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Lake Michigan shipwreck preservation: Romance! History! Bad Luck!
Lake Michigan Shipwrecks

Lake Michigan shipwreck preservation: Romance! History! Bad Luck!


Of death these jolly lads

Never once did dream

Bravehearts sailed under canvas

Bravehearts sailed in the steam

Lost on Lake Michigan

The failed to reach the shore

The gallant ship and crew

Will sail the lake no more.

-- Author unknown

Visitors to Indiana's latest nature preserve will have to work a little harder than most sight-seers to take in the attraction.

Last fall, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources dedicated the J.D. Marshall Preserve, a Lake Michigan shipwreck site due north of the pavilion at the Indiana Dunes State Park beach in Chesterton.

Under state law, nature preserves may also be created to preserve cultural history.

"Not only is it a piece of history, but it is a piece of our cultural history," Mike Molnar, director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources' Lake Michigan Coastal Program, said.

Dan Bortner, director of Indiana State Parks and Reserves, said at the dedication ceremony in September, the site will be used to preserve and teach about the maritime history on Indiana's portion of the Lake Michigan shoreline, "in a way that's never been done before."

The J.D. Marshall was built in 1891 in South Haven, Mich., and converted from a timber hauler to a sand barge in 1910 after its sister ship, the Muskegon, burned and sank near Mount Baldy in Michigan City.

On June 11, 1911, the J.D. Marshall was taking on water. A storm blew up and the ship capsized, trapping three crew members beneath it and killing them along with one other crew member.

Mate Martin Donahue, Fireman Gus Jake, Assistant Engineer Charles Langeman and Seaman John Wisemann died in the shipwreck.

The wreckage was discovered in 1970 by an early explorer of Lake Michigan shipwrecks. The ship was raised in 1982 by salvage crews from Michigan who planned to sell it for scrap. The crew was sopped by conservation police, but not until after the propeller and other pieces had already been removed.

As conservation officers from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources were investigating the scrapping operation, the lines holding the ship broke, sending it plunging back into Lake Michigan.

The rudder and deck were recovered and have been preserved in Michigan City. The propeller is on display outside the pavilion at Indiana Dunes State Park.

Indiana Dunes State Park staff developed the program "Tragedy Beneath The Waves" and are using it to tell the story of the J.D Marshall. Plans are also underway for the site to be added to the Duneland Chamber of Commerce's Beyond the Beach Trail.

The 100-acre preserve will be open for diving and fishing beginning this spring, but precautions will be in place to try to prevent treasure-hunters from removing items from the wreckage and to keep boat anchors from damaging it.

Molnar said he was proud to finally get the preserve approved.

"Three times in the last 30 years, when management plans were made, nothing was done," Molnar said. "They just sat on the shelf."


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