April 2016 Meeting PDF Print E-mail

Underwater Archaeological Society Of Chicago


April 27, 2016

President Bob Rushman welcomed approximately forty members and guests.

Secretary Carol Sommers reported that the minutes were on-line and as paper copy on the table. She asked if members were interested in continuing to have summaries of the presentations and since some liked the idea, she will continue to attach them to the minutes.

Treasurer Karen Rushman said our treasury holds $11,101 and more will come as dues from the eleven new members. In reference to membership, Bob added that as of now, only paid-up members will receive e-mails since it is now four months past the renewal date.

Chicago Maritime Festival – Dean Nolan noted that the music part was very good, especially the concert, but the program was light on other topics. Jim Jarecki recommended promoting it ourselves and helping the festival obtain better speakers. The booth area was very small and had few visitors. On the other hand, there were 100 attendees at the Friday beforehand event at the Chicago Maritime Museum.

Illinois Council of Skin and Scuba Divers – Coming up dates for events are Sunday, July 17 for the Jim Haigh Memorial dive and Saturday, October 29 for the President’s Night Banquet.

The new members who were the winners for the drawing for three dive charters are Alejandro Gomez (Len Der), Tymoteusz Wikar (Windy City Divers) and Ian Liaird (Double Action Diver Charters).

Surveys – None to report yet, but Dean and Bob said the water temperature was 39 degrees in Haigh Quarry two weeks ago. Tom was in the Florida Keys, but no boats could go out because of the weather. There’s a possible wreck to explore here located between the four-mile crib and the car ferry. It is a scuttled schooner, evident because of boulders dropped on it. Bob reported on his vacation in Fiji on a small island with no motorized roads. There was a small trawler and steamer as wrecks and “pretty fish”. Reefs had been damaged by weather since he was there 18 months ago.

Website – Colin is working on updating a members list. Send him an e-mail with any items you find interesting that could be put on our site. A menu for events and links could be on the front of our site. Colin will also help to develop a Facebook page.

Training – Dave Thompson, underwater archaeologist and member of our group, offered to give the NAS (Nautical Archaeological Society) training this summer. Possible dates are July 16-17, August 6-7, and August 13-14. Interested members were asked to sign up at the meeting to try to determine the best date and so far the majority can come in August.

Miscellaneous announcements – Jim Jarecki said that the National Museum of the Great Lakes in Toledo would be having a Wreck-a-Paloozsa with two good speakers on April 30. (The same program is Oct. 8-cs.) The cost is $38 including a box lunch.

There is an opportunity to be part of an actual (dry land) archaeological dig here in Chicago. The POW part of the Civil War Camp Douglas (on land once by Stephen Douglas) is being excavated on the schoolyard surrounding the Pershing Magnet School at 3200 S. Calumet. The dig will be from May 18-26 from 8:30 -4:00. No training is necessary; you will be taught what to do and then dig and wash artifacts. Clay pipes, buttons and mini ammunition balls have been found lately. There is no charge, although a ten dollar donation is appreciated. It’s not necessary to stay the entire day and even if you can just come out for an hour, it would be a help. Jim will send out an e-mail since one needs to register with him before going. Michael Gregory of DePaul University is in charge and also is our June speaker.

One hundred years ago today there was the first big US maritime disaster. The Sultana riverboat blew up on the Mississippi River. It was certified to carry 375 people but because of shady politics was overloaded with over 2,200 people, mainly Union POW soldiers. Only 500 survived with 1,800 dying in the river. The wreck lies 32 feet deep in a farmer’s field. It’s known that a boiler may not have been properly patched and even suspected that dynamite was thrown into the boiler fires.

Future speakers – May, Terrence Lasinko, June, Michael Gregory, July, Tom Ewert

Member presentation – Steve Arnam spoke about the last U boat sunk in US waters in WWII—the U853. In July, Steve will be diving the U852 with Bill Fisher.

Featured Speaker – Joan Forsberg, member and past president of UASC and Chairman of the Board of the Women’s Divers Hall of Fame. Before her presentation, Joan congratulated the group on the publication of the Report on the Car Ferry #2, stating it was a job well-done. Her topic was about her book the Wreck of the Griffon which she co-authored with her husband Cris Kohl and some copies were for sale for $20. Also, in May of 2016 they will be publishing Great Lakes Shipwrecks, New Discoveries and Updates which members were able to pre-order for $12 including shipping. (www.seawolfcommunications.com)

The meeting adjourned at about 9:30.

Minutes respectfully submitted by Carol Sommers

Steve Arnam’s presentation summary

Not having received, or having ignored the order to cease hostilities, the 26- year- old captain of U853 sunk the collier Black Point on May 5, 1945 two miles from Block Island near Rhode Island. Immediately, American hunter killer groups (which had been effective in reducing U boat kills along the US coastline from over 1000 in 1940 to 56 in 1955) converged on it, using 154 depth charges and 256 hedgehogs (which are fired in a group and land in a circle). Zepplins searched for the telltale oil coming up and dropped even more bombs. When two sailors’ bodies were later brought out of the sub, it was determined that none had drowned, but all had died of concussion. As an eerie side note, when Steve photographed the cemetery gravesite, there was a green flash from the sunset which landed exactly on the wreath. The sub is a German war grave with 18 submariners still on board.

