Earlier this year, father-daughter duo Tim and Henley Wollak were out boating when they made an unexpected discovery: a 152-year-old shipwreck.
The outing started when Henley (aged 4 at the time) wanted to go swimming and look at rocks and sea glass around the southeast shore of Lake Michigan’s Green Island. As her dad wanted to go fishing, they struck a compromise – go to Henley’s favorite spot, and drive their boat very slowly so they could look for fish.
While looking at a fish-finding radar, they came across something a bit unusual. Henley originally believed they'd found an octopus, due to the shape looking like there were tentacles. Her father, however, thought it may be a shipwreck.
“At first when we saw it in the boat, I thought it was cool to see something like that," Wollak, 36, told USA TODAY. "At that time I didn’t know the magnitude of what it was.”
Tim took the photos to different Facebook groups and it eventually found its way to the Maritime Preservation and Archaeology Program, which is part of the Wisconsin Historical Society. On December 4, 2023, the Wisconsin Historical Society worked with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to investigate the shipwreck using a remotely operated vehicle equipped with a video camera.
They discovered that the wreck was a wooden three-masted sailing ship, submerged in 8 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) of water, and now believe it to be the remains of the George L. Newman, which was originally constructed in 1855 in the Black River, Ohio. On the evening of October 8, 1871, the ship ran aground after difficulty seeing through the smoke billowing from the Peshtigo fire – one of the most devastating fires in US history, with over 1,200 lives lost.
The smoke from the fire was so thick that the lighthouse keeper nearby had to keep the light on during the day. After sailing blind and running onto the shoals of Green Island, the keeper was able to help rescue the crew, who stayed at the lighthouse for a week after the incident as they attempted to salvage as much as possible from the wrecked vessel.
The ship was then abandoned, covered in sand, and forgotten until Henley and Tim Wollak re-discovered it in August 2023.
The Wisconsin Historical Society Maritime Preservation and Archaeology Program hopes to survey the wreck in the coming spring, planning to assess the site as a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.