In the summer of 1969, a wooden schooner, the “Mystery Ship,” was raised from the depths of the waters of Green Bay. The ship had sat on the floor of the bay for over 100 years.  I wondered how it was found near Chambers Island?  In November of 1967, a commercial fisherman’s nets became tangled in a depth of 40 feet in Green Bay.  The fisherman didn’t want to loose his expensive nets so he hired a scuba diver to free them.  Frank Hoffman, the diver, found the nets tangled in what seemed to be a ship’s mast. Diving deeper, he found an intact ship in the clay bottom of Green Bay.  Both masts and the hull were intact.  He kept his discovery a secret until 1968 as he had to secure the federal salvage rights.  

In 1968, divers recovered artifacts from the ship.  Some of the items found were the captain’s writing desk, a brass locket, a wallet, clay pipes, a water pitcher a clock, an oil lamp, and three pennies!  He also find a crock of cheese still full!  Divers could only be in the water for fifteen minutes due to the cold water temperatures.  It was a tough process.

Marinette Marine arranged for them to use barges for the raising of the ship.  In July of 1969, the ship was successfully lifted off the bottom.  This underwater sketch shows how six powerful cables were rigged to the Alvin Clark at its grave site in 110 feet of water.  The cables were hooked up to a barge on water where men and women controlled winches that slowly lifted the 218 ton ship to the bottom of the barge for its underwater journey to Marinette.  The week before, the two masts were brought to the surface.  On Tuesday, July 29 1969 the “Mystery Ship” was lifted out of the water in Marinette.

While all this was happening, they didn’t know much about the ship so they called it the “Mystery Ship”.  Eventually they found out that it was the “Alvin Clark” Schooner through newspaper accounts, national archives and the U.S. Coast Guard.  A stencil found on the ship was identified by one of the sailors on the Alvin Clark, Michael Cray of Toronto.  Michael was one of the two survivors of the sinking.  

The lumber schooner was owned by Captain William M. Higgie of Racine. The Alvin Clark was running empty heading to Oconto on June 19th, 1864, when she capsized in a sudden storm just off the shores of Chambers Island. Built near Detroit, Michigan in 1847, the Alvin Clark was 105 feet in length, had a beam of 25 feet, and weighed 218 tons.     

The biggest hurdle by Hoffman, so he thought, was raising it off the bottom.  He learned later that the cost of keeping it preserved was too much.  The ship kept preserved under water for 105 years.  Once exposed to temperatures it began to rot.  In May of 1994, the remnants of the Alvin Clark were demolished with a bulldozer. She was rotten beyond hope of saving and her owners were broke.  Although the ship is gone, the museum of artifacts still operates as the Mystery Ship Marina and Museum. It is located on the Menominee River in downtown Menominee, Michigan.

Courtesy:  Marinette Eagle-Star, Menominee Herald Leader; Peshtigo Times, Green Bay Press-Gazette; Milwaukee Journal

Posted by:  Jill


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