A Wisconsin fisherman finds the wreck of a missing 152-year-old ship and continues fishing

A Wisconsin fisherman finds the wreck of a missing 152-year-old ship and continues fishing

Tim Wolak and his 5-year-old daughter, Henley.
Tim Wolak

  • When a Wisconsin fisherman found a 152-year-old shipwreck, he didn’t think much of it.
  • Tim Wolak was fishing with his daughter in Green Bay when his FishFinder showed something unusual underwater.
  • Months later, he learned he had discovered a long-lost wreck.

A Wisconsin father who accidentally discovered a 152-year-old shipwreck says when he first spotted it on his FishFinder, he assumed it was nothing special and kept fishing.

Tim Wolak, a 36-year-old salesman from Peshtigo, Wisconsin, told Business Insider that he made the discovery while out fishing in about 8 to 10 feet of water with his 5-year-old daughter near Green Bay Island in Green Bay one afternoon in August. .

Wollak noticed something unusual with his FishFinder sonar, so he moved his boat to get a better look at it.

The sinking ship as it appeared on Wolak’s screen.
Tim Wolak

Wolak told BI that the way the object appeared on the screen of the tiny device made his daughter Henley (who loves The Little Mermaid) think it was an octopus.

But Wolak noticed that the planks looked almost “like a human ribcage,” and immediately assumed they were some kind of sunken boat.

Sonar image of the wreck taken by the Department of Natural Resources.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

“To be honest, when we saw it, I thought it was cool. But we were in an area that people go to all the time, so I assumed people knew about it,” Wolak told BI.

“So I took some pictures and sent some friends to see if they knew about it, which they didn’t,” he added. “We looked at it and then took off and went looking for fish somewhere else. We didn’t really think much of it.”

Wallack did not realize the importance of his discovery until several months later.

Wollak posted about his discovery on a local Facebook page called Forgotten Wisconsin a few months later, writing that he thought it was the wreck of a ship called the Erie L. Hackley.

Within an hour of posting it, he said, someone from the Wisconsin Historical Society reached out to him.

The Historical Society told him they didn’t believe it could be Hackley, based on his location.

Instead, Wolak said, they thought it was likely the wreck of a barquentine called the George L. Newman in 1871, which was thought to have sunk in that area but was never recorded.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources collected video footage of the wreck earlier this month. The identity of the wreck has not been fully confirmed, the Wisconsin Historical Society wrote in a Facebook post.

A still image from ROV footage of the ship George L. Newman taken by the Department of Natural Resources.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

The three-masted sloop George L. Newman was built in 1855 and is 122 feet long, according to the Historical Society.

On the night of Oct. 8, 1871, the ship was carrying a load of lumber when heavy smoke from the Great Peshtigo Fire — the deadliest wildfire in U.S. history — caused it to run aground on the southeast point of Green Island, the society wrote.

The crew was rescued and spent the next week salvaging what they could from the wreck, which over time had become partially covered in sand and largely forgotten, according to the historical society.

Wolak said discovering a lost wreck is a wonderful thing, but what’s even more special is that he did it with his daughter.

“Being able to share it with Henley and kind of get it down to the fact that she was part of finding her is the most amazing thing to me,” he told BI.

Wolak’s wife, Brianna, told BI that Henley gets her fair share of the credit, too.

“I got a message from my kindergarten teacher saying the class is really excited about Henley,” Brianna Wolak said.

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