Father and daughter fishing find century-old shipwreck Lake Michigan

Dec 16, 2023, 10:51 AM

During the spring, the Wisconsin Historical Society plans to survey the shipwreck found by a father...

During the spring, the Wisconsin Historical Society plans to survey the shipwreck found by a father and his 6-year-old daughter while fishing on Lake Michigan. (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)

(Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)

(CNN) — When Tim Wollak’s 6-year-old daughter first saw something unusual while fishing in Lake Michigan, she thought it was an octopus.

But the unusual item they detected off Wisconsin’s Green Island over the summer turned out to be something much more rare: The never-before-seen wreck of a ship that sunk in 1871.

Wollak and his daughter Henley, who live in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, often spend time together fishing, according to CNN affiliate WLUK. Henley told WLUK she likes to collect rocks and sea glass while her father fishes.

The pair were “just kind of driving around” he told WLUK. “And there was.”

And while Henley immediately thought the strange sight was a “rare” Green Bay Octopus, her father realized it appeared to be a shipwreck.

“I was surprised I had never seen it before because it’s in an area where people regularly go,” said Wollak, according to WLUK.

After spotting the wreck, Wollak started researching to see if he could identify the ship. None had previously been marked in that area, according to a Facebook post from the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Eventually, he got in contact with the historical society’s Maritime Preservation and Archaeology Program to help further his research, the Facebook post says.

On December 4, crews working with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Conservation Warden Mike Neal used a remote-operated vehicle to investigate the shipwreck.

They were able to see a wooden three-masted sailing ship, about 8 to 10 feet deep in the water, according to the society.

While officials haven’t been able to identify the ship yet, the location and available data match that of the barkentine George L. Newman, the society said.

This ship was built in Ohio in 1855 and was 122 feet long.

The society said the vessel wrecked on October 8, 1871, while sailing through heavy smoke from the Great Peshtigo Fire – the deadliest forest fire in US history. A lighthouse keeper rescued the crew, and they stayed at the lighthouse for a week while salvaging what they could from the shipwreck.

The vessel was “abandoned, became covered with sand, and was largely forgotten” until the Wollaks spotted it, the society said.

Wollak told WLUK he’s not sure how his future fishing trips with his daughter will compare to their exciting discovery.

“I don’t know how we top it,” said Tim Wollak. “I told her I’m pretty sure there’s no one else in her school that has ever found a shipwreck that nobody had recorded before….I guess we’ll just have to fish more and see if we can find more shipwrecks.”

In the spring, the Wisconsin Historical Society will survey the wreck and assess it for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Wollaks’ discovery comes just a few months after another long-lost shipwreck was spotted in Lake Michigan. The schooner Trinidad, built in 1867 and wrecked in 1881, was discovered earlier this year, the historical society announced in September.

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Father and daughter fishing find century-old shipwreck Lake Michigan