CLOSE

8 Famous Shipwrecks on Lake Michigan

On a clear day, the murky waters of Lake Michigan seem to open up, and a world of shipwrecks below the surface is revealed. Out of an estimated 6000 maritime disasters on the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan played host to 1500 shipwrecks. (To this day, Great Lakes commerce remains a dangerous business; the lakes are unpredictable, massive, and unforgiving.) Here are just eight of the famous shipwrecks that can be found at the bottom of the lake.

1. LADY ELGIN

The sinking of the Lady Elgin on September 8, 1860 resulted in the most open water deaths in the history of the Great Lakes. During a strong gale, the 252-foot wooden hulled steamship was rammed by a much smaller vessel, the 129-foot schooner Augusta, at a speed of 11 knots. Though the Augusta’s second mate had reportedly spotted the Lady Elgin half an hour before the collision, the schooner did not correct its course until just 10 minutes before impact.

The captain of the Augusta sailed away, believing that his schooner had in fact sustained more damage than the sturdy steamer, and according to the clerk of the Lady Elgin, at the moment of impact there was music and dancing in the forward cabin. But the Augusta had torn a hole in the port side of the Lady Elgin. Fifty cows in the cargo hold were pushed over the side in order to lighten the ship, while appliances and other heavy items were moved in an attempt to bring the gash left by the Augusta above the water level. A lifeboat was lowered, but not secured, and it floated away before passengers could board it.

All told, over 300 people lost their lives in the disaster. As a result, a law was passed a few years later mandating that all ships crossing the Great Lakes must have running lights. The wreck of the Lady Elgin was largely forgotten until the mid-1970s, when a shipwreck enthusiast named Harry Zych began searching for it, and discovered the wreck in 1989. Today, the majority of the shipwreck lies several miles off the Illinois coast in four main wreckage sites, which can be explored by the public, with permission from Zych.

2. SS CARL D. BRADLEY

Between 1927 and 1949, the 639-foot SS Carl D. Bradley was the largest ship on the Great Lakes. As the “Queen of the Lakes” (the term used for the longest ship on the lakes), it was an engineering marvel—the largest and longest self-unloading freighter of its era. The Carl Bradley served as an icebreaker as well as a freighter used to haul limestone from Lake Superior and Lake Huron to Lake Michigan’s deepwater ports. In 1957, the Carl Bradley collided with another ship, the MV White Rose, on the St. Clair River, resulting in damage to the hull.

This structural damage is said to have contributed to the disaster that befell the ship and its crew in 1958. On the evening of November 18, the Carl Bradley was returning from a delivery in Gary, Indiana, heading north in upper Lake Michigan, when a massive gale-force storm hit. With winds reaching up to 65 miles per hour, and waves up to 20 feet tall, the storm battered the massive freighter until around 5:30 p.m., when the hull began cracking in two. Despite three radio calls of Mayday before the power lines were severed, the Carl Bradley went down before a rescue attempt could be mounted. Only two out of its 35 crewmen survived.

In 1959, the wreck of the Bradley was discovered using sonar technology by the Army Corps of Engineers, sitting 360 feet under the water. The discovery did little to answer the question of exactly how the huge ship sunk. The two survivors of the wreck claimed that they witnessed the ship break in two, but the sonar imaging did not confirm this claim. It wasn’t until 1997 that this claim was verified. Two maritime writers and adventurers took a submersible down to view the wreck, bringing with them one of the survivors, Watchman Frank Mays. They were greeted by two separate pieces of the ship, lodged upright in the mud, 90 feet apart.

3. THE ALPENA

The Alpena was a Great Lakes steamboat that conveyed people and supplies throughout the Midwest beginning in 1866. The ship was notable for its twin 24-foot side wheels and partially visible engine. No one knows where the ship’s final resting place actually is, but if the wreck is ever located, these distinctive features will help identify it.

Weather patterns on Lake Michigan are notoriously unpredictable, and it was a sudden storm that would come to be called “The Big Blow” that sunk the Alpena in 1880 (not to be confused with another “Big Blow” on the lakes in 1913). When the ship left Grand Haven, Michigan October 15 at 10 p.m. laden with passengers and a cargo of apples, en route to Chicago 108 miles away, the weather was perfect—calm and sunny, with temperatures ranging from 60 to 70 degrees. Once the vessel was underway, the crew noted a change in the winds, indicating a possible storm. The steamer’s veteran captain apparently figured that the Alpena would reach Chicago before the worst of it hit. A few hours later, he was proven fatally wrong.

