Divers in Lake Erie, acting on sonar data provided by a private group dedicated to discovering and cataloging the hundreds of shipwrecks on the floor of this Great Lake, have recovered enough additional information to determine that wreckage discovered in 2015 is the oldest ever found in the lake and highly likely to be the legendary Lake Serpent which sank in 1829.
"I don't know what else it could be, but there's still enough unknown that we haven't seen."
That 'definite maybe' comes from Carrie Snowden, curator of the National Museum of the Great Lakes where artifacts from Lake Erie wrecks end up on display. The excitement about the initial discovery and possible identification started in April 2018 when the money was raised for the dive project which commenced in July. Performed by members of the Cleveland Underwater Explorers, a non-profit group of divers, historians, and archaeologists, multiple dives were conducted at the site in September. After reviewing their findings, Cleveland.com reports the results were released last week … reluctantly.
"We underestimated how much work it was going to take, but we also didn't want to leave everybody hanging. This gets people talking about the lake and the wreck, and then I get to talk about other wrecks and Lake Erie history."
Snowden is willing to say she’s 75% sure it’s the Lake Serpent, but was hoping to wait until she had conclusive proof. What was determined by the summer dives is that the wreck’s dimensions match those of the Lake Serpent, and that the cargo is rocks that predate quarrying on nearby islands, thus making this a 1829 ship. They also came tantalizingly close to positive identification when they found the carving on the ship’s bowspirit, but …
"What we think of as a serpent may not be what they carved 189 years ago, but it's definitely been shaped into something."
That vagueness plus the fact that part of the ship is buried in sand and all of it was hard to see due to low-visibility conditions this summer forced Snowden to hedge her bets on the Lake Serpent. Pushing the closer to ‘almost certain’ is they guy who first found the wreckage in 2015, Tom Kowalczk.
"We haven't found anything that says it's something different.”
That’s close enough for government work, especially since there’s little chance any of the wreckage will be able to be recovered intact, even though it’s only under 50 feet of water. After all, it’s been there for over 180 years. Still, Cleveland is used to its sports teams coming close, so fans of the Browns, Indians and the Lake Serpent are willing to wait for a positive ID while learning more about the fascinating history of Lake Erie’s early shipping industry.