TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Even for Thunder Bay, a dangerous stretch of northern Lake Huron off the Michigan coast that has swallowed many ships, the Ironton’s fate seems particularly grim.
The 191-foot (58 m) freighter collided with a grain carrier on a blustery night in September 1894, sinking both. The captain of the Ironton and six sailors climbed into a lifeboat, but it sank to the bottom before they could pull it from the ship. Only two crew members survived.
The tomb had long eluded wreck hunters.
Now, the mystery has been solved, officials at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Michigan, said Wednesday. The Associated Press obtained details of the discovery ahead of the announcement.
A team of historians, underwater archaeologists and technicians located the wreckage in 2019 and deployed remote-controlled cameras to track and document it, Superintendent Jeff Gray said in an interview with the AP.
The sanctuary plans to reveal the site in the coming months and is considering placing a mooring buoy at the site. Officials kept the find a secret to prevent divers from disturbing the site before video and photo documentation was complete.
The video shows the Ironton sitting upright on the lake floor, hundreds of feet below — “remarkably preserved” by the cold, fresh water like many other Great Lakes wrecks, Gray said.
No human remains were seen. But the lifeboat remains tied to the larger vessel, a poignant confirmation of testimony from 128 years ago.
“Archaeologists study things to learn about the past. But they are not really things we study. they’re human,” Gray said. “And that lifeboat … it really connects you to the location and reminds you of how powerful the lakes are and what it must have been like to work in them and lose people in them.”
Various organizations were involved in the search and inspections, including the Ocean Exploration Trust, founded by Robert Ballard, who located the sunken wrecks of the Titanic and the German battleship Bismarck.
“We hope this discovery contributes to an element of closure for the extended families of those lost in Ironton and the communities affected by its loss,” Ballard said. “Ironton is another piece of the puzzle of Alpena’s fascinating place in America’s trading history,” while the Thunder Bay shelter “continues to reveal lost chapters of maritime history.”
Nearly 200 shipwrecks are believed to be in or near the boundaries of the sanctuary, which includes the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena and about 4,300 square miles (11,137 square kilometers) of northwestern Lake Huron.
A number of factors made the area a “wreck lane” for more than two centuries, until modern navigation and weather forecasting reduced the risk, said Stephanie Gandulla, the refuge’s resource conservation coordinator.
(tagsTo be translated)wreck