By 3 a.m., the temperature had dropped to below zero and gale-force winds along with snow and ice began hammering the lake. The Alpena was reportedly spotted at dawn struggling in storm-tossed waves. The next time she was sighted, the ship had capsized. Only after the storm abated was the extent of the devastation clear: The steamer had been battered so badly by the storm that the ship's wreckage, as well as the bodies of its victims, were spread across 70 miles of beaches.

Over 90 ships went down during “The Big Blow” on Lake Michigan. The Alpena left no survivors and no trace of its present whereabouts.

4. SS APPOMATTOX

One of the largest wooden ships ever constructed for use on the Great Lakes, the SS Appomattox measured 319 feet, featured a sturdy hull and had a massive triple expansion steam engine. The ship hauled iron ore and coal to ports all over the Midwest until a stroke of bad luck befell her on the night of November 2, 1905. Loaded with a full cargo hold of coal off the coast of Wisconsin, the huge wooden steamer was blinded by smog from the busy port of Milwaukee. As a result, the Appomattox ran aground. Despite two weeks of effort to free her, the ship remained stuck and eventually abandoned. Today, the Appomattox sits in 15 to 20 feet of water, 150 yards out from the beach in Shorewood, Wisconsin, near Milwaukee, and remains remarkably intact. The wreck is a popular dive site and a living reminder of the perils of shipping on Lake Michigan.

5. ROUSE SIMMONS

The schooner Rouse Simmons is one of the most legendary shipwrecks in the history of Lake Michigan commerce. The 123.5-foot ship was christened in 1868, a point in the history of Great Lakes shipping when sails were still the dominant form of power, soon to be eclipsed by steamers. The Rouse Simmons spent several decades traveling the Lakes in the service of prominent Midwestern lumber barons. After years of crisscrossing the perilous Great Lakes waterways, the schooner was in desperate need of repairs at the turn of the century, by which point the Rouse Simmons had joined about two dozen other ships in hauling Christmas trees from Michigan to Chicago during the holiday season. The Rouse Simmons remains the best-remembered of these “Christmas tree ships.” The gregarious captain Herman Schuenemann would sell trees off his deck in the port of Chicago, to the delight of countless families. On Friday, November 22, 1912, the schooner left the dock at Thompson, Michigan, carrying thousands of Christmas trees in its holds and on its decks.

What happened when this Christmas tree ship left port is not exactly known. What is known is that a powerful November gale caused the ship to founder, possibly due to its poor condition and heavy load. None of the crew survived, and Christmas trees continued to wash up on the shores of Lake Michigan in the following weeks. The loss of the Rouse Simmons heralded the end of the schooner era on Lake Michigan. The ship has spawned numerous legends and ghost stories, and its legacy is celebrated every December, when the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw makes a ceremonial run from Michigan to Chicago to deliver Christmas trees to the less fortunate.

For years, the location of the wreck remained a mystery. In fact, its discovery in 1971 was an accident. A local scuba diver named Gordon Kent Bellrichard was using sonar to search the bottom of Lake Michigan near Two Rivers, Wisconsin for the wreck of the Vernon, a huge steamer that sunk in 1887. Instead, he came upon the three-masted Rouse Simmons, resting well-preserved in the mud in 172 feet of water. The wreck had eluded searchers and divers for decades and can now be explored six miles northeast of Rawley Point, Wisconsin.

6. SS ANNA C. MINCH

The SS Anna C. Minch was a 380-foot steel steamer built in 1903 in Cleveland, Ohio. The steamer fell victim to one of the worst winter storms in the history of Lake Michigan and the Midwest as a whole—the Armistice Day Blizzard, which took place on November 11, 1940 and claimed three freighters, including the Anna Minch. The storm brought winds of at least 80 miles per hour along with 20-foot waves on the Lake. One theory is that the Anna Minch collided with the William B. Davock, another ship that later sunk or may have just sunk in the storm. Rescue attempts continued for three days but, nevertheless, the Anna Minch went down with all hands. The massive steamer split in two, and lies in the waters of Lake Michigan to this day, serving as a popular dive site. The two sections of the ship sit close together, one and a half miles south of Pentwater, Michigan in about 35 to 45 feet of water.

