CMU, CM Life alum publishes book on Great Lakes freighter wreck
He first discovered the story in 1996.
Eric Gaertner was a budding news reporter, fresh out of Central Michigan University, still struggling to acclimate to the professional world. When he learned of the sinking of the Bradley while working for the Presque Isle Advance, he wrote a quick article about the event and moved on.
But the SS Carl D. Bradley, a Great Lakes freighter that sank in 1958, would stay with him for the next 12 years.
Gaertner, a 1995 CMU alum and former CM Life reporter, has come a long way since then. He currently works as a managing producer for the Muskegon Chronicle and has won multiple awards from the Michigan Press and Associated Press throughout his career.
However, last year brought what he considers one of his greatest achievements: publishing “Torn in Two: The True Story of the Carl D. Bradley Sinking and the Challenges for Those Left Behind,” his first book.
“It was like, ‘Yeah, duh, why didn’t I think of this before,’” Gaertner said about why he decided to write the novel. “From what I had heard from people, this was a good story, a great one.”
In 2008, Gaertner found himself with a period of free time in which he could pursue his interests. He turned to writing a novel. At first, he attempted fiction, but after two to three months of writing, he discovered he was passionate about non-fiction. He was, after all, a journalist.
The sinking of the Bradley held all the mystique and impact of almost any shipwreck, but, as a man who spent much of his life connected to Rogers City, the Bradley held an even deeper meaning.
“I have always been interested in ships, but the main thing about this specific one is how it impacted the Rogers City community,” Gaertner said. “So many of them on board were from this small town.”
The Bradley was unique among most shipwrecks. According to Gaertner, the majority of ships from this time period carried a crew spread out among the entire Midwest. However, the majority of the Bradley crew was from Rogers City.
“With less than 4,000 people in the community, everybody knew at least one person who died in the wreck,” Gaertner said.
Anne Veltema, an independent public relations practitioner, who is currently in a relationship with Gaertner, said the way Gaertner explores the impact of the shipwreck is what sets the book apart.
“What separates this book from other books is the way that Eric told the story,” Veltema said. “It’s about an event that not a lot of people know about, and, not only did he find info on it, he really took the time to talk with the community and explore the emotions still present.”
Gaertner said the skills he gained as a journalist were crucial to the crafting of the book. Much of his research consisted of interviewing people affected by the shipwreck, including one interview with a widow and her five children. His research also led him to the National Archive of Chicago, where he was able to uncover rare documents related to the event.
Gaertner said it was a struggle to write the book at first. After being so used to writing for newspapers, where wording is short and concise, switching to prose was a transition.
“If you can write, you can write,” Gaertner said. “If you are a good writer, you can write in a variety of formats. I think a lot of people limit themselves to one style of writing, but I really learned that, if you have the skills, you can write in a variety of ways.”
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