History buff finds ships that sank in 1878 in Lake Michigan

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DETROIT (AP) – A diver and fan of maritime history found two schooners that collided and sank into the cold depths of northern Lake Michigan over 140 years ago.

Bernie Hellstrom of Boyne City, Michigan, said she had been looking for wrecks for about ten years, when a deep-sea rig in her boat noticed a large obstruction about 60 meters deep in the lake near Beaver Island.

"I have made hundreds of trips to Beaver Island and all the trips I went through the rig," he told the Associated Press on Friday. "But if you see something that isn't normal, you come back. Many are nothing but shoals. That was 400 boat feet. There's nothing out there so big it's missing."

He returned to the area in June with a custom camera system and discovered Peshtigo and St. Andrews about 10 feet away, with the masts on top of each other. The hull of one of the ships has a huge cut.

The ships were believed to have sunk in 1878 further east on the Mackinac Strait on Lake Huron. But only one ship could be found and it was thought to be St. Andrews.

"They never found the second boat," said Hellstrom, 63.

Hellstrom brought in technical divers to record the video of the wreckage. Marine historian Brendon Baillod of Madison, Wisconsin, was recruited to help solve the mystery.

Baillod said he searched old news and found that Peshtigo and St. Andrews collided and sank between the Beaver and Fox Islands, northwest of Charlevoix, Michigan.

The Peshtigo was 49 meters long and carried coal. St. Andrews was 43 meters long and carried corn. The collision was attributed to the confusion in signal torches, he said.

Two of Peshtigo's crew were lost. The survivors of both ships were rescued by another passing schooner, according to Baillod.

Wayne Lusardi, a maritime archaeologist from the state of Michigan, considers the discovery of the royal resting place of Peshtigo and St. Andrews a "fantastic discovery".

"You can argue that any new discovery is important because it really shows for the first time something that has been lost and missing for so long," said Lusardi.

The story goes on

He added that the Peshtigo and St. Andrews "have been misidentified as two strait vessels for decades."

"Now he raises the question: what are these wrecks?" he said.

An estimated 6,000 shipwrecks are situated at 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 be able to develop without the highway," Green said. "When material remains of this story are found, it is very important for historians and archaeologists."


This story has been corrected to show that St. Andrews was carrying corn, not coal.

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