 2008: 67-70.
“Mystery Solved!” (HMS Ontario Discovered) The Great Laker, July-Sept. 2008: 70-73.
“Traveling Back in Time to the Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse.” The Great Laker, July-Sept 2008.
“Navigating Through History: Great Lakes Seaway Trail.” The Great Laker, April-June 2008: 67-70.
“Voyage of Discovery.” Lakeland Boating, March 2008: 26-27.
“Telling the Whole Truth.” Michigan History Magazine, Jan/Feb 2008: 12-19.
“The Hennepin.” The Great Laker, July-Sept 2007: 77.
“The Ordeal of the SS Michigan.” Inland Seas, Fall 2007: 196-205.
“A Hard Death.” Wreck Diving Magazine, Issue 14 2007: 56-63.
“Mining History at Forty Fathoms.” Pit and Quarry Magazine, June 2007: 38-49.
“A Deep Look into the Origins of the Bulk Cargo Industry.” Dry Cargo International, June 2007.
“Chasing Shadows: The Search for Flight 2501.” Airways Magazine, May 2007: 50-51.
“Icebound Found!” Michigan History Magazine, Jan/Feb 2007: 8-14.
“Searching for a Steamer.” Michigan History Magazine, July/Aug 2003. Pages 10-17.