Huge shipwreck from 1898 found
A great wooden steamship that sank more than a century ago in a violent Lake Michigan storm has been found off the Milwaukee-area shoreline...
The Associated Press
MILWAUKEE — A great wooden steamship that sank more than a century ago in a violent Lake Michigan storm has been found off the Milwaukee-area shoreline, and divers say the intact vessel appears to have been perfectly preserved by the cold, fresh waters.
Finding the 300-foot-long L.R. Doty was important because it was the largest wooden ship that remained unaccounted for in the lake, said Brendon Baillod, the president of the Wisconsin Underwater Archaeology Association.
The Doty was carrying a cargo of corn from South Chicago to Ontario, Canada, in October 1898 when it sailed into a terrible storm, Baillod said. Along with snow and sleet, there were heavy winds that whipped up waves of up to 30 feet.
The Doty should have been able to handle the weather. The ship was only 5 years old, and the hull of the 300-foot wooden behemoth was reinforced with steel arches.
But it was towing a small schooner, the Olive Jeanette, which began to founder in the storm after the tow line apparently snapped, Baillod said. The Doty probably sank when it came to the schooner's aid. All 17 of its crew members died, along with the ship's cats, Dewey and Watson.
As a maritime historian, Baillod spent more than 20 years researching the shipwreck. He knew that swaths of debris had washed up afterward in Kenosha, about 40 miles south of Milwaukee. But he found news accounts that the ship had last been seen closer to Milwaukee, near Oak Creek.
Meanwhile, a Milwaukee fisherman in 1991 reported snagging his nets on an obstruction about 300 feet under water. The observation was largely forgotten for years until diving technology improved enough to enable exploration at that depth.
A number of explorers did some preliminary scouting on the surface in recent months, using deep-sea technology to find a massive submerged object. Divers waited until June to descend, when the weather was just right.
As soon as they got to the lake floor, they knew they had found the Doty.
"It felt so good to solve this," said Jitka Hanakova, 33, a diver and captain of the charter boat that led the exploration. "This ship has been missing for so many years, and it's one of the biggest out there."
Divers found the ship upright and intact, settled into the clay at the lake bottom. The cargo of corn was still in the hold.
While details of the sinking remain unclear, Baillod said the most likely explanation is that the rudder chain snapped while the Doty was turning around to aid the Olive Jeanette.
There are no plans to raise the Doty, which is now the property of the state of Wisconsin, and the ship will remain where it is, Baillod said.
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