Over a century ago, in October 1898, the L.R. Doty, a 300-foot-long wooden steamship was carrying a cargo of corn from South Chicago, Illinois to Ontario, Canada. A fierce storm on Lake Michigan that produced heavy winds, snow, sleet and waves as high as 30 feet caused the steamship to sink.
By all accounts, the Doty should have been able to withstand the storm. The ship was a mere five years old and its massive hull was reinforced with steel arches. But, it had a weakness. It was towing a small schooner, the Olive Jeanette. The schooner began to founder in the storm and the tow line snapped. Experts believe the Doty sank when it came to the aid of the Olive Jeanette. All 17 of the ships crew members, and two ship's cats, Dewey and Watson, perished when the ship sank.
Until now, the Doty was the largest wooden ship still unaccounted for. The ship was discovered in the Milwaukee-area shoreline and appears to be completely intact having been preserved by the cold fresh waters.
In 1991, a Milwaukee fisherman reported snagging his nets on an underwater obstruction about 300 feet down. His report was forgotten until diving technology improved to allow exploration at such a depth. In recent months, researchers conducted preliminary surface scouting, then used deep-sea technology to finally find the massive wreckage. Last week, divers were able to go into the waters. Immediately, they knew they had the Doty.
The Doty is sitting upright and completely intact--including the cargo of corn in the hold--in the clay at the bottom of Lake Michigan. The ship has been protected for the last 112 years because of the cold waters of Lake Michigan and its depth shielded it from storms. Brandon Baillod, president of the Wisconsin Underwater Archaeology Association who worked on this find believes the bodies of the 17 crew members are likely intact as well, mostly likely in the boiler room where they believes they probably went as the ship sank.
Baillod believes the rudder chain must have snapped when the Doty was turning to assist the Olive Jeanette leaving the massive steamship at the mercy of the storm. He imagines the crew must have had at least an hour of knowing they were going to die in the icy Lake Michigan waters before the cargo holds collapsed.
There are no plans to raise the Doty. Doing so would probably be more harm than good. As it sits, the ship is protected by the cold Lake Michigan waters and its depth in them. Raised, the ship would be exposed to air that could cause it to rot away within a few years. Diver interference isn't something the Doty must worry over either. The depth of the ship guarantees that few divers will visit it because of the amount of experience one must have to make such a deep and dangerous dive.
For more information, to see an underwater photo of The Doty and to read about Brandon Baillod's next project, please visit the MSNBC.com Technology and Science Article.
Update: More spectacular underwater photographs of The Doty, courtesy of John Scoles, can be seen at this link. The photographs are amazing quality; very clear and you really get a great look at this amazing find.