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'Car graveyard' hides below bluff, linked to Michigan history few know about

In 1967, the Lake Michigan water levels were high, causing a lot of lakeshore erosion. A St. Joseph man created his own breakwall, shoving junk cars over his bluff.

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. — St. Joseph, Mich. is a city that sits on a Lake Michigan bluff that has slowly been eroding away over time. As water levels rise, the crashing waves carve chunks of land out of the bluff, causing many lakeshore homes to either be threatened or to tumble from their once sturdy foundations, to the shoreline below.

A lakeshore property owner in the late 1960s decided he needed to take matters into his own hands to prevent further erosion to the bluff which his St. Joseph home was sitting on.

The method he chose quickly became a Michigan legend, but while the rusty remnants still exist along the lakeshore 54 years later, the story continues to be an obscure slice of state history few know about, until now.

Back in the 1930s, work began in St. Joseph on the piers that protect the city's main channel. As that work took shape, it redirected the current of Lake Michigan, pushing it toward the shoreline which started the eroding of the bluff.

Through the 1940s and 1950s, the erosion got so bad, lakeshore residents began constructing breakwalls, hoping to hold back the lake's fury.

"All that did was push the problem to the neighbor next door," said Nathan Voytovick, 26, who grew up in St. Joseph and has become immersed in the city's history. "The people began panicking."

By the mid to late 1960s, residents living along the top of the bluff needed a last-ditch effort to save their homes from falling into the lake.

"They began chucking debris, anything that they could find, over the bluff to stop the waves," said Nathan. "Washing machines, dryers, beds and even cars were tossed over the edge."

Cars?

"Yes, there are more than 150 scrapped cars piled up at the bottom of the bluff," said Nathan.

St. Joseph resident Carl Kuyat was the catalyst when it came to the cars going over the embankment.

"He just rolled them over the edge of the bluff and they landed where they landed," added Nathan. "[Carl's] creation is still down there."

The state of Michigan would eventually hear of Kuyat's antics and paid a visit to get him to stop.

"Not saying he did the right thing, but it worked," said Nathan.

Getting down to the shoreline where the rusty vehicles are piled up isn't easy, and not recommended, but if one decides to scale down the bluff, they can get an up-close-and-personal view of this hidden Michigan history. 

Rusted-out, mostly unrecognizable skeletons of 1960s cars, tires, steering wheels, engines, etc., are still stacked along the lakeshore.

"It's so interesting to see," said Nathan, as he was climbing over and under the toppled wreckage. "It's called the 'Car Graveyard' for a reason."

The City of St. Joseph has decided to leave the Car Graveyard where it is, and warns the public if they choose to check it out, they do so at their own peril.

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