If you want to experience Indiana’s newest kind of nature preserve, don’t
forget to bring your swimsuit.
Several agencies came together Monday at the Dunes Park Pavilion to mark the
dedication of the Indiana Department of Natural Resource’s first underwater
preserve just 600 yards off the shoreline of Dunes State Park where a wooden
154-foot, steam-powered, sand sucker barge named the J.D. Marshall sank to
the bottom of Lake Michigan in the early hours of June 11, 1911, taking the
lives of four crew members with it.
“Our goal today is to preserve that history,” said Dan Bortner, director of
state parks and reservoirs for the DNR. “We are honored to serve as local
stewards of this location.”
Bortner said there have been thousands of shipwrecks on the Great Lakes and
14 have been documented by archaeologists in the Lake Michigan portion of
Indiana, including the Marshall’s sister ship, the Muskegon.
The preserve, which was recently approved by the National Resource
Commission on Sept. 17, covers approximately 100 acres and will be marked
off next spring by marker buoys at the corners and along the northern edge.
Fishing and paddling will be allowed by boat in the boundaries; however,
anchoring is prohibited to protect the structure of the Marshall wreck.
Mooring buoys will be placed by the DNR allowing one boat to tie off at each
Divers can enter the water to view the preserve including the Marshall in
its resting place. Explorers are asked to know the regulations set by the
DNR in terms of environmental preservation and to be familiar with the site
before diving as underwater visibility can be reduced by a number of
All items in the preserve are property of the state of Indiana and removing
them is prohibited. Violators could receive written or verbal warnings or be
“Take only photos and leave only bubbles,” said Mike Molnar, program manager
for the Lake Michigan Coastal Program.
The site will be monitored jointly by the DNR, State Parks & Reservoirs and
Molnar said the nature preserve is a culmination of a three year effort
between his organization, the DNR, the Dunes State Park, the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Commonwealth Cultural
Resources Group, which had been contracted to conduct an archeological
survey of the site.
A non-matching grant of $145,000 from NOAA fueled the effort to preserve the
wreck which was received by the Coastal Program, Molnar said, including the
interpretive website of the 14 known shipwrecks,
Surveys were conducted to decide which of the wrecks would be the best
suited for a preserve. Because it is located in state park waters and the
involvement of many agencies, the group selected the J.D. Marshall, Molnar
“It’s a perfect tie-in,” Molnar said.
The story of the J.D. Marshall already was being recounted by Dunes Park
historic interpreters, he added, which also made it easier for the preserve
to be established there. Several items recovered from the Marshall are
displayed at the Dunes Park Nature Center and its large propeller sits west
of the park pavilion.
DNR Director Cameron Clark said park staff have related the story through
the program they called “Tragedy beneath the Waves.” The preserve will
become part of the Beyond the Beach Trail tourism initiative, Clark said.
Bortner unveiled a replica of the plaque that will be placed below the
surface next to the ship which will record the date of the dedication and a
summary of its legend, along with a quote from the Greek poet Ovid, “The man
who has experienced shipwreck shudders even at a calm sea.”
Molnar also read a poem written about the Great Lake shipwrecks he felt was
fitting for the occasion to honor each of the lives lost in the J.D.
“Of death these jolly lads, never once did dream; Brave hearts sailed under
canvas and brave hearts sailed in steam; Lost in Lake Michigan they failed
to reach the shore; the gallant ships and crews will sail the lakes no
Molnar than read the names of the crew members who had perished -- First
Mate Martin Donahue, Fireman Gus Jake, Assistant Engineer Charles Langeman
and Seaman John Wisemann.
A bell was tolled for each.
Among those in attendance Monday were Chesterton Town Council member Jim
Ton, Geof Benson and various town officials from Beverly Shores,
environmental consultant and retired Indiana University Northwest professor
Mark Reshkin, Porter County Council member Sylvia Graham, and Nicole Barker,
president of the Save the Dunes Council.
Members of American Legion Post 170 of Chesterton performed the duties of
Ton told the Chesterton Tribune that the Town of Chesterton is
grateful to the all the individuals and groups that helped in developing the
preserve which will be a part of the Dunes-Kankakee Trail and attract
visitors to the area. The town was not directly involved with the project
but it threw its support behind it, Ton said.
“It’s all working toward the one big goal of protecting the environment,” he
The legend of the J.D. Marshall
After the dedication program, Dunes Interpretive Naturalist Brad Bumgardner
gave a visual presentation of the J.D. Marshall’s story.
The 531-ton Marshall was built in 1891 in South Haven, Mich., designed for
hauling timber and later was purchased by the Independent Sand and Gravel
Company and was converted into a “sand sucker” for transporting sand and
other material to help build Chicago.
The Independent Sand and Gravel Company had one more boat, the Muskegon,
which was a pleasure cruiser that caught fire while docked at Michigan City
in October of 1910.
Michigan City residents were tired of seeing the burned out Muskegon and
wanted it gone.
A ten-member crew under the command of Capt. Leroy Rand on June 10, 1911,
loaded up 1,000 tons of sand, pig iron and other supplies from the Muskegon
and was carrying the cargo toward Chicago when a leak sprung in the hull of
the ship and ship set anchor close to where Dunes State Park is today to
repair the ship.
Departing a second time, an intense squall sprang up a little before 1 a.m.
and rocked the boat so hard that it “turned turtle,