What lies at the bottom of Lake Michigan
- On 01/03/2013
By Julia Thiel - Chicago Reader
12TH STREET BEACH WRECK, YEAR UNKNOWN
Just south of the Adler Planetarium, an unidentified shipwreck is embedded in the sand. Underwater Archaeological Society of Chicago president John Bell says that it's probably the closest wreck to shore in the area; you can actually walk to it.
Shoreline erosion caused by the construction of the planetarium in 1925 exposed the hull of the schooner, which is an estimated 140 feet long.
The stern end of the ship has been paved over, but Bell says that "on a good day, you can see the ribs."
LADY ELGIN, 1860
The deadliest shipwreck in the Great Lakes until the Eastland disaster—and still the worst open-water disaster on Lake Michigan—was the sinking of this 252-foot passenger steamer.
In an early-morning storm a schooner rammed the side of the larger steamship at full speed, ripping a hole it in.
The schooner suffered some damage but made it back to Chicago, while the Lady Elgin quickly broke in half and sank.
Many of the passengers floated toward the coastline on pieces of the deck, only to be drowned in the surf near shore. Of the nearly 400 passengers aboard, more than 300 died.
The remains of the ship were discovered in 1989 by shipwreck hunter Harry Zych, who immediately claimed ownership of them.
Nearly 20 years of searching was followed by a decade of litigation, and though shipwrecks are usually the property of the state, Zych eventually won the legal battle.
He's found artifacts including pre-Civil War muskets and swords, china plates and spoons engraved with the words "Lady Elgin," a three-foot-long steam whistle, and a chandelier.