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The old excursion liner WESTERN STATES had fallen on hard times. After serving the famed Detroit and Cleveland steamship line for 53 years, the boat was retired in 1955, then bought by a group of businessmen who moored it at Tawas City for use as a floating hotel. The group, known as The Overniter, Inc., invested thousands of dollars into the ship, attempting to make it an attractive draw for tourists. She was billed as the world's first "flotel."
The idea apparently was ahead of its time. While other famous ships like the QUEEN MARY have been successfully saved from the scrap heaps in this way, The Overniter project failed. By 1958 the company was out of business and the WESTERN STATES was again sold for scrap.
In the spring of 1959, plans were in the works to dismantle the once proud ship at the Tawas City dock. By mid-March, the work was started, and men with acetylene torches were busy removing doors, cutting up steel bulkheads. and tearing away the ship's elegant superstructure piece-by-piece.
Nobody knows how the fire started. Some thought might have been a spark from a torch that ignited something deep in the heart of the boat. Others, who like to think ships have souls, might have said the old queen chose fire as a much more elegant way to die.
Abraham Mono, president of the Bay City Scrap Co., and his son, Carl, said the fire broke out around 6 p.m. while they and a few workers remained aboard. The flames, fanned by a brisk northwest wind, raced through the ship. feeding on the wooden superstructure. carpeting, and multiple layer of oil base paint.
The Monos said everybody was forced to flee for their lives to escape the advancing fire and thick clouds of billowing black smoke. Tawas City fire fighters came, but they chose not to risk their lives battling the fire in 16 degree temperature. Luckily the wind carried the smoke and fire away from the dock and the city's business district. Hundreds of people stood in that cold winter wind to watch the old side-wheeler bow out in a spectacular blaze of glory. They said flames shot hundreds of feet out over the iced harbor. The smoke could be seen for miles. Police and Iosco County Sheriffs deputies kept crowds away from the dock because drums of gasoline were stored not far from the burning ship.
By the next day. the WESTERN STATES was a smoldering ruin. Her blackened steel hull was later towed to the Davidson shipyard slip at Bay City and cut up for scrap. (Author James Donahue shipwreck articles ran once a week in paper.)
Port Huron Daily Tribune
September 3, 1996
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- Reason: fire
Remarks: Total loss
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Michigan, United States
Latitude: 44.26946 Longitude: -83.5147
- William R. McNeil
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