June 2006 12 / OutdoorIllinois June 2006 OutdoorIllinois / 13
tion on classes and accessing wrecks.
The latest Lake Michigan wreck, the
steel ferry The Straits of Mackinac, was
intentionally sunk in April 2003 and is
providing scientists and recreational
divers an opportunity to observe how
aquatic creatures colonize a new habitat.
“Within weeks of sinking, divers were
observing fish in and around the ship,”
said Patrick Hammer, owner of Scuba
Emporium and one of the forces behind
the project to receive state and federal
clearance to scuttle The Straits of Mack-inac
as a dive site. “The food chain
started developing almost immediately,
with small perch, bass and crayfish
quickly finding protective cover inside
the wreck. It also didn’t take long for
zebra mussels to start attaching to the
ship and divers are keeping a vigilant
eye on the boat’s hull and recording the
rate of infestation.”
“While there is no active search taking
place, we know a number of unexplored
wrecks exist—some we know the loca-tion
of, others we have vague history on,”
Kohl explained. “We’ve yet to find the
location of many of the old ships filled
with garbage in the 1920s and 1930s and
scuttled 8 to 12 miles off shore.”
And the dive sites are not restricted
to ships in Lake Michigan.
Kohl elaborated: “At several locations
in the Great Lakes, including a site off
Chicago’s shoreline, petrified tree
stumps stand—remnants of forests pre-sent
more than 7,500 years ago, some-time
after glaciers sculpted the land now
known as Illinois. Scattered throughout
the lake are at least 150 World War II
planes, put there by pilots unsuccessful
get much better than when I come up
from a dive and look back at the sun
setting behind the gorgeous Chicago
in their aircraft landing training. And 21
miles off shore, in 251 feet of water, sits
a World War I UC-97 German subma-rine,
a ship used to raise War Bonds but
destroyed as a stipulation of the Treaty
“Diving on shipwrecks isn’t for the
faint-hearted as you usually are moving
around in a cold, dark environment,”
Kohl concluded. “But I always emerge
with a smile on my face and a great
sense of accomplishment. No matter
where in the world I go diving, life can’t
Shipwrecks—the physical structure and
artifacts in and around it—are protect-ed
by federal and state laws, and wrecks
in Illinois waters more than 50 years old
belong to the state. While diving is permit-ted
on such shipwrecks, removing, disturb-ing
or damaging any part of the shipwreck
or the associated artifacts is prohibited by
state and federal laws and subject to vari-ous
criminal and civil penalties.
Covered under the federal Abandoned
Shipwreck Act of 1987 are the wrecks and
artifacts on the bottom of the 1 million acres
of Lake Michigan Illinois owns. In 1990 as
the Chief Archaeologist with the Illinois His-toric
Preservation, Tom Emenson authored
the state Archaeological and Paleontologi-cal
Act. Now an Adjunct Professor in
anthropology with the University of Illinois
and director of the Illinois Transportation
Archaeology Research Program, Emenson
explained that in Illinois, shipwrecks are
considered archaeological resources and
receive protections similar to historic and
prehistoric human skeletal remains,
mounds, earthworks, forts and village sites.
Built in 1873, the 201-foot, three-masted
schooner the Wells Burt sank during a storm
in May 1883. The 11 crew and a load of coal
were lost. The boat sits in 38 to 45 feet of water
approximately 3 miles east of Evanston.
On July 29, 1936 after foundering with a
load of sand and gravel, 15 of the 22 crew on
board lost their lives when the 239-foot Materi-al
Services barge sank 7 years after it was
launched. Today, the nearly intact barge lies in
22 to 38 feet of water about 2,000 feet north-east
of the Calumet Harbor Light.
Near Chicago’s Clark Point Shoal and Rain-bow
Park, 2.5 miles north- northwest of the
Calumet Harbor Light, is the Tacoma. The 73-
foot-long wooden steam-powered tug sank in
1929 and lies 27 to 35 feet beneath the surface.
Resting on the lake bed, at a depth of nearly
85 feet, is the 1889 wooden steamer the Rotari-an.
After being abandoned as a sailing vessel,
the Rotarian was docked and used as a Chica-go
dance hall and restaurant. It was scuttled in
1931 8.2 miles east-northeast of the Chicago
harbor entrance to Lake Michigan.
The most recent Chicago-area shipwreck,
the 196-foot-long steel car and passenger
ferry The Straits of Mackinac, was scuttled in
78 feet of water at 4:10 p.m. on April 10, 2003.
The ship is located approximately 10 miles
north of Navy Pier.
Holly Barge is 120 feet long, 27 feet wide
and 12 feet high and sits upright on the bottom
in about 33 feet of water. Approximately 2 miles
from Chicago, it was purposely sank in May
2000 approximately 150 feet from another
wreck, the 1906 Illinois. A hydraulic sand
dredge, the Illinois sank by the early 1930s and
has failed the test of time and wave action,
being strewn across the lake floor.
After years of service as a sailing
vessel, the 1889 Rotarian was docked
and used as dance hall and restaurant.
Bottles remain in the boat 75 years
after it was scuttled.
A dive on the tug Tacoma offers every-thing
from scores of gobies peeking
from holes within the zebra mussel-encrusted
boiler to panoramic views of
the double expansion steam engine
beneath the shadow of the dive boat.
After a day under water, divers can
pause to admire a spectacular Chicago
Whether floating above shipwrecks or
penetrating the hull after earning
advanced certifications, divers absorb
a historical perspective of Illinois.
Want to learn more?
The Underwater Archaeological Soci-ety
(UASC) of Chicago holds monthly
meetings at the John G. Shedd Aquarium
in Chicago. Members and invited presen-ters
share their expertise on Lake Michi-gan
shipwrecks and history, and provide
updates on survey and research projects.
For information, visit www.chicagosite.
org/uasc.htm or write the Underwater
Archaeological Society of Chicago, P.O.
Box 11752, Chicago, IL 60611.
Check with your local dive shop for
more information on Lake Michigan
shipwrecks and training to make your
dive a safe and enjoyable experience. In
planning a trip, ask for maps of the
wrecks prepared by UASC.
(Photo by Dan Kashberger.)
(Photos by Tony Kiefer.)
(Photos by Tony Kiefer.)
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