The cold, fresh waters of the Great Lakes are literally littered with shipwrecks – pieces of history capturing chapters of a time when transport by water was as important as transport by land.
Some, like the Syracuse, recall the Great Lakes’ sailing heyday, when goods and people routinely plied the lakes along well-used routes. The Syracuse, a two-masted schooner carrying a cargo of coal, sank in Lake Huron on Nov. 10, 1863.
Other shipwrecks speak to more recent times when steel behemoths like the 600-foot Cedarville, shepherding a cargo of limestone, collided with a Norwegian ship in the fog on May 7, 1967. Ten crew members died, and the ship, broken nearly in two, sank in more than a hundred feet of water.
The Syracuse and the Cedarville are among 1,500 shipwrecks submerged in Michigan waters, making up one-quarter of the estimated 6,000 wrecks found throughout the Great Lakes.
Now, thanks to the recently launched Michigan Shipwrecks StoryMap, it’s easy to learn about the mystery and tragedy surrounding these ships.
The Michigan Shipwrecks Public Web App goes even further, offering users a closer look at shipwrecks as well as the locations of lighthouses and boating access sites. Users can search for shipwrecks by name or location or customize and print their own PDF maps.
“This new tool gives divers, kayakers, snorkelers and armchair explorers a chance to learn more about these underwater archaeological sites and the circumstances that led to the shipwrecks,” said Sandra Clark, director of the Michigan History Center. “It’s a wonderfully interactive way to help people connect with this part of Michigan’s maritime history.”
The app map offers information about each ship, including:
The difficulty level of diving to the wreck.
Whether the wreck is accessible by kayak or canoe.
The circumstances of the sinking.
A description of the ship, with photos and drawings (if available).
The map also highlights Michigan’s underwater preserves and water trails.
Some wrecks, such as the wooden bulk freighter Daisy Day, lie in as little as 10 feet of water and are suitable for beginning divers and visible to paddlers and snorkelers.
Others, such as the Indiana, a propeller vessel that went down in Lake Superior in 1858, are in more than 100 feet of water and require advanced diving skills.
The map will be updated as more ships are discovered and more information becomes available.
Users may notice that some high-profile wrecks, such as the Carl D Bradley, which sank in Lake Michigan in November 1958, are not listed. Because crew members went down with these ships, they are considered underwater burial sites.
Clark reminds the public that Michigan law prohibits removal of any artifacts from shipwrecks.
“The wrecks on the Great Lakes bottomlands belong to the people of Michigan,” she said. “If everyone follows the rule of ’take only pictures and leave only bubbles,” we can ensure that these underwater time capsules will be available for future generations to explore, research and enjoy.”
Visit and explore both the storymap and public web app at Michigan.gov/ExploreShipwrecks.