PORT HURO - More than 25 years ago, Wayne Brusate sifted through piles of matchsticks and crates of supplies to recover bottles, spoons and coal inside a sunken package freighter at the bottom of Lake Huron.
Now, those artifacts from the steamship Regina are finding their way to homes and museums in the United States and Canada.
Brusate, a commercial diver who discovered the Regina in 1986, donated 50 to 60 legally recovered items from the SS Regina to Port Huron Museum, and additional artifacts to the Great Lakes Maritime Institute and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum in Detroit.
The SS Regina is seen at port several years before it sunk in Lake Huroin. (Courtesy photo)
Some of the items donated to the Port Huron Museum are being sold to offset the cost of the museum's Storm of 1913 Remembered exhibit and events.
"It's a unique opportunity for people to legally get something from a shipwreck of that era," Brusate said. "There aren't many artifacts like that."
Brusate was with Garry Biniecki and John Severance on July 1, 1986, when he discovered the Regina in 80 feet of water about three and a half miles offshore between Lexington and Port Sanilac.
The approximately 250-foot package freighter was a floating general store that transported items such as whiskey, champagne, matches, lotion, soap and canned goods. It sank 100 years ago during the Storm of 1913.
"It was one of the ships the shipwreck hunters were looking for," Brusate said.
Brusate said he happened upon the Regina while he was using side-scanning sonar to look for a sunken tugboat.
He and other divers made about 400 dives on the Regina in 1987 and 1988 with permits from the state Department of Natural Resources, the Secretary of State and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, Brusate said.
They recovered what Brusate said was about 1 percent of the ship's contents.
Following the conditions of the permit, Brusate would store the recovered items in a warehouse.
The state and museums visited the warehouse about once a month, and got first pick of the artifacts.
The rest, Brusate was able to keep.
Now, the local diver and chief of the St. Clair County Sheriff Dive Team wants to share some of the recovered items with others.
"I've held onto them for a long time, and I thought the museum could make better use of them," Brusate said.
Susan Bennett, executive director for the Port Huron Museum, said that some of the items that Brusate donated will become part of the museum's permanent collection.
Other items - such as whiskey bottles with amber liquid still sloshing around inside the glass, champagne bottles with corks intact, half-filled lotion bottles and polished silver spoons - will be sold from the museum's gift shop.
The items range in price from as little as $10 for a piece of coal used in the boiler room up to $250 for a champagne bottle with a cork. They'll be sold with a certificate of authenticity, Bennett said.
"It's kind of a neat opportunity for people to have something that is this meaningful to our part of the world," Bennett said.
"We're really thrilled with the opportunity, because it is helping to offset some of the expenses."
John Polacsek, a member of the Great Lakes Maritime Institute board of directors, said Brusate also donated artifacts to the Great Lakes Maritime Institute.
Those donations will be used for additional fundraisers and will be distributed to various Canadian museums.
Although debris from the Regina floated ashore in Canada, Polacsek said there is an absence of artifacts from the storm there.
"Very few of the Canadian museums have anything from the Storm of 1913," Polacsek said.
Polacsek said he took about 10 packages of artifacts to the Storm of 1913 exhibit when it made its way to Goderich, Ontario.
From there, the items will be dispersed to other Canadian museums.
"This is what it's all about," Polacsek said.
"It's a good feeling to say that something found the right home."
Information from: Times Herald, www.thetimesherald.com
This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Times Herald (Port Huron).
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.