More than 200 ships met their ends at the bottom of Lake Michigan
By Kitty Conley firstname.lastname@example.org May 8, 2012 1:36PM
The photo is from the DNR Division of Historical Preservation it is of the J.D. Marshall that went under the sea in Lake Michigan in 1911, during a return voyage from Michigan City to Chicago. | Photo Provided~Sun-Times Media
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Updated: May 8, 2012 1:36PM
CROWN POINT — The May-June edition of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources magazine “Outdoor Indiana” has a feature article by Nick Werner about Indiana’s underwater history.
It is a tale worth telling by both teachers and moms and dads. It is a fascinating subject.
According to Brad Bumgardner, the interpretive naturalist with the Indiana Dunes State Park, there are about 5,000 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. That is more shipwrecks than in the Bermuda Triangle.
Between 100 and 200 ships met their graves in the deep off of Indiana, at the bottom of Lake Michigan.
Lake Michigan is about 300 miles long and can be more than 900 feet deep at the farthest northern end of the lake. According to Bumgardner the southern rim of Lake Michigan near Indiana is about 70 feet deep. “That is relatively shallow for a great lake,” said Bumgardner.
Back in the 1980s the attempt was made to raise the wreck of the J.D. Marshall, which went down in 1911 off the shore of the Indiana Dunes State Park. That brought about a state and federal laws protecting wrecks from salvage operations.
In 2011, 100 years later, the DNR was given federal funding from NOAA’s Lake Michigan Coastal Management Program to start an Indiana Lake Michigan Underwater Archaeological Resource Project. It continues this year.
Werner tells the story about the folks in Michigan City looking forward to the J.D. Marshall’s arrival in June 1911. They were hoping that they would be removing a burned hulk called the Muskegon that had been left at the docks since October 1910 to rot. Both ships belonged to the Independent Sand and Gravel Company.
According to the Milwaukee Public Library, the Muskegon was a steamer vessel type and a package-freighter property type. It was built in Cleveland, Ohio in 1872 under the name Peerless. It was 211 feet long by almost 40 feet abeam and weighted 1199 gross tons. It was renamed the Muskegon in 1908 after it changed ownership.
The crew aboard the Marshall just stripped anything of value off of the Muskegon, and then set sail for Chicago. According to Bumgardner, the town folks were so mad that they were left with the old hulk that they got together and pulled it out into the lake with a tugboat. They let the waves and water take it down.
On its way back to the Windy City, the Marshall capsized with its hull to the stormy black sea. It sank in 30 feet of water. The most dangerous time on the lake is in the fall and early winter. The November gales are the most dangerous times on the lake.
The Lighthouse Museum in Michigan City is open every day but Monday during the summer. There are maps that show all the recorded shipwrecks in Lake Michigan off of Indiana there. Recreational divers are visiting some sites where they are told to take only photos and leave only bubbles.
More than 1.1 million people come to the Indiana Dunes Park each year. They come to have fun; very few understand the amount of death and tragedy that has occurred offshore.
Bumgardner invites everyone to take a look at Dunes State Park’s Facebook page for programs at the park.