Monday, July 15, 2013

7 Things I Learned About Lake Erie Shipwrecks

Both this shoe and bell were salvaged from shipwrecks in Lake Erie.
Mike Wachter visited the Mentor Public Library Thursday to talk about the many historic shipwrecks there have been Lake Erie.

Mike and his wife, Georgann, have been diving for almost 40 years and have rediscovered 25 wreck sites in Lake Erie. They've also written several books on the subject.

Here are some of seven things I learned from Mike's talk.

1. Lake Erie is incredibly shallow -- the shallowest of all the Great Lakes. It's average depth is 62 feet.

Its deepest point is 210 feet, which is above the water level for Lake Ontario.

2. Its shallowness is one of the reasons so many ships have sank in Lake Erie.

According to Wachter, Lake Erie has had more known shipwrecks per square foot than any other body of water (with the possible exception of the English Channel.)

There are 1,750 documented wrecks in Lake Erie. Wachter knows of at least 300 more and estimates that there are between 2,200 and 2,500 wrecks total.

3. The "holy grail" of Lake Erie shipwrecks is the Marquette & Bessemer #2. It presumably sank while en route from Conneaut to Port Stanley in 1909.

We don't know what caused the steel steamer to crash; because its wreckage has never been found. Some members of the crew washed ashore, none of whom survived; but nothing has been seen of the ship.

"To this day, no one's found it," Wachter said. "For all we know, aliens picked it up and dropped it behind Hale-Bopp."

4. Several ships wrecked during the French and Indian War. During an expedition led by Col. John Bradstreet, 17 of his 59 bateaux -- large, flat-bottomed boats sized between 34-46 feet long -- crashed.

Each of these boats carried about 40 people; so, to make room for these soldiers in his remaining boats, Bradstreet had to bury six of his cannons and a whole lot of his provisions in the area now known as Bradstreet's Landing.
Jean Soboslay checks out a cannonball that Mike Wachter found near Bradstreet's Landing.
Even with the space saved by ditching the cannons, 380 of Bradstreet's soldiers had to march through enemy territory back to Fort Niagara.

5. The most fatal wreck in the history of Lake Erie (and the second most fatal in all of the Great Lakes) was that of the G.P. Griffith in 1850.

Back then, the Great Lakes served as the aquatic equivalent of the Oregon Trail and boats would take immigrants from Buffalo or New York City to Cleveland, Toledo and Detroit.

The steamer departed from Buffalo, N.Y., with German, Irish, English and Scandinavian immigrants aboard. It stopped in Fairport Harbor.

When it stopped in Fairport, the G.P. Griffith was already burning. But its captain was confident that the crew could douse the flames, so it set back out to sea.

The captain's hubris proved fatal. Not only did the fire continue to burn, it scorched the life jackets that were all being housed in the women's formal parlor.

Several of the immigrants jumped overboard in an attempt to swim to safety. However, it was common back then for women to sow their valuables (including gold) into the hems of their skirts so nobody could steal them. Their valuables dragged many of them to the bottom of the lake.

About 290 people died -- a half-mile from shore.

6. While there are hundreds of wrecks in Lake Erie, there is only -- at most -- one treasure ship.

The Atlantic sank in 1852 after it collided with the Ogdensburg. The steamer is rumored to have gone down with a valuable payload, in addition to about 250 of its 576 passengers.

About 140 Norwegian immigrants were on the Atlantic the day it sank, and its tragic end is still taught in some schools in Norway.

7. The package freighter Dean Richmond was another rumored treasure ship after it went down in 1893. (It had set off from Buffalo on Friday the 13th.)

Its manifest said it held "pig lead," which was rumored to be code for gold bars. But, in truth, it was just zinc ingots.

For more information on Lake Erie Shipwrecks, visit Mike and Georgann Wachter's website. For more information on programs and events at Mentor Public Library, go to

No comments:

Post a Comment