New interactive map highlights Great Lakes shipwrecks, lore
MARQUETTE — The cold, fresh waters of the Great Lakes are literally littered with shipwrecks; according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, about 1,500 wrecks are submerged in Michigan waters alone, some more than 100 feet down and others much nearer the surface.
Not everyone is a scuba diver, nor do they have easy access to detailed information about these shipwrecks.
However, the recently launched Michigan Shipwrecks StoryMap can help people learn about the mystery and tragedy surrounding these ships.
Dan Fountain of Negaunee Township, a local shipwreck diver, called the StoryMap a good starting point for learning more about the wrecks, giving users a capsule history of each wreck.
“It’s especially good for people who are divers or who get out on the water,” Fountain said.
These could include kayakers or stand-up paddle boarders, he said.
Fountain is one of the few local people who have seen an underwater shipwreck in person. In fact, he and other searchers of shipwrecks in 2016 made a successful trip to locate the steamer J.S. Seaverns, which sank near Canada’s Michipicoten Harbor in May 1884.
Obviously, he finds wrecks fascinating.
“They tend to be kind of a snapshot of a point in time, an era, depending on how it’s preserved,” Fountain said.
To a casual observer, some sunken ships might look like a pile of boards, he said.
“The more you learn about shipwrecks, the more information you can get from a pile of boards,” Fountain said. “After a while, it starts to make sense.”
The Syracuse and the Cedarville are among the wrecks submerged in Michigan waters, the DNR said, making up one-quarter of the estimated 6,000 wrecks found throughout the Great Lakes.
Some, like the Syracuse, come from the area when goods and people routinely traveled the lakes along well-used routes. The Syracuse, a two-masted schooner carrying a cargo of coal, sank in Lake Huron on Nov. 10, 1863.
Other shipwrecks speak to more recent times when steel vessels such as the 600-foot Cedarville, carrying a cargo of limestone, collided with a Norwegian ship in the fog on May 7, 1967. Ten crew members died; the ship, broken nearly in two, sank in more than a hundred feet of water.
The Michigan Shipwrecks Public Web App offers users a closer look at shipwrecks as well as the locations of lighthouses and boating access sites. Users can search for shipwrecks by name or location. They also can customize and print their own PDF maps.
“This new tool gives divers, kayakers, snorkelers and armchair explorers a chance to learn more about these underwater archaeological sites and the circumstances that led to the shipwrecks,” said Sandra Clark, director of the Michigan History Center, in a news release. “It’s a wonderfully interactive way to help people connect with this part of Michigan’s maritime history.”
For example, Fountain said users could find out what’s near Marquette.
“You click on one of the symbols and say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that was there,’ and go from there,” he said.
The app map offers information about each ship, including:
≤ The difficulty level of diving to the wreck.
≤ Whether the wreck is accessible by kayak or canoe.
≤ The circumstances of the sinking.
≤ A description of the ship, with photos and drawings if available.
The map also highlights Michigan’s underwater preserves and water trails.
Searching for wrecks in person, though,
Some wrecks, such as the wooden bulk freighter Daisy Day, lie in as little as 10 feet of water, making the search suitable for beginning divers and even visible to paddlers and snorkelers.
On the other hand, the Indiana, a propeller vessel that went down in Lake Superior in 1858, lies in more than 100 feet of water, so advanced diving skills are required.
The DNR said the map will be updated as more ships are discovered and more information becomes available.
Users might notice that some high-profile wrecks, such as the Carl D Bradley, which sank in Lake Michigan in November 1958, are not listed. Because crew members went down with these ships, they are considered underwater burial sites, the DNR said.
Clark reminds the public that Michigan law prohibits removal of any artifacts from shipwrecks.
“The wrecks on the Great Lakes bottomlands belong to the people of Michigan,” she said. “If everyone follows the rule of ‘take only pictures and leave only bubbles,’ we can ensure that these underwater time capsules will be available for future generations to explore, research and enjoy.”
Visit and explore both the storymap and public web app at Michigan.gov/ExploreShipwrecks.