- It was a different time, a time when you could just shove huge hunks of metal off the edge of your property and onto the Lake Michigan beach below.
- This is what residents in Saint Joseph, Michigan did in the 1960s, after trying other bulky items in the '40s and '50s, as they tried to stop the erosion wearing away their homes.
- The state put a stop to the practice, but the rusted cars are still there today.
Desperate times call for loud, gravity-based measures. Saint Joseph, Michigan, in the late 1960s experienced just such a time, and the physical effects of local citizens' desperate measures found a home on the Lake Michigan shoreline. There, when conditions are right, the rusted remains of hundreds of automobiles can be seen piled up on the beach even today, as this video from TV station WZZM shows:
Now overgrown, this "car graveyard" has been common knowledge in the area for decades, but it's not a popular tourist destination. It was created out of necessity, when homeowners on the bluff above started rolling old cars down the hill as a way to try to prevent the lake from eroding the land their homes sat on.
Water levels were high in 1967, the year the first cars were turned into a breakwall, according to local TV news station WZZM. Erosion under the homes became a thing after the city of Saint Joseph built piers along the city's main channel and out into the lake. The piers redirected the lake's natural current toward the 50-foot bluff, which then eroded over time. As the bluff kept disappearing into the water, larger and larger items were sent to their final resting place through the 1940s and 1950s. The problem, of course, is that these home-brewed efforts just kept redirecting the current, local historian Nathan Voytovick told WZZM.
"All that did was push the problem to the neighbor next door," Voytovick said. "The people began panicking. They began chucking debris, anything that they could find, over the bluff to stop the waves. Washing machines, dryers, beds and even cars were tossed over the edge."
Saint Joseph resident Carl Kuyat was the first to push a car over the edge, and Voytovick said more than 150 cars ended up on the shore. Other put the number at closer to 230 cars, but however many made the fall, they're still there today.
The video above, posted to YouTube by Ruin Road in 2017, gives some up-close views of the hunks of metal, plus other debris, like a child's tricycle and concrete chunks, that were used to stop the erosion. It also shows how plants have now made their own homes in the pile. When water levels in Lake Michigan are low, the rusted frames and ruined tires look easy to access, but there are signs warning people not to attempt to climb down from above.
A 2020 video report by the South Bend Tribune (St. Joseph is near the Michigan-Indiana border) showed how recent erosion exposed the mess to the lake's waters once again. The video says "it is unknown if fluids were drained from the cars," but we have our guesses.