Wrecks on the water

Area shipwrecks discussed at Tuesday event

The schooner Florida in 1886. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Maritime Museum)

MARQUETTE — Over the years, hundreds of ships have met their demise in the chilly waters of Lake Superior. Some of the bones of these ships can still be seen by divers today.

On Tuesday, the Marquette Maritime Museum’s winter lecture series Maritime History on Tap held a presentation titled “Marquette Ship Wrecks” at the Ore Dock Brewing Company. Maritime historian Dan Fountain spoke about a dozen ships that had succumbed to the waters around the Marquette area.

“These are wrecks that left some remains behind, meaning there’s something we can go out and find. Whether we’re scuba diving, kayaking, snorkeling, there’s a chance you can see some of these shipwrecks,” he said.

The earliest shipwreck near the Marquette area occurred in 1849. The Siskowit was hauling feed for horses. It intended to come in to Marquette but a storm forced the crew to continue on to L’Anse, where the crew ended up getting iced in with their ship.

Two men from Marquette snowshoed from Marquette to L’Anse to lend a hand. They hired locals to chop a channel for them to open the water. Once the channel was made, the ship was directed to Marquette and arrived there on Christmas Day. Settlers there unloaded the ship and tried to run it into the mouth of the Chocolay River, and there it sat until storms tore it to pieces and buried it.

Other ships that wrecked in the Marquette area that were discussed included the Queen City, Queen of the Lakes, De Soto, Florida, Robert Wallace, David Wallace, Laura Bell, George Sherman, Charles J. Kershaw, D. Leuty and Henry B. Smith.

Fountain closed out the presentation with a surprising story.

In June 1974, a two-seater F-106 aircraft took off from K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base. The engine quit mid-flight, so they decided to steer the failing aircraft away from the city of Marquette and into the water off South Beach. Jet fuel ignited, setting the lake’s surface ablaze. Both pilot and co-pilot were ejected. One landed in a field in Harvey, and the other in a tree in Harvey.

“If you were to go out diving off South Beach, you may be able to occasionally find a chunk of aluminum,” Fountain said.

Maritime History on Tap is sponsored in part by grants from WE Energies Foundation, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment for the Arts.


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