7. L.R. DOTY

The L.R. Doty, a 291-foot steamer, first set sail around the Great Lakes in 1893. She was one of the last wooden steamships to see service on the Great Lakes, as steel had become the industry standard for new vessels. The vessel had a steel-reinforced hull, which was rated A1*, the highest possible grade for a Lake vessel, by insurance association the Inland Lloyds. In addition, she had a massive and powerful engine, but she did not have electricity or modern communication technology. In spite of its sturdiness, the L.R. Doty was no match for the ferocious storm of October 25, 1898. Ships all over the lake were smashed, the Chicago boardwalk was destroyed, and the Milwaukee breakwall was broken. The Doty broke up, taking down its entire crew and cargo. The ship remained the largest wooden shipwreck unaccounted for in Lake Michigan until it was finally discovered in 2010, 112 years after sinking.

8. NIAGARA

The Niagara was built in 1846 in Buffalo, New York for service on the Great Lakes transporting both passengers and goods. The massive side-wheeled steamboat was considered one of the finest steamers of its era. On September 24, 1856, at around 6:00 p.m., the steamship caught fire in the area of the engine room. The exact cause of the fire is uncertain, but the prevailing theory is that some flammable cargo down in the hold was the cause. Many passengers and crew were able to jump overboard and were later rescued by nearby ships; however, out of the 300 passengers on board, 60 perished and the entire cargo was lost to the Lake. A testament to the treacherous nature of Lake Michigan, the Niagara sank only a mile from shore, as the Captain made a desperate run for dry land. The wreck is another popular dive site, with the bulk of the wreck lying in 55 feet of water near Belgium, Wisconsin, but it can be dangerous; two divers almost died a couple years ago exploring it.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images
arrow
Lists
25 Royals in the Line of Succession to the British Throne
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images

Between the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge welcoming their third child on April 23, 2018 and Prince Harry's upcoming marriage to Suits star Meghan Markle in May, the line of succession to the British throne has become a topic of interest all over the world. And the truth is, it’s complicated. Though Queen Elizabeth II, who turned 92 years old on April 21, shows no signs of slowing down, here are the royals who could one day take her place on the throne—in one very specific order.

1. PRINCE CHARLES

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

As a direct result of his mother being the world's longest-reigning monarch, Prince Charles—the eldest child of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip—is the longest serving heir to the throne; he became heir apparent in 1952, when his mother ascended to the throne.

2. PRINCE WILLIAM

Tolga Akmen - WPA Pool/Getty Images

At 35 years old, odds are good that Prince William, Duke of Cambridge—the eldest son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana—will ascend to the throne at some point in his lifetime.

3. PRINCE GEORGE 

RICHARD POHLE/AFP/Getty Images

On July 22, 2013, Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge welcomed their first child, Prince George of Cambridge, who jumped the line to step ahead of his uncle, Prince Harry, to become third in the line of succession.

4. PRINCESS CHARLOTTE 

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

On May 2, 2015, William and Catherine added another member to their growing brood: a daughter, Princess Charlotte of Cambridge. Though her parents just welcomed a bouncing baby boy, she will maintain the fourth-in-line position because of the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, which went into effect just a few weeks before her arrival, and removed a long-held rule which stated that any male sibling (regardless of birth order) would automatically move ahead of her.

5. PRINCE OF CAMBRIDGE

 Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge depart the Lindo Wing with their newborn son at St Mary's Hospital on April 23, 2018 in London, England
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

On April 23, 2018, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge welcomed their third child—a son, whose name has yet to be announced, but who has already pushed his uncle, Prince Harry, out of the fifth position in line to the throne.

6. PRINCE HARRY

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

As the second-born son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Prince Harry's place in the line is a regularly changing one. It changed earlier this week, when his brother William's third child arrived, and could change again if and when their family expands.

7. PRINCE ANDREW, DUKE OF YORK

Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Prince Andrew is a perfect example of life before the Succession to the Crown Act 2013: Though he’s the second-born son of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, he’s actually their third child (Princess Anne came between him and Prince Charles). But because the rules gave preference to males, Prince Andrew would inherit the throne before his older sister.