As a dive site, the sub is the exact size of the U505 at the Museum of Science and Industry and Steve recommends a visit there to see what the interior looks like before being underwater. It is a very easy dive with the bottom sitting at 130 feet. You will have 15 minutes on air, longer with nitrox or a rebreather. Dive operators allow the use of hang tanks for your own decompression. Captain Bill has attached a Carolina mechanism in that a buoy is off of the boat with a line dropping down to the conning tower. The tour of the wreck depends on the current and water temperature in late July and August can be 78 at the surface. Steve dived it wearing an 8 mil and Debbie had on a 5 mil with a hood and booties. If a trawler goes by, your visibility is reduced to about 6 feet. Then one can see more inside, but, as in cave diving, there is knee-deep silt. The top of the conning tower is blown off, the sides are like Swiss cheese, the periscope is still there, breech mount and anti-aircrafts guns and air flasks used to raise and lower the boat are visible and the superstructure is falling apart. Bryzoans are growing all over (no algae) and there are lots of fish.

Summary of Joan Forsberg’s presentation

The Griffon has the reputation of being the “most hunted and found” shipwreck out of largest group (6,000) of well-preserved shipwrecks in the world which lie in the cold fresh water at the bottom of the Great Lakes. Clive Cussler, the author and who works with Valerie Van Heest for the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association, queried “Isn’t that the one they find every ten minutes?” The history of the ship goes back to LaSalle who, after hearing exciting stories of New France by Father Hennepin, left the Jesuits and came to New France with the approval of King Louis XIV to discover the west of New France and develop a fur trading business. He was to build up forts and ships, but had to use his own money, which frequently put him into debt. Because of their business just being fur trading the French lifestyle on this continent was transient since they did not build up communities or farms. The first ship, the Frontenac--named after the governor of New France--was destroyed when a storm blew it onto shore: its crew had decided to sleep next to a bonfire on land instead of on the cold ship. Then LaSalle built the Griffon in 1679, in the style of a Dutch galiot which looked like an ocean-going ship with a small poop deck, but although heavily built of oak, was small enough for rivers. A similar example is Henry Hudson’s “Half Moon”. Frontenac, who was also LaSalle’s friend and sponsor, had two griffons on his coat of arms. The overbuilt ship had two cannons and three or possibly five, arquebus guns on swivel mounts. Father Hennepin, who influenced LaSalle’s decision to come to New France, described the ship and La Salle’s adventures in his journals.

The Griffon was the first ship to sail in all of the three lakes of Erie, Huron and Michigan, but needed to be towed by manpower against the current in Cayuga Creek to get into Lake Erie. It was returning from a voyage laden with furs and parts for the next ship which LaSalle wanted to build to explore the Mississippi when it disappeared. It could have been scuttled by the Lucas, the captain, stolen by rivals, attacked by Indians, foundered at sea or foundered on land, the last two being the most plausible. There was no wreckage along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Later, LaSalle travelled on and claimed the entire length of the Mississippi River for France, which became the Louisiana Purchase. Unfortunately, he was murdered in Texas by his own men. LaSalle was an important part of the story of the expansion of the USA and Canada. Father Hennepin wrote several books based on his memoirs which were published in French, then translated into English, Dutch and German. In 1889, a statue of LaSalle was erected in Chicago, in 1936, a car was named for him, in 1940, a comic book was written about him and Tonty, a fellow explorer, and the Canadian Coast Guard cutter which patrols the Detroit River is called the Griffon.

There have been twenty-two claims to what was thought to be the Griffon in the last 200 years. If the wreck is definitely found, it belongs to the French Government since it was built by the royal charter of King Louis XIV. Some false finds are an anchor in 1887 in Green Bay which was too light to be that of the Griffon, in 1933 a wreck near Mackinac Island which at 120 feet was twice the Griffon’s length, in 1955 ship remains near Tobermory, Ontario which were preserved and exhibited for years by Orrie Vail but were an 1840’s fishing boat, in 2004 a copper disc with a map to a “wreck” which actually had roofing nails and tar paper, in 2006 a post with a “griffon” masthead which turned out to be zebra mussels artfully growing and in 2009 a steel dumpster.

Some better claims follow. The Mississagi Strait Wreck in the Canadian part of northern Lake Huron was known already in the 1800’s by Indians who recovered spikes, bolts, tools and caulking lead. It is thought that the Griffon crashed on Magnetic Reefs and washed over to Manitoulin Island. A photo from 1934 shows a little boy sitting on huge white oak timbers and the Griffon was known to be overbuilt. The lighthouse keeper found brass buttons and tokens dating from the 1600’s, a watch definitely dated to LaSalle’s time, tools and six skeletons neatly laid out in a cave. The Griffon had a crew of six. One had a large skull and the captain, Lucas was known to be very tall. France was the only European country using white caulking lead in the 1600’s and LaSalle had ordered 311 pounds. Roy Fleming sent metal from the ship to France where it was analyzed to be pre-1730. In the Q & A which followed Joan said that the metal analysis and some of the metal is all that now exists and is owned by the Province of Ontario. The iron had been refined over a wood fire and after 1730, coal was used. The buttons, coins and tokens were burned in a fire but the little boy in the photo (who is now 88) remembers seeing the jar of them. Joan would like to retest the metal with more modern methods, but doubts the Canadians would want to have the Griffon claim disproved. All traces of the wreck were washed away in a 1942 storm although some timbers are in museums on Manitoulin Island. The Gore Bay Museum, Mississagi Strait Lighthouse and the Net Shed Museum have artifacts from this wreck.

An ongoing claim which has not been disproven is by Steve Libert who in 2004 found what he believes is the Griffon’s bowsprit near Green Bay, Michigan. During the Q & A Rich Gross, the historian for the Great Lakes Exploration Group said that there will be more searching this summer for the ship’s hull. The French archeological team said that what has been found looks like what they would expect in a bowsprit in that it is the same angle or scarf and has tapered trunnels which are fixed in a way which is only used for ship construction. Roman numerals are carved on the timber just like on La Belle, another 45- ton ship of LaSalle’s which was found in Texas.