A father and his 6-year-old daughter discovered a century-old shipwreck while on a fishing trip in Lake Michigan

A father and his 6-year-old daughter discovered a century-old shipwreck while on a fishing trip in Lake Michigan

Unknown/WI Department of Natural Resources

The shipwreck matches details from a ship that sank during the Peshtigo Fire, an 1871 forest fire that killed more than 1,200 people.


When Tim Wolak’s 6-year-old daughter saw something unusual for the first time while fishing in Lake Michigan, she thought it was an octopus.

But the unusual thing they discovered off Green Island, Wisconsin, over the summer turned out to be something even rarer: a never-before-seen shipwreck that sank in 1871.

Wolak and his daughter Henley, who live in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, often spend time together fishing, according to CNN affiliate WLUK. Henley told WLUK that she loves collecting rocks and sea glass while her father fishes.

The couple was “just kind of driving,” he told WLUK. “And there he was.”

While Henley immediately thought the strange sight was a “rare” Green Bay octopus, her father realized it looked like a shipwreck.

“I was surprised that I hadn’t seen it before because it’s in an area where people go regularly,” Wolak said, according to WLUK.

After discovering the wreck, Wolak began searching to see if he could identify the ship. None had previously been marked in that area, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Facebook post.

Eventually, he reached out to the Historical Society’s Marine Conservation and Archeology Program to help continue his research, his Facebook post said.

On December 4, crews with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Conservation Mike Neal used a remotely operated vehicle to investigate the shipwreck.

They were able to see a three-masted wooden sailing ship, about 8 to 10 feet in the water, according to the association.

The association said that while officials have not yet been able to identify the ship, the location and available data match that of the George L. Newman.

This ship was built in Ohio in 1855 and was 122 feet long.

The association said the ship was wrecked on October 8, 1871, while sailing through thick smoke from the Great Peshtigo Fire — the deadliest wildfire in U.S. history. The crew was rescued by a lighthouse keeper, and they remained at the lighthouse for a week while salvaging what they could from the shipwreck.

The association said the ship had been “abandoned, covered in sand, and largely forgotten” until it was discovered by the Wolak couple.

Wollak told WLUK he’s not sure how future fishing trips with his daughter will compare to their exciting discovery.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

During the spring, the Wisconsin Historical Society plans to survey the wreck further.

“I don’t know how we can top it,” Tim Wolak said. “I told her I’m pretty sure no one else at her school has found a shipwreck that hasn’t been recorded before… I guess we’ll have to fish more and see if we can find more shipwrecks.”

In the spring, the Wisconsin Historical Society will survey and evaluate the wreck for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Wollaks’ discovery comes just a few months after the discovery of another long-lost shipwreck in Lake Michigan. The schooner Trinidad, built in 1867 and wrecked in 1881, was discovered earlier this year, the historical society announced in September.

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