8. PRINCESS BEATRICE OF YORK

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for WE

Because Prince Andrew and his ex-wife, Sarah, Duchess of York, had two daughters and no sons, none of that male-preference primogeniture stuff mattered in terms of their placement. But with each child her cousin Prince William has, Princess Beatrice moves farther away from the throne. If Beatrice looks familiar, it might be because of the headlines she made with the Dr. Seuss-like hat she wore to William and Catherine’s wedding. (The infamous topper later sold on eBay for more than $130,000, all of which went to charity.)

9. PRINCESS EUGENIE OF YORK

Princess Eugenie of York arrives in the parade ring during Royal Ascot 2017 at Ascot Racecourse on June 20, 2017 in Ascot, England
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Though she’s regularly seen at royal events, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson’s youngest daughter spends the bulk of her time indulging her interest in fine art. She has held several jobs in the art world, and is currently a director at Hauser & Wirth’s London gallery.

10. PRINCE EDWARD, EARL OF WESSEX

 Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex leaves after a visit to Prince Philip
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Like his older brother Andrew, Prince Edward—the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip—jumps the line ahead of his older sister, Princess Anne, because of the older rule that put males ahead of females.

11. JAMES, VISCOUNT SEVERN

 James, Viscount Severn, rides on the fun fair carousel on day 4 of the Royal Windsor Horse Show on May 11, 2013 in Windsor, England
Danny E. Martindale/Getty Images

James, Viscount Severn—the younger of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Sophie, Countess of Wessex’s two children, and their only son—turned 10 years old on December 17, 2017, and celebrated it as the 10th royal in line of succession. (The birth of the youngest Prince of Cambridge pushed him back a spot.)

12. LADY LOUISE MOUNTBATTEN-WINDSOR

Lady Louise Windsor during the annual Trooping the Colour Ceremony at Buckingham Palace on June 15, 2013 in London, England.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Because the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 wasn’t enacted until 2015, Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor—the older of Prince Edward’s two children—will always be just behind her brother in the line of succession.

13. PRINCESS ANNE, THE PRINCESS ROYAL

Princess Anne, Princess Royal, visits the Hambleton Equine Clinic on October 10, 2017 in Stokesley, England
Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Princess Anne, the Queen and Prince Philip’s second-born child and only daughter, may never rule over the throne in her lifetime, but at least she gets to be called “The Princess Royal.”

14. PETER PHILLIPS

Peter Phillips poses for a photo on The Mall
John Nguyen - WPA Pool/Getty Images

The eldest child and only son of Princess Anne and her first husband, Captain Mark Phillips, stands just behind his mother in line. Interesting fact: Had Phillips’s wife, Autumn Kelly, not converted from Roman Catholicism to the Church of England before their marriage in 2008, Phillips would have lost his place in line.

15. SAVANNAH PHILLIPS

Savannah Phillips attends a Christmas Day church service
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

On December 29, 2010, Peter and Autumn Phillips celebrated the birth of their first child, Savannah Anne Kathleen Phillips, who is also the Queen’s first great-grandchild. She’s currently 15th in line.

16. ISLA PHILLIPS

Princess Anne, Princess Royal, Isla Phillips and Peter Phillips attend a Christmas Day church service
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Less than two years after Savannah, Peter and Autumn Phillips had a second daughter, Isla, who stands just behind her sister in line. It wasn’t until 2017 that Savannah and Isla made their Buckingham Palace balcony debut (in honor of their great-grandmother’s 91st birthday).

17. ZARA TINDALL

 Zara Tindall arrives for a reception at the Guildhall
Hannah McKay - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Not one to hide in the background, Zara Tindall—Princess Anne’s second child and only daughter—has lived much of her life in the spotlight. A celebrated equestrian, she won the Eventing World Championship in Aachen in 2006 and was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year the same year (her mom earned the same title in 1971). She’s also Prince George’s godmother.

18. MIA TINDALL

Mike Tindall, Zara Tindall and their daughter Mia Tindall pose for a photograph during day three of The Big Feastival at Alex James' Farm on August 28, 2016 in Kingham, Oxfordshire.
Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

Zara Tindall’s daughter Mia may just be 4 years old, but she’s already regularly making headlines for her outgoing personality. And though she’s only 18th in line to the throne, her connection to the tippity top of the royal family is much closer: Prince William is her godfather.

