BY GLENN PUIT
TRAVERSE CITY — Michiganders who chat about famous shipwrecks usually begin conversation with the Edmund Fitzgerald's tragic demise on Lake Superior.
But even the most ardent shipwreck enthusiasts might not know that history's most infamous and ill-fated ship, the RMS Titanic, had extensive Michigan ties.
"The biggest surprise for people is that about 25 percent of the passengers on the RMS Titanic were (headed) to Great Lakes states, many of them headed for Michigan," said Kenneth Vrana, co-director of the Titanic Mapping Project. "Many were headed to the Western Upper Peninsula for mining jobs, while others were headed to Detroit to work in the auto industry."
Vrana is considered a national expert on the Titanic. He will speak tonight and Saturday at Northwestern Michigan College about the Titanic and its Michigan links.
The lectures will benefit the blossoming Nautical Archeology program at NMC.
"So many people in (the region) don't realize we are here and what we are doing," said Mark Holley, director of NMC's Nautical Archeology program. "We are doing a lot of exciting, local work."
Nautical archeology students photograph, map and create field reports that document shipwrecks and other culturally significant materials. Those reports are then provided to the state of Michigan's archeologist.
Vrana has high praise for Holley's program, saying "they deserve tons of credit for what they are doing at the college."
Vrana served as consulting underwater archeologist for the Titanic Expeditions 2004 and 2010. He is the director of the Titanic Mapping Project for Premier Exhibitions and has recorded nearly 1,000 dives on historic shipwrecks throughout the United States, the western Pacific and Caribbean. He was project coordinator for the first civilian expedition to the Edmund Fitzgerald wreck in 1989.
A reception is set for tonight from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Dennos Museum Center sculpture court, followed by a lecture from Vrana at the Milliken Auditorium. Tickets are $25 per person. On Saturday night NMC students will present the results of their nautical archeology research from 7:30 to 8 p.m. at the Milliken Auditorium. Vrana then will present a lecture called the Titanic Mapping Project. Tickets are $10.