MUSKEGON, Mich. -- Just below the surface of Michigan waters lie hundreds of shipwrecks, many of which have never been found. Strapping on SCUBA gear and descending into the water, you never know what you're going to stumble across.
Recently, two off-duty Muskegon firefighters found a piece of local history lurking just beneath the surface.
Mark Taylor and Keith McMillan are firefighters who also serve on the dive rescue team. They weren't on duty when they found the wreck. They were just out enjoying the lake.
“We had been diving across the ridge for a while and Mark says to me, 'let’s try this area over here. We’ve never even thought about diving that area'," explains McMillan.
Usually the two are looking for lures and anchors, but this find was a little different: an 80-foot wooden schooner. Taylor described it as being covered in Zebra mussels and looking like it might have been burned at one time.
Consulting NOAA charts, the wreck has a ping, which means instruments detected its presence, but no one had actually gone down to take a look at it. Finding the burn scars, Taylor and McMillan found a key piece of evidence needed to identify the ship.
Working to identify the ship McMillan and Taylor found, Valerie van Heest, Michigan Shipwreck Research Association Director, shared this story from a 1883 Port Huron Daily Times newspaper clipping,
“It had an interesting mishap in 1883. It was May 3rd of 1883 and it had just loaded a cargo of lumber at the Farr Lumber Company on Muskegon Lake. The company was on the North side of the lake, very near to the position of this wreck. Well, there was a storm brewing, so the crew couldn’t leave with their cargo for Chicago. So they battened down the hatches and went down to their cabin to sleep through the storm, intending to leave in the morning. Sometime in the middle of the night, lightning struck the ship’s tallest mast and then the lightning went down the metal rigging and it ignited the deck. Very soon all of the cargo was in flames. The crew slept through most of it until screams from shore woke them up. They were able to get out of the ship in time to save their lives, but the ship and all of it’s cargo right to the water line.”
The ship McMillan and Taylor found measured in around 80 feet, however they believe part of the ship is buried under the lake floor.
Another mystery is why the ship was found a mile from the Farr Lumber Company. Van Heest has a possible solution for that problem. “There’s a newspaper account that tells us that the owner of the Michigan barge line company towed it away from the dock, back to Grand Haven. We don’t think they made it."
The wreck lies just 15 feet below the surface on the north side of Muskegon Lake.