GREEN BAY, Wis. — Wisconsin archaeologists are crediting a man and daughter with discovering the remains of what could be a ship that ran aground during the deadly Peshtigo Fire more than 150 years ago.
Tim Wollak and his 6-year-old daughter, Henley, of Peshtigo, were fishing on Lake Michigan in the bay of Green Bay near Green Island in August when their sonar picked up something Henley thought was an octopus, WLUK-TV reported Wednesday.
Wollak posted photos of the sonar images on Facebook, which eventually drew the attention of the Wisconsin Historical Society. The society posted a note Monday on Facebook saying an underwater remote vehicle surveyed the site Dec. 4 and confirmed the object is the wreck of a three-masted sailing ship submerged in 8 to 10 feet of water.
Archaeologists believe the ship may be the 122-foot-long George L. Newman. The ship was hauling lumber from Little Suamico on the evening of Oct. 8, 1871, when it became enveloped in thick smoke from the Peshtigo Fire and ran aground on the southeast point of Green Island.
The keeper of the island’s lighthouse rescued the crew, according to the historical society’s tweet, but the ship was abandoned and was eventually covered with sand and forgotten.
The historical society plans to survey the wreck again in the spring of 2024 and may push to list the site on the National Register of Historic Places.
“I don’t know how we top it,” Wollak told WLUK. “I told her (Henley) I’m pretty sure there’s no one else in her school that has ever found a shipwreck that nobody had recorded before ... I guess we’ll just have to fish more and see if we can find more shipwrecks.”
The National Weather Service ranks the Peshtigo Fire as the most devastating forest fire in U.S. history, claiming more than 1,200 lives.
According to survivor accounts, railroad workers clearing land for tracks started a brush fire Oct. 8, 1871, that grew into an inferno that scorched between 1.2 million and 1.5 million acres. The fire skipped east over the waters of Green Bay and set fire to parts of Door and Kewaunee counties.
The city of Peshtigo was consumed in an hour, according to the National Weather Service’s website. Sixteen other towns burned as well.