VERMILION — Divers from the Great Lakes Historical Society and the Cleveland Underwater Explorers group have located the remains of the General Anthony Wayne, a historic steamship, eight miles off the coast of the city’s downtown under 50 feet of water.
“It’s an incredibly historic find,” Great Lakes Historical Society Executive Director Chris Gillcrist said. “It’s one of the ships that we have been looking for, and it’s amazing to have found it.”
The passenger and freight ship sank in April 1850 after one of its boilers exploded while it was in transit from Sandusky to Cleveland.
The 156-foot ship, which was named after the famed Revolutionary War hero, was carrying about 93 passengers, including its crew, along with a load of cattle and several barrels of wine, according to Gillcrist. Based on historic accounts, it is believed that 38 people were killed when the ship sank, though no remains are believed to still be on board.
The finding was announced during a press conference at the Inland Seas Museum in Vermilion on Wednesday, where Tom Kowalczk of the Cleveland group that found the wreck, immediately dispelled a long-held rumor that the ship was filled with gold.
“Treasure-hunting divers in the early 1990s announced that they had found the wreck and that they were pulling up gold from its hull, but we have no reason to believe that the ship actually had any gold on it, and there is some reason to believe that those divers never actually found this ship,” Kowalczk said.
Kowalczk said details those treasure hunters released about the position of the ship on the lake’s floor don’t match up with what they found, and he has had plenty of time to inspect it after first locating the wreck in September.
“I was using sonar to search for the ship around where we figured it would be based on the historic reports around Sept. 10, when suddenly we came across the large signature side wheels on the ship on the monitor,” Kowalczk said. “I didn’t know for absolute sure, but somehow I just knew that it was the ship. It was really exciting, but I didn’t really know what to do. We couldn’t actually dive on the wreck until after the winter.”
Kowalczk, with help from members of the Cleveland group and from the Great Lakes Historical Society, started researching the ship over the winter, hoping that they had the right one.
Earlier this spring during their first dive to the wreck, divers were able to find several parts of the ship that match the historical description, further leading them to believe it is indeed the Anthony Wayne.
“We are 99 percent sure that it is the Anthony Wayne,” Kowalczk said. “Unfortunately, there aren’t plaques on the side of the hull to tell us.”
Future dives will help the two crews erase any doubt that it is the correct ship and once a full map of the area is drawn up, the groups will release the exact coordinates of the wreck to the public. In the meantime, the ship’s position is being kept secret so that treasure hunters don’t attempt to steal anything.
“The ship belongs to the residents of Ohio, and we want to make sure that everything that is down there now is preserved,” Gillcrist said. “The state will have to decide exactly what to do about her once the coordinates are released.”
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COURTESY GREAT LAKES HISTORICAL SOCIETY
The General Anthony Wayne