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Photo David J. Ruck
By John Flesher - Philly
As a teenager, Steve Libert was mesmerized by a teacher's stories of the brash 17th-century French explorer La Salle, who journeyed across the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi in a quest for a trade route to the Far East that he hoped would bring riches and renown.
Particularly intriguing was the tale of the Griffin, a vessel that La Salle built and sailed from Niagara Falls to the shores of present-day Wisconsin before sending it back for more supplies.
It departed with a crew of six and a cargo of furs in September 1679 - and was never seen again.
Although widely considered the first wreck of a European-type ship in the upper Great Lakes, its fate has never been documented nor its gravesite found.
After nearly three decades of research, dives, and tussles, Libert believes he's about to solve the mystery.
He was to lead a diving expedition over the weekend to an underwater site in northern Lake Michigan, where archaeologists and technicians were to try to determine whether a timber jutting from the bottom and other items beneath layers of sediment were what remained of the legendary Griffin.
"I'm numb from the excitement," said Libert, 59, a burly ex-football playe.
The just-retired intelligence analyst with the U.S. Department of Defense has a passion for maritime mysteries and has journeyed from Okinawa to the Florida Keys for diving expeditions.
A biography posted on his website says he's advised searches for the Titanic, five Navy torpedo bombers lost in the Bermuda Triangle during World War II, and John Paul Jones' warship Bon Homme Richard, among others.