Skip to main content

Killer "Tsunami-Like Waves" on Lake Michigan

High waves at the Jackson Park shoreline. Published by V.O. Hammon Publishing Co., Chicago.

What started out as a nice day to go fishing turned deadly for eight people on the lakefront on June 26, 1954. Suddenly and without warning, an eight-foot swell of water pulled seven fishermen into the lake at Montrose Harbor. The other fisherman was pulled into the water at North Avenue beach. The bodies of the eight fishermen were found within a few days.

A large group of fishermen on a pier. Published by V.O. Hammon Publishing Co., Chicago.

The incident was called an “act of God” by some media agencies at the time. Experts, however, believed it was a seiche wave (pronounced “sayshe” or “seech”), which can occur when a storm squall line creates high winds and driving water across the lake and then back to the Chicago shoreline. The wave can range from a swell of just a few inches to a large wall of water so big that it can smash onto Lake Shore Drive.

Seiche waves can occur on smaller lakes too. In 1956, three fishermen died after a seiche wave struck their boat on Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. There have been about 10 major seiches waves on Lake Michigan in the 20th Century.

Fishing near the entrance of the Chicago Harbor. Published by Gerson Bros., Chicago.

On June 1980, seiche-like waves also hit the Chicago shoreline, prompting lifeguards to pull 10 people from the water. Luckily, all 10 people survived. The water peaked at about 6 feet above normal levels and then rolled several hundred feet up to the sidewalk at North Avenue beach.

After the 1954 incident, the city installed metal cables and posts anchored in the concrete on wave breakers, which are intended to provide a handhold in the event of a sudden large wave.

A Chicago Tribune story in 2019 that revisited the 1954 tragedy quotes scientists and meteorologists who believe the wave was a meteotsunami rather than a seiche. In short, the difference between the two is that a seiche is a singular wave rocking back and forth, while a meteotsunami wave is generally the width of a stormfront and often lasts for a shorter period of time.

Beach scene at Oak Street Beach. Published by Max Rigot Selling Co., Chicago.

Scientists say that a meteotsunami can happen anywhere in the world, including on the East Coast and West Coast of the United States. More incidents may also occur in the future along Lake Michigan due to climate change and stronger storms passing through the area. High lake water levels over the past few years are making the waves more devastating overall.

There are many postcards depicting images of large waves on the Chicago shoreline that appear to be similar to ocean scenes. On the other hand, some of my favorite childhood memories include visiting the beaches on the Chicago lakefront at times when the waves were more peaceful. I’ve included some postcards of people enjoying the lakefront here as a reminder of these happy days experienced by myself and many other Chicagoans. 

People at Oak Street Beach. Published by Gerson Bros., Chicago.

Bathing at the beach at 76th Street. Published by Max Rigot Selling Co., Chicago. 

Yachting on Lake Michigan. Published by A. C. Mc Clurg & Co., Chicago.

Boating on Lake Michigan. V.O. Hammon Publishing Co., Chicago.


  1. I remember the 1980 incident. It was pretty shocking. Very interesting information and great postcards!

  2. I've never heard seiche pronounced the way you list. I've always heard the TV weather people say "SAYSH" and the little bit of googling I did confirms that.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Marshall Field's at Christmas

  The aisle on the first floor of the State Street store is 358 feet long. Postcard publisher is unknown.  Many Chicagoans continue to miss visiting Marshall Field’s during the holiday season. Just talking about the famed Christmas windows and holiday decorations brings about memories of the department store’s glory days. Many of us can recall the strong smell of perfume that would greet visitors upon entering the flagship State Street store, along with the huge white Romanesque columns decorated with Christmas fare on the first floor. The real fun, however, was taking the elevator to the 7 th floor to get a glimpse of the giant Christmas tree inside the Walnut Room restaurant. The best place to view the tree was one floor up on a balcony area. Christmas decorations on the first floor. Postcard publisher is unknown.  Frango mint chocolates were piled high in various areas throughout the store, and many visitors couldn’t resist buying a box. Frango chocolates were once made in a kitc

Postcard Spotlight: Marina City in 3-D

A 3-D image of the Marina City towers on State Street and the Chicago River at night. The back of the postcard indicates that the towers are 60 stories tall and boast 896 apartments. The buildings also have 20 floors of auto parking and a 600-boat parking area. At the time of the printing of this postcard in the 1960s, Marina City also had a movie theater, shops, restaurants, a swimming pool, a skating rink, and a 3-acre park. The total cost of construction was $36 million.  Postcard published by Aero Distributing Co., Inc., of Chicago. Photo by Bill Engdahl with Hedrich Blessing Photographers.  The postcard is a Curteichcolor 3-D natural color reproduction.

Chicago's Christmas Characters

Marshall Field & Company's State Street store decorated for the Christmas Holiday. Postcard publisher is unknown.           The Christmas characters known as the Cinnamon Bear, Uncle Mistletoe, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer can all be traced back to Chicago department stores.  The Cinnamon Bear radio program first aired in the weeks leading up to Christmas in 1937. The program was produced in Hollywood and aired around the country but was sponsored by Wieboldt’s department store in Chicago and the Oregon-based department store Lipman-Wolfe and Co. Wieboldt’s sold stuffed Cinnamon Bear toys for $2.98 a piece and gave out Cinnamon Bear buttons to children who visited the store to see Santa Claus.                Cinnamon Bear’s official name was Paddy O’Cinnamon, and he spoke with an Irish brogue. The show consisted of 26 15-minutes episodes and told the story of how the bear helps lead a pair of twins to Maybe Land to search for a silver star. Cinnamon Bear also had a shor