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Historians Explore Graveyard of Shipwrecks in Lake Michigan

Historians Explore Graveyard of Shipwrecks in Lake Michigan

PORTLAND PRESS HERALD – TONY BRISCOE

After a year of scouring the depths of Lake Michigan with a sonar-equipped fishing boat, Steve Radovan finally got a hit on the gray-scale monitor in the captain’s cabin in May 2016.

The 71-year-old shipwreck enthusiast powered down the Discovery’s engines and dropped a waterproof camera attached to a rope into roughly 300 feet of water. The images revealed a three-masted barquentine, covered in mussels and algae but lying on the bottom still largely intact. After reporting the finding to the state of Wisconsin, he learned the foundered ship was the Mojave.

With a cargo of 19,500 bushels of wheat, the ship had set sail from Chicago en route to Buffalo in 1864. The Mojave was spotted by the crew of a passing ship as it dropped into a trough of stormy waters. A small boat and cabin doors belonging to the lost ship were later recovered on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, but the vessel lay deep below the surface for over a century.

“This is the stuff the movie-makers dream of. This is just like it was when it sank to the bottom,” Radovan said with a grin, watching the camera’s images from his home office. “No human has seen this ship since 1864.”

For more than a century, sinking ships claimed thousands of lives, burnishing Lake Michigan’s reputation as being among the most dangerous waters to navigate. Its notoriety as the deadliest of the Great Lakes is evident from an expansive graveyard of shipwrecks spanning the shoreline of Wisconsin – a testament to the perils taken on by crews and passengers who navigated the waters in the 19th and 20th centuries.

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