Schooner that sank in Lake Michigan in 1881 found intact, miles off Wisconsin coastline
Published 4:59 pm Friday, September 1, 2023
ALGOMA, Wis. — Shipwreck hunters have discovered the intact remains of a schooner that sank in Lake Michigan in 1881 and is so well-preserved it still contains the crew’s possessions in its final resting spot miles from Wisconsin’s coastline.
Wisconsin maritime historians Brendon Baillod and Robert Jaeck found the 156-year-old Trinidad in July off Algoma at a depth of about 270 feet (82 meters). They used side-scan sonar to hone in on its location based on survivor accounts in historical records.
“The wreck is among the best-preserved shipwrecks in Wisconsin waters with her deck-house still intact, containing the crew’s possessions and her anchors and deck gear still present,” states a Thursday news release announcing the Trinidad’s discovery.
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The 140-foot-long (43-meter-long) schooner was built at Grand Island, New York, in 1867 by shipwright William Keefe, and was used primarily in the grain trade between Milwaukee, Chicago and Oswego, New York.
But it was carrying a load of coal bound for Milwaukee when early on May 13, 1881, it developed a catastrophic leak after passing through the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal. It sank about 10 miles (16.1 kilometers) off the coast of Algoma, “taking all the crew’s possessions and the captain’s pet Newfoundland dog with her,” the news release states.
Captain John Higgins and his crew of eight survived and reached Algoma, about 120 miles (193 kilometers) north of Milwaukee, after rowing for eight hours in the ship’s yawl boat. Higgins believed the Trinidad’s hull was damaged a few days before the sinking as it passed through ice fields in the Straits of Mackinac.
After discovering the Trinidad in July, Baillod and Jaeck reported their finding to an underwater archaeologist with the Wisconsin Historical Society who arranged for the site to be surveyed with an underwater vehicle that verified the vessel’s identity and documented historic artifacts, according to the news release.
A three-dimensional model of the ship has been created to allow people to explore the site virtually. Baillod and Jaeck plan to work with the Wisconsin Historical Society to nominate the site to the National Register of Historic Places.