Many ships have disappeared on the Great Lakes, leaving their resting location a mystery.
On Friday April 24, the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association started receiving reports that unfamiliar wreckage had been exposed north of Ludington near the state park.
“It was just something I was not familiar with,” says Chris Brandt, one of the people who stumbled upon the wreckage. “And I grew up very familiar with those beaches as far as walking them and hiking with my dad. It struck something I’ve never heard about.”
Rising lake levels and volatile waters are expected to continue to unearth hidden structures in the sand.
The shipwreck was reported to the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association by Brandt and another Ludington local, Jen Tooman. From there, the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association called the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum.
“The wreckage itself is a hull fragment of a wooden vessel,” says Port of Ludington Maritime Museum Site Manager Eric Harmsen. “It is about 32-feet long by 8-feet wide in total. It has 15 frames... with planking on both sides. And the planking and the frames are quite large and that in itself tells us that we’re looking at a section of a much larger boat.”
With the information gathered, the museum and research association were able to determine it was a schooner built between the 1850s and 1880s. Then, they put together a list of ships that match the description that were lost in the area.
Those include the “J.B. Skinner,”' the “George F. Foster,” the “J.O. Moss,” the “Eclipse,” and the “Orphan Boy.” There are no pictures of the ships around today.
The most exciting possibility for history buffs, according to Harmsen, would be if the wreckage belonged to the “J.B Skinner.”
“That one is significant because it was built in 1841, which is quite early for this area of the great lakes. That would actually be one of the oldest shipwrecks in the general Ludington area,” Harmsen says.
However, Harmsen also says those dates are too early for the estimate of the hull fragment, which is between the 1850s and 1880s.
“If more was uncovered, that would definitely be helpful. Right now, there's not a lot to go off of from the wreckage that came ashore. It’s a hull fragment, it looks like it came from a schooner,” he says.
The Port of Ludington Maritime Museum and Michigan Shipwreck Association are working together to figure out the origins of the wreckage.
“We’ve been looking at historical records and trying to piece it together, Harmsen says. “We know of a couple other shipwreck pieces that have come ashore in that area in the past and we are looking into those to see if they are related.”
But, determining which ship can claim this wreckage will be challenging, says Harmsen.
“Pretty much it’s like, trying to solve a puzzle where you’ve only got one piece and all the puzzles are mixed together.”