Beyond the realm of historical fact and physical evidence, rumors, legends and stories of shipwrecks abound in the Grand Island area. 30 ships are known to have gone down in the area of the Pictured Rocks. Of these, nearly half remain undiscovered.
An early example is the supposed discovery of the shipwreck MERCHANT. Someone claimed to have spotted the tops of the schooner’s masts some 30 feet below the lake’s surface five years after it disappeared, but the MERCHANT remains undiscovered to this day and is the subject of a continuous search.
Off Wood Island, fisherman have reported snagging their nets on something on the bottom, and others have seen unusual shapes on their depthfinders which they believed to be the masts of a sunken vessel. Another schooner is reputed to lie offshore from Miners Castle, hidden in a lake-bottom canyon and nearly invisible to depthfinders.
A mysterious tree was found amid the wreckage of the wooden freighter HERMAN H. HETTLER in Munising’s east channel. Captain Pete Lindquist of Munising sent samples of the wood for carbon dating. The laboratory results showed an age of 7910 years plus or minus l00 years, but provided no clue as to why a nearly 8000 year old tree would be found amid the remains of a 1926 shipwreck.
The wreck of the KIOWA is the site of another riddle. A large framing member from a wooden vessel was found among the steamer’s steel wreckage. The source is unknown. There are no known vessels within 10 miles of the KIOWA.
Many recorded shipwrecks in the Munising area are still undiscovered. Some may have been covered by the shifting sands and are rarely visible. Someday they may be found.
HENRY B. SMITH – Steel steamer, 525 ft., 6631 gt., went missing with all hands somewhere between Marquette and Grand Island, November 9, 1913. FOUND! The ship was finally located in the spring of 2013 after being lost for 100 years. It sits in 535 feet of water 30 miles north of Marquette, MI.
STARLIGHT – Wooden sail yacht, under 50 ft., lost in a gale off Au Train, September 29, 1880 with 5 hands. This wreck may yet be found. It probably lies in or just off Au Train Bay based upon its course and wreckage field.
A.A. PARKER – Wooden steamer, 246 ft., 1660 gt., foundered September 19, 1903 in a gale 4 miles off of Grand Marais. This wreck has yet to be found despite sinking in a known location at a diveable depth.
ALTA – Wooden schooner, 198 ft., 935 gt., broke up on a shoal on Southeast Grand Island October 19, 1905. The Alta remains undiscovered despite intensive searches. She is thought to lie off of Trout Point.
SOUTH SHORE – Wooden steamer, 84 ft., 73 gt., overwhelmed by a gale and broke up 100 yards offshore, 7 miles West of Grand Marias, November 24, 1912. Although this wreck’s general location is known, her remains have yet to be found.
WOOD ISLAND – Wooden tug, 45 ft., burned and sank 1 and 1/2 miles off Five Mile Point in about 60 ft. of water on September 9, 1922. Although her general location is fairly well known, the remains of this vessel have yet to be found.
UNION – Wooden propeller, 434 gt., 163 ft., broke up on the beach at Au Sable Point, September 25, 1873. General location is known, but she is likely buried in sand just off the beach.
ONEIDA CHIEF – Wooden schooner, 262 gt., approximately 120 ft., broke up on shore at Au Sable Point, May 1868.The general location of this wreck is known, but she is probably buried in the sand just off the beach.
MARQUETTE – Wooden schooner, 131 ft., 400 gt., blown up on beach across from and West of Grand Island, November 13, 1872. The general location of this wreck is known, but her remains are probably buried in the sand just off the beach.
E.A. MAYES – Wooden schooner, approximately 140 ft., sunk by ice 7 mi. off Grand Island, May 10, 1884. This wreck is probably in very deep water as she was bound for Thunder Bay, Canada when lost.
CRUISER – Small wooden sail yacht, under 40 ft., swamped at Chapel Rock, August 21, 1890. General location is known, but this vessel probably broke up on the rocks and is widely scattered.
ORIOLE – Wooden schooner, 141 ft., 323 gt., cut in half in a collision with the steamer Illinois August 9, 1862 a good distance off Grand Island. Her bow remained afloat for some days, but her stern sank immediately. All 13 aboard perished with her. Her remains are likely in deep water.
CULLIGAN – Wooden steamer, 263 ft., 1748 gt., sunk within a few miles Northwest of Grand Island due to leakage, September 27, 1912. The Culligan has not yet been located, but she may be in very deep water.
Information about the mystery wrecks from Brendon Baillod, Great Lakes Shipwreck Research, reprinted with permission.
Much of this information is from the book Dangerous Coast: Pictured Rocks Shipwrecks by Fred Stonehouse and Daniel Fountain. Photos from the Fred Stonehouse Collection.