Mysterious shipwreck reveals its secrets: Wreck may be Lake Erie’s oldest

A shipwreck discovered in Lake Erie in 2015 may be the oldest found in the famous lake, experts say.

The wreck was first spotted on a sonar screen by Tom Kowalczk, a member of the Cleveland Underwater Explorers. Subsequent dives to the ship, which sank in Ohio waters, have provided intriguing new details about the vessel. Researchers have also been trawling through historical records to gain fresh insight into the schooner.

Shipwreck hunters spent eight days this summer unearthing and examining the remains of the ship. Experts now believe that the ship is the Lake Serpent, which sank nearly two centuries ago.

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Built in Cleveland in 1821, the Lake Serpent carried cargo for 8 years until its sinking in late September or early October 1829. It's not clear what caused the ship to sink, though some experts believe it may have been the result of a bad storm.

This Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, photo provided by Cleveland Underwater Explorers Inc. shows the remains of a shipwreck believed to be the Lake Serpent. (David M VanZandt/Cleveland Underwater Explorers Inc. via AP)

This Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, photo provided by Cleveland Underwater Explorers Inc. shows the remains of a shipwreck believed to be the Lake Serpent. (David M VanZandt/Cleveland Underwater Explorers Inc. via AP)

That would make the wreckage the oldest ever found in the shallowest of the Great Lakes.

Newspaper reports from the time have provided vital clues. On Oct. 8, 1829, the Cleveland Weekly Herald reported that the Lake Serpent had left four weeks earlier to get stone from Put-In-Bay on Lake Erie’s South Bass Island. “The newspaper was able to confirm that the Lake Serpent had loaded the stone at Put-In-Bay, but hadn’t been seen since,” noted the Cleveland Underwater Explorers on their website.

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There is, however, some debate among the marine archaeologists and shipwreck hunters who are trying to identify the wreck about how confident they are it is indeed the Lake Serpent. Nonetheless, the National Museum of the Great Lakes recently released the results of its research into the shipwreck. There are several signs to suggest that it is the missing schooner, they say.

Divers determined the wreck's size and stone cargo point to it being Lake Serpent, and they uncovered what appears to be a carving at the ship's bow, the museum said. Historical records show the Lake Serpent had a serpent's head carved near the front — an unusual feature for a vessel of that era.

The site also seems to be near where the Lake Serpent was thought to go down near Kelleys Island off the Ohio shoreline.

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Kowalczk said he's pretty confident the wreck is the Lake Serpent because there are enough findings that line up. "We haven't found anything that says it's something different," he said.

It was reported that the bodies of the Lake Serpent’s captain and his brother, Ezra and Robert Wright, washed ashore in Lorain County, Ohio in the first week of October 1829.

Lake Erie is a graveyard for hundreds of vessels taken down by violent storms that can whip up in a hurry. Many have been found in recent years by a small, dedicated band from the museum and the Cleveland Underwater Explorers club.

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The Great Lakes continue to reveal their shipwreck secrets. Earlier this year, for example, experts announced the discovery of the 119-year-old shipwreck Margaret Olwill at the bottom of Lake Erie. The wooden steam barge sank during an 1899 nor’easter.

In May 2008, two explorers discovered the British warship HMS Ontario, which was lost in Lake Ontario in 1780. The Ontario is the oldest shipwreck ever found in the Great Lakes and the only British warship of this period still in existence in the world.

Later that year, the explorers - Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville, also discovered a rare 19th-century schooner sitting upright 500 feet under the waves of Lake Ontario.

In 2016, Kennard was also part of a team of underwater explorers that discovered the second-oldest confirmed shipwreck in the Great Lakes. The Washington, an American-built, Canadian-owned sloop sank in Lake Ontario during a fierce storm in 1803.

Fox News' Robert Gearty and The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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