Marty Lutz of Warren explores the wreckage of the Keystone State in the deep waters of Lake Huron. Two 40-foot-tall side wheels are to his right. The steamer went missing in stormy waters in Lake Huron near Port Austin in 1861. It was rumored to have carried Civil War armament on a run from Detroit to Milwaukee. (Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press)
Detroit (Free Press) -- The Keystone State was in trouble.
waves slammed into the wooden steamer's sides as it rocked in the water
near Port Austin under the weight of a powerful November storm.
And then it was gone, swallowed up by Lake Huron that day in 1861, claiming the lives of all 33 on board.
The ship's final resting place was a mystery for 150 years.
today, veteran shipwreck hunter David Trotter, 72, of Canton plans to
announce he and his crew found the side-wheel steamer in July at the
bottom of Lake Huron - the latest in the nearly 100 vessels Trotter has
discovered in more than 35 years of Great Lakes shipwreck hunting.
Trotter - who will announce the discovery on his website, www.shipwreck1.com - said he didn't think he'd ever find the Keystone State.
expectations were diminished because there was no reason to think she
was this far north and in the middle of the lake," Trotter said.
The ship was among the largest steamers of its time. According to
some historians, it might have sunk with its crew while secretly hauling
Civil War supplies.
The Keystone State also was notable for
helping European immigrants settle in the Midwest during the mid-19th
Century, according to maritime historian C. Patrick Labadie. He said its
discovery can shed light on ship construction methods of the era and
how people used to travel.
"This one stands out," Labadie said. "It's a unique wreck."
Keystone State was built in Buffalo, N.Y., and launched in 1849, when
most shipbuilders didn't use written plans. It was just under 300 feet
long and had twin stacks, a walking beam engine and giant paddle wheels
on either side that were nearly 40 feet in diameter.
It was the
second-largest steamship on the Great Lakes at the time and was among a
class known as palace steamers, said maritime historian, author and
artist Robert McGreevy.
"The interiors were made to look like the
finest hotels. They were quite beautiful inside," he said. "They had
leaded glass windows and carved arches and mahogany trim."
with posh accommodations for the wealthy, its steerage had plenty of
space for immigrant travelers heading from Buffalo to destinations like
Chicago or Milwaukee. Records show the boat also had room for 6,000
barrels of freight.
An economic downturn in 1857 sidelined the
Keystone State and other similar ships, which were deemed too expensive
to operate. Some were scrapped. Railroads had been expanding, offering
more ways to travel and move goods.
"But when the Civil War
started in 1861, all these ships that were laid up, all of a sudden they
were worth a fortune again," McGreevy said. "(The Keystone State) was
pulled out of storage in 1861, refurbished and sent to Detroit to pick
up a cargo that was already waiting for her."
The Keystone State set out from Detroit, bound for Milwaukee, around Nov. 9, 1861.
manifest listed iron hardware, farm implements and barrels of grain.
But some believe those words disguised the real cargo: munition or other
Civil War supplies.
"It was an emergency shipment," McGreevy
said. "It was in November, and usually a ship like this would not make
an urgent trip the full length of the Great Lakes that late in the year.
... There was a lot of southern sympathy in Michigan at the start of
the Civil War, and there was a real threat of sabotage."
are skeptical. Wayne Lusardi, state maritime archaeologist, said it
seems unlikely that the ship would have carried munition in a direction
away from the conflict at a time when many didn't expect the war to last
beyond a few more months.
For several days, no one realized the
ship had sunk, Trotter said. Then debris was spotted by another ship and
later washed ashore near Lexington.
The ship wasn't carrying any lifeboats, a curious detail that could point to the urgency of its final voyage.
Using a side-scan sonar device on Trotter's 32-foot powerboat - the
Obsession Too - he and his team found the shipwreck the weekend after
The zebra mussel-covered wreck is in nearly 175 feet of
water, 25-30 miles northeast of Harrisville. Trotter said the location
is 40-50 miles from where the ship was last seen on the surface.
Crew members made 30 dives on the site from July through September.
stern is kind of broken up and crumbled. The boilers are in good
condition, the engine is in good condition," said diver Marty Lutz, 56,
of Warren. "The wheels are both standing. ... It was pretty amazing to
see those sitting upright on the bottom like that."
video for DVDs that Trotter will sell online and use in presentations as
part of his Great Lakes Adventure Series program. Trotter has a
surveying company, Undersea Research Associates.
"It's the sense
of discovery, the sense of exploration. It's always been a passion of
mine to find things that no one has found before," he said.
excitement about the discovery was tinged with disappointment. Divers
didn't find any cargo or the gold that was rumored to be on board,
"We still haven't unlocked the key to what her intent was at the time she left Detroit," he said.
experts believe the crew may have jettisoned the cargo in a panicked,
desperate attempt to save the doomed ship. McGreevy said the only way to
know what the Keystone State contained would be to search the vast area
believed to be its final route.
"I think it's going to remain one of the mysteries of the Great Lakes," he said.
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