The wreckage of one of the oldest lost ship mysteries on Lake Michigan was discovered this summer when shipwreck hunters from Minnesota found the Pere Marquette 18 roughly 500 feet below the water's surface. The giant railroad car ferry that sank 110 years ago this month was located just 25 miles off the coast of Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
In the early morning hours of September 9, 1910, the wireless operator aboard the Pere Marquette 18 began frantically tapping, "Carferry 18 sinking – help." Help did arrive, but 29 of the 62 people on board were killed in the disaster.
Curiously, despite numerous witnesses, shipwreck hunters had been unable to locate the wreckage and find an explanation for why the Pere Marquette began taking on water that fateful morning. When the pumps of the ship could not keep pace of the incoming water, the crew managed to jettison four fully loaded freight cars into the lake.
"Picture the desperation of those men, pushing cars that weighed a ton off the back of the vessel by hand — knowing it was perhaps the only way they could not only save the ship, but their lives," maritime historian Fred Stonehouse said.
While the discovery by hunters Jerry Eliason and Ken Merryman is remarkable, it will likely do little to explain the cause of the tragedy. The stern is buried deep in the lake bottom — a sign that the sinking was fast and violent — with the bow sticking up out of the ground at nearly a 40-degree angle and rising almost 100 feet off the bottom of the lake.
"It's a lot steeper than any other wreck we've seen," Eliason said.