Ric Mixter unveils his new book, “Bottled Goodbyes”
By Barb Pert Templeton
When people perish at sea following a shipwreck finding a note they penned, pushed inside a bottle and then set adrift hoping someone will find it can certainly prompt strong emotions. Excitement and even goosebumps for the finder and likely tears for family members notified about the find.
A fascination with this topic prompted Ric Mixter, a longtime maritime historian, lecturer and documentary maker to write the recently published book “Bottled Goodbyes – Final Farewells from Maritime and Aviation Disasters.” It shares the tales of 200 shipwreck stories, many via bottles that contained notes from those lost at sea.
Mixter will bring his book and plenty of interesting stories to the Riverbank Theatre in Marine City on Sunday, Oct. 24 at 3 p.m. The upcoming lecture will include an in-depth look at messages sent in bottles from the Titanic and also some of the hoaxes and fake messages people created despite never being on board any ship. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased by calling the theater or visiting their website.
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“There are actually a lot of fake messages that were created and I’ll go into that but also talk about the real ones,” Mixter said.
The book, his second venture into self-publishing, was actually born due to the pandemic as he was kept indoors for so long that he took a deep dive into research for the book, something he had been thinking about for a long time.
While the stories aren’t limited to ships lost in the Great Lakes his personal kinship to Michigan means a majority are based on incidents here in the mitten. In addition, each bottle he references in the book has a direct connection to a shipwreck.
Bit by the shipwreck bug
Growing up in Michigan’s upper peninsula, Mixter said he was just 8-year-old when the Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior in 1975, just 50 miles from his home. He doesn’t recall much about it from that early age but said going to the nearby docks to look at freighters was always a pastime he enjoyed with his friends.
The quest to explore great shipwrecks came to Mixter more than 30 years ago when as a reporter for a newspaper in Bay City he was assigned to cover the Sept. 16, 1990 explosion of the MV Juniper docked off the Saginaw River. While moored there, the 380-foot tanker was unloading 2.3 million gallons of petrol when the tanker broke away from its lines after a freighter passed by it. A dozen men were injured in the explosion and one man lost his life when he drowned trying to swim to shore.
“I was bitten by the shipwreck bug that day,” Mixter said.
As his employers at the newspaper wanted more and more stories about the topic his own interest soared and soon, they even paid for his scuba diving lessons. Shortly thereafter he became part of diving teams studying shipwrecks in the great lakes.
Mixter started lecturing on the topic in 1993 and was part of a dive team that explored the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1994.
Launching a new career
Leaving his reporter post behind, Mixter began doing industrial videos by day while keeping up his sideline of documenting and photographing shipwrecks. He completed 30 one-hour documentaries for PBS and has gathered what is surely considered the largest library of ship information related to the Great Lakes.
He was hired to work full-time for PBS, which he considered a dream job, several years ago but after COVID-19 hit he was let go in July of 2020. At that time, Mixter decided his work related to historic ships should become his full-time passion and he’s been up to his eyeballs ever since, finishing a book and creating 10 Podcasts.
Serving on the boards of many maritime museums across the state, Mixter is often called upon to present programs and give lectures on the topic he has grown to love. He said every shipwreck has something special about it and sharing what he discovers is a gift he’s happy to give to history fans and ship enthusiasts.
“What I like is that I bring a camera along and everybody gets to go along with me,” Mixter said.
Today, he lives in Wixom with his wife and is proud to note that his three adult children are all divers and his two grandchildren are avid swimmers already too.
It’s also interesting to note that he doesn’t limit his camera skills to local waters, he’s flown on F16 fighter jets here in Michigan, flew the Good Year Blimp and was even a camera man for musician Ted Nugent for a time.
Despite so much time spent searching and exploring maritime disasters, Mixter said there’s always new technology related to underwater research and that’s what holds his interest. For example, he recently helped find two new shipwrecks off Whitefish Point in Lake Superior bringing the total found, just last year, to nine over a 700-mile area.
He’s made many appearances at the Riverbank Theatre in Marine City and truly appreciates the strong support he’s received from both the theater operators and the community.
“They have just been such great supporters of my storytelling and we always pack the place when we go there,” Mixter said.
When asked what this avid researcher and documentary expert might do next his response is swift yet sincere.
“Well, I see they are launching people into space now, I think that, would be amazing,” he laughed.
To get tickets to Mixter’s upcoming lecture at the Riverbank Theatre call the box office at (810)278-1749 or visit them online at theriverbanktheatre.com. The theatre is located at 358 South Water Street in Marine City.’Bottled Goodbyes’ can be purchased at lakefury.com.