Indiana trying to protect lake's shipwrecks

By Joyce Russel - WJTV

Under the sometimes murky waters of Lake Michigan lies a mostly unexplored layer of Northwest Indiana history.

The lake is home to dozens of shipwrecks, each telling a story.

"They tell us a lot of things. They show us about our culture, commerce and about early transportation," said Rick Jones, state archaeologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Looking at the Great Lakes as a whole, there are some 5,000 shipwrecks, said Brad Bumgardner, interpretive naturalist with the Indiana Dunes State Park.

"That's more than in the entire Bermuda Triangle," Bumgardner said.

About 25 percent of those shipwrecks lie within the waters of Lake Michigan.

Indiana's movement to preserve its underwater history began in the 1980s when salvagers attempted to raise the wreck of the J.D. Marshall, which sank in 1911 off the shore of the Dunes State Park. Federal and state laws followed in the 1980s, protecting the shipwrecks from salvage operations by imposing fines and imprisonment for looting and vandalism.

In 1983, then-state archaeologist Gary Ellis began researching and documenting the shipwrecks of Indiana for cultural purposes. That study included a survey of the Muskegon, which was heavily damaged in a fire in 1910 while at dock in Michigan City. The ship, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, eventually was towed into the lake and sunk.

Ellis' study identified and evaluated 14 shipwrecks, said Mike Molnar, of the DNR.

"We didn't do much since then," he said.

Last year the DNR received funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Lake Michigan Coastal Management Program to initiate an Indiana Lake Michigan Underwater Archaeological Resource Project, Molnar said.

Full story...