19. DAVID ARMSTRONG-JONES, 2ND EARL OF SNOWDON

David Armstrong-Jones, 2nd Earl of Snowdon
HANNAH MCKAY/AFP/Getty Images

David Armstrong-Jones, the eldest child of Princess Margaret, isn’t waiting around to see if the British crown ever lands on his head. The 56-year-old, who goes by David Linley in his professional life, has made a name for himself as a talented furniture-maker. His bespoke pieces, sold under the brand name Linley, can be purchased through his own boutiques as well as at Harrods.

20. CHARLES ARMSTRONG-JONES, VISCOUNT LINLEY

Margarita Armstrong-Jones and Charles Patrick Inigo Armstrong-Jones
Chris Jackson-WPA Pool/Getty Images

David Armstrong-Jones’s only son, Charles, may be 20th in line to the throne, but the 18-year-old is the heir apparent to the Earldom of Snowdon.

21. LADY MARGARITA ARMSTRONG-JONES

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (R) talks with Lady Margarita Armstrong-Jones (C) as her father David Armstrong-Jones (L), 2nd Earl of Snowdon, known as David Linley
HANNAH MCKAY/AFP/Getty Images

Lady Margarita Armstrong-Jones, the youngest child of David Armstrong-Jones and his only daughter, is also the only granddaughter of Princess Margaret. Now 15 years old (she'll turn 16 in June), Lady Margarita made headlines around the world in 2011 when she served as a flower girl at the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

22. LADY SARAH CHATTO

Lady Sarah Chatto, the daughter of Princess Margaret arrives for her mother's memorial service
STEPHEN HIRD/AFP/Getty Images

Lady Sarah Chatto, Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones’s only daughter, is the youngest grandchild of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. In addition to serving as a bridesmaid to Princess Diana, she is Prince Harry’s godmother.

23. SAMUEL CHATTO

Lady Sarah Chatto (L) and her son Samuel Chatto (R) leave a Service of Thanksgiving for the life and work of Lord Snowdon at Westminster Abbey on April 7, 2017 in London, United Kingdom
Justin Tallis - WPA Pool /Getty Images

The first-born son of Lady Sarah Chatto and her husband, Daniel, has a long way to go to reach the throne: He’s currently 23rd in line.

24. ARTHUR CHATTO

Arthur Edwards, WPA Pool/Getty Images

For better or worse, Sarah and Daniel Chatto’s youngest son Arthur has become a bit of a social media sensation. He's made headlines recently as he regularly posts selfies to Instagram—some of them on the eyebrow-raising side, at least as far as royals go.

25. PRINCE RICHARD, DUKE OF GLOUCESTER

Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester makes a speech during the unveiling ceremony of London's first public memorial to the Korean War on December 3, 2014 in London, England
Carl Court/Getty Images

At 73 years old, Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester is the youngest grandchild of King George V and Queen Mary. Formerly, he made a living as an architect, until the 1972 death of his brother, Prince William of Gloucester, put him next in line to inherit his father’s dukedom. On June 10, 1974, he officially succeeded his father as Duke of Gloucester, Earl of Ulster, and Baron Culloden.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Library of Congress (LOC), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
arrow
entertainment
10 Fascinating Facts About Ella Fitzgerald
Library of Congress (LOC), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Library of Congress (LOC), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Today marks what would have been the 101st birthday of Ella Fitzgerald, the pioneering jazz singer who helped revolutionize the genre. But the iconic songstress’s foray into the music industry was almost accidental, as she had planned to show off her dancing skills when she made her stage debut. Celebrate the birthday of the artist known as the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, or just plain ol’ Lady Ella with these fascinating facts.

1. SHE WAS A JAZZ FAN FROM A YOUNG AGE.

Though she attempted to launch her career as a dancer (more on that in a moment), Ella Fitzgerald was a jazz enthusiast from a very young age. She was a fan of Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby, and truly idolized Connee Boswell of the Boswell Sisters. “She was tops at the time,” Fitzgerald said in 1988. “I was attracted to her immediately. My mother brought home one of her records, and I fell in love with it. I tried so hard to sound just like her.”

