DETROIT – A diver and maritime history have found two schooners that collided and sank in the cold depths of northern Lake Michigan more than 140 years ago.
Bernie Hellstrom, Boyne City, Michigan, said he was looking for shipwrecks about ten years ago when a deep sound on his boat noted a major obstacle about 200 feet down on the lake bottom near Beaver Island.
"I've made hundreds of trips to Beaver Island and every trip I go out in the sound is on," he told The Associated Press on Friday. "But if you happen to see something that is not normal, you go back. Much is nothing more than fishing schools. This was a 400-foot boat. There is nothing big that is missing."
He returned to the area in June with a tailor-made camera system and discovered Peshtigo and St. Andrews with about 1
a ship could be found and it was considered St. Andrews.
"They never found the other boat," said Hellstrom, 63.
H ellström brought along technical divers to record video of the wrecks. Madison, Wisconsin-based marine historian Brendon Baillod was recruited to help solve the mystery.
Baillod said he searched through old news reports and was told that Peshtigo and St. Andrews met and sank between the Beaver and Fox Islands, northwest of Charlevoix, Michigan.
Peshtigo was 161 feet tall and carried coal. St. Andrews was 143 feet tall and carried coal. The collision was blamed for confusion in signal flares, he said.
Two of Peshtigo's herds disappeared. Survivors from both vessels were rescued by another passing schooner, according to Baillod.
Wayne Lusardi, Michigan's state maritime archaeologist, calls to find the actual resting place of Peshtigo and St. Andrews a "fantastic discovery."
"You can argue that every new discovery is important because it really gives you a first look at something that has been lost and missing for so long," Lusardi said.
He added that Peshtigo and St. Andrews "had been mistakenly identified as two ships up the strait for decades."
"Now the question is: What are these wrecks?" He said.
An estimated 6,000 shipwrecks sit on the bottom of the Great Lakes, according to Cathy Green, executive director of the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc.
"If you think about it, cities like Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee would never have been able to develop without the waterway," Green said. "When there are material recoveries of that history, it's a big deal for historians and archaeologists."