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Perfectly Preserved Shipwreck Found in Lake Superior

A team has found the The J.S. Seaverns which sank in Michipicoten harbor in 1884 with its hull intact and dishes still on the shelves

smithsonian.com

One night in May, 1884, crewmen aboard the 130-foot cargo ship J.S. Seaverns unloaded food and supplies in the tiny port of Michipicoten on the northeast coast of Lake Superior, including supplies for the Canadian Pacific Railway. By all accounts, reports Andrew Krueger of Forum News Service, it was a clear night. But soon after the ship shoved away from dock, they had a problem. James Campbell, one of the people aboard the ship, reported later that “in backing out we struck a rock, putting a hole in her.”

The ship made a valiant effort to cross the seven-mile harbor but only made it halfway. The Seaverns sunk, but its 15 crew and 45 passengers survived. Krueger reports that there was talk of trying to salvage the ship and its cargo, but the efforts never materialized. The ship was all but forgotten until this past summer, when a group of ship wreck enthusiasts tracked down the Seaverns. They found the wreck on the bottom of the big lake, still in beautiful condition.

Dan Fountain of Negaunee, Michigan, first learned about the wreck over a decade ago when perusing nautical charts. He saw a little symbol denoting a wreck in Michipicoten Bay, though Krueger reports that the chart noted the wreck as the "Saffern." He tried to research the ship but came up empty. It wasn’t until Fountain came across a reference to the Seaverns that he connected the two.

It took several years of research, but Fountain believed he had pinpointed the area where the ship went down. So on July 28, he joined four other wreck divers and spent half a day running sonar to find the wreck. When they located the ship, they sent down a remote camera and found that the vessel is still in remarkable shape.

“The Seaverns sank in rather benign conditions. It was a calm day, it wasn’t a violent wreck. It went down rather smoothly, apparently... It settled on an even keel on the bottom,” Fountain tells Gary Rinne at Sudbury.com. “It really is unusual to see anything in that kind of shape.”

Several divers visited the ship to check it out. “As you're descending the anchor line to get to it, it’s just kind of the unknown,” Nick Lintgen, a shipwreck diver from New Hope, Minnesota, tells Krueger. “And then you get there, and it was in such great condition ... [it’s] just kind of general awe, initially seeing it.”

Though the upper cabins are damaged, the hull is still intact. Dishes are still sitting on shelves and chairs are arranged around the rooms. The anchors still sit on the deck and the ship's wheel is visible, leaning against the wreck.

The team is not disclosing the wreck's location yet to protect the site. “All we're really saying about it is, it is divable…what any certified agency would consider deep-air diving,” Fountain tells Rinne. “There’s a possibility that this wreck could be pillaged.”

The team says they plan to return to the Seaverns next year to survey the wreck more and take photos.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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