Search for lost ship continuing
By Bob Kostoff - Niagara Falls Reporter
The long saga of a mysterious and often frustrating search for the Griffon, built three centuries ago on the Niagara River in the La Salle section of the city, may be in its final year. Progress depends on the cold weather and ice in Lake Michigan.
Whether this final phase of the archeological search will actually turn up the Griffon or prove to be some other sunken historical treasure remains to be seen.
This new year of 2011 will see completion of Phase II of the so-called "non-intrusive" survey of the suspected site of the Griffon. This phase, under formal agreement, is to be completed by the beginning of next year.
Officials believe this phase will finally determine if the site is the resting place of the actual Griffon and whether it will be worthwhile to try to retrieve artifacts from the ship.
Over the years, many sites have been touted as the resting place of the Griffon, and several stories in these columns have detailed the hopeful searches. But Steve Libert, president of Great Lakes Exploration Group, believes he has found the actual site. He studied the Griffon for many years and in 2001 discovered the current site in northern Lake Michigan.
The Griffon was built under orders of French explorer Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, at a site off the Little Niagara River across from Cayuga Island. Father Louis Hennepin, who accompanied LaSalle on his expeditions, and Henri Di Tonti, LaSalle's one-handed second in command, helped plan the project, accomplished amid some consternation and harassment from Native Americans.
In 1679, the newly constructed ship, the largest to ply the Great Lakes at that time, set sail up the Niagara into Lake Erie and on to Michigan.
There it was loaded with valuable furs to be taken back to Fort Niagara and forwarded to France.
The ship began its return voyage on Sept. 18, 1769, without La Salle, Hennepin or Tonti aboard. The next day there was a violent storm, and the Griffon disappeared without a trace, never to be seen again.