Indiana may soon get its second reserve of submarine wrecks | Indiana News
By JOSEPH S. PETE, The Times
MICHIGAN CITY, Indiana (AP) – Over a century ago, city dwellers grew tired of staring at the burnt down hull of the SS Muskegon, which had been abandoned in the Michigan City Marina.
So they dragged it into Lake Michigan and sunk it.
Now, the wreck of the 211-foot freighter that sank near Mount Baldy in Michigan City in 1911 could become Indiana’s second submarine reserve.
Indiana University’s Center for Underwater Science is leading a charge to create the reserve approximately 2.8 miles from Mount Baldy Beach at a depth of approximately 30 feet. It would follow the JD Marshall Reservation, just off Indiana Dunes State Park, which commemorates the capsized ship and four crew members whose stories are on display at the State Park’s Nature Center and Museum. from the old Michigan City Lighthouse.
The reserve designation would mark the site with buoys and protect it for scuba diving and exploration. It would set limits for boats, likely lead to interpretive signs along the shore, and offer virtual tours to the public.
Divers can see the ship’s frame, propeller, driveshaft, steam engine, and twin boilers in their final resting place under Lake Michigan.
The director of the IU Center for Underwater Sciences, Charles Beeker, submitted the nomination to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Beeker, a diver who also helped establish the JD Marshall reserve, had been working on the reserve designation since 2000 before it was ramped up after the coronavirus pandemic struck last year.
“I’ve had meetings with the Indiana DNR and it’s moving forward,” he said. “The state accepted the nomination. We are currently working on the details and are seeking local support. We are pleased that the state has followed our recommendation.
Divers discovered the wreck in the 1960s. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is one of 50 wrecks off the coast of Indiana and 6,000 in the Great Lakes. Beeker said.
“It leads people to go out on boats and go sightseeing,” he said. “This is a special level of improvement that will translate into a historical marker, buoys, interesting materials and significant diving experience there.”
The SS Muskegon was a 1,199 gross tonnage freighter, also known as Peerless under various owners. At various points in its lifespan, it carried passengers, carried cargo, sucked sand from the bottom of Lake Michigan, and was suspected at one point of being a floating host for gambling.
“For its first 25 years it was one of the best cargo ships on the Great Lakes,” Beeker said. “She was a ship without equal at the time.”
It is not possible to see the wreck while snorkeling, because the water is not very clear at this depth. But it’s easy to get there by boat or kayak.
“It’s the same as the JD Marshall, which is about 400 yards offshore,” he said. “It makes it easy to appreciate it. You have other Great Lakes wrecks 100 feet deep where not much is on display. It’s a fun dive, not a hardcore dive.
Even for those who do not dive, the nature reserve will help to make known the history of the boat.
“Few people have been to the site of the Titanic sinking,” Beeker said.
First launched in 1872, the SS Muskegon was a single-propeller passenger ferry on the Great Lakes. It carried freight mail and later gathered sand which was used as a building and crafting material as it aged and was eclipsed by newer ships.
Built in Ohio, it often visited the ports of Chicago, Duluth and Grand Haven. Its full history before it caught fire, burned down on the wharf, and sank is not fully known.
“Ernest Hemingway traveled on ships like this on the Great Lakes from his childhood until he was 12,” Beeker said. “It is possible that he traveled on it.
The ship had a major economic impact on Lake Michigan in the 19th century.
“We are delighted that the state recognizes the value of the wrecks and the broader maritime landscape on the Great Lakes,” he said. “The maritime industry has made the state what it is today. It was a ferry for 25 years and a popular ship to navigate Chicago and ports en route. This is our story.
Such wrecks have often been recovered in the past, but are now preserved.
“They were looted but are much better protected now,” he said. “There is an inventory of artifacts that are part of the shipwreck. Making it a stash ensures that it remains accessible to the public while people only take pictures and only leave bubbles. “
Jim Retseck, president of the Michigan City Historical Society, said the state’s second underwater nature reserve will commemorate an important history.
“At one time it was a passenger ship that became a sand sucker when it got long in the tooth,” he said. “It was moored just behind the old lighthouse before it caught fire. There was a night watchman on it, which makes it quite odd. But it had kerosene lamps and was made of wood, so it was flammable. We also have the possibility that he was struck by lightning. But there was a keeper, so you think they would have caught him sooner. Almost everything burned down while it was anchored there.
The wreckage, however, has retained much of its integrity while in its aquatic grave at the bottom of Lake Michigan.
“It’s in excellent condition which is a rather unusual situation,” said Retseck. “Fresh water, cold water in winter, and sandy bottom all contribute to preservation. Some things are gone there, but federal and state laws now prevent people from getting things out of those ships. “
He shares an intertwined history with the JD Marshall, who was a lumber hauler who became a sand sucker owned by the same company. The JD Marshall sank a day after the SS Muskegon’s sanding equipment was installed.
“The mate and three crew members died on this ship,” he said. “The Muskegon did not have any deaths. What he did was suck up sand and sell it. It’s just ironic that they ended up having the same fate.
The state’s nature reserve status raised the profile of JD Marshall, Beeker said.
“It’s appreciated at the Nature Center and with hikes to see the buoys and interpretive equipment,” he said. “The state has a website and we have developed more material. It’s a heightened interest, bringing visitors from as far away as California at a time when domestic travel is on the rise.
He’s working with the state to plan a large public event when the SS Muskegon is inaugurated as a state nature reserve just off the coast in Indiana Dunes National Park.
“We talked about a similar type of event to what we had with JD Marshall,” he said. “We want to involve the public to celebrate maritime heritage. The shipwrecks are over. It is a submerged cultural resource. Gone are the days of wreck looting.
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