2. SHE DABBLED IN CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES AS A TEENAGER.

A photo of Ella Fitzgerald
Carl Van Vechten - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Fitzgerald’s childhood wasn’t an easy one. Her stepfather was reportedly abusive to her, and that abuse continued following the death of Fitzgerald’s mother in 1932. Eventually, to escape the violence, she moved to Harlem to live with her aunt. While she had been a great student when she was younger, it was following that move that her dedication to education faltered. Her grades dropped and she often skipped school. But she found other ways to fill her days, not all of them legal: According to The New York Times, she worked for a mafia numbers runner and served as a police lookout at a local brothel. Her illicit activities eventually landed her in an orphanage, followed by a state reformatory.

3. SHE MADE HER STAGE DEBUT AT THE APOLLO THEATER.

In the early 1930s, Fitzgerald was able to make a little pocket change from the tips she made from passersby while singing on the streets of Harlem. In 1934, she finally got the chance to step onto a real (and very famous) stage when she took part in an Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater on November 21, 1934. It was her stage debut.

The then-17-year-old managed to wow the crowd by channeling her inner Connee Boswell and belting out her renditions of “Judy” and “The Object of My Affection.” She won, and took home a $25 prize. Here’s the interesting part: She entered the competition as a dancer. But when she saw that she had some stiff competition in that department, she opted to sing instead. It was the first big step toward a career in music.

4. A NURSERY RHYME HELPED HER GET THE PUBLIC’S ATTENTION.

Not long after her successful debut at the Apollo, Fitzgerald met bandleader Chick Webb. Though he was initially reluctant to hire her because of what The New York Times described as her “gawky and unkempt” appearance, her powerful voice won him over. "I thought my singing was pretty much hollering," she later said, "but Webb didn't."

Her first hit was a unique adaptation of “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” which she helped to write based on what she described as "that old drop-the-handkerchief game I played from 6 to 7 years old on up."

5. SHE WAS PAINFULLY SHY.

Though it certainly takes a lot of courage to get up and perform in front of the world, those who knew and worked with Fitzgerald said that she was extremely shy. In Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz, trumpeter Mario Bauzá—who played with Fitzgerald in Chick Webb’s orchestra—explained that “she didn't hang out much. When she got into the band, she was dedicated to her music … She was a lonely girl around New York, just kept herself to herself, for the gig."

6. SHE MADE HER FILM DEBUT IN AN ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MOVIE.

As her IMDb profile attests, Fitzgerald contributed to a number of films and television series over the years, and not just to the soundtracks. She also worked as an actress on a handful of occasions (often an actress who sings), beginning with 1942’s Ride ‘Em Cowboy, a comedy-western starring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

7. SHE GOT SOME HELP FROM MARILYN MONROE.

“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt,” Fitzgerald said in a 1972 interview in Ms. Magazine. “It was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the ’50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him—and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status—that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard … After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman—a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”

Though it has often been reported that the club’s owner did not want to book Fitzgerald because she was black, it was later explained that his reluctance wasn’t due to Fitzgerald’s race; he apparently didn’t believe that she was “glamorous” enough for the patrons to whom he catered.

8. SHE WAS THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN TO WIN A GRAMMY.

Ella Fitzgerald
William P. Gottlieb - LOC, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Among her many other accomplishments, in 1958 Fitzgerald became the first African American woman to win a Grammy Award. Actually, she won two awards that night: one for Best Jazz Performance, Soloist for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook, and another for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook.

9. HER FINAL PERFORMANCE WAS AT CARNEGIE HALL.

On June 27, 1991, Fitzgerald—who had, at that point, recorded more than 200 albums—performed at Carnegie Hall. It was the 26th time she had performed at the venue, and it ended up being her final performance.

10. SHE LOST BOTH OF HER LEGS TO DIABETES.

In her later years, Fitzgerald suffered from a number of health problems. She was hospitalized a handful of times during the 1980s for everything from respiratory problems to exhaustion. She also suffered from diabetes, which took much of her eyesight and led to her having to have both of her legs amputated below the knee in 1993. She never fully recovered from the surgery and never performed again. She passed away at her home in Beverly Hills on June 15, 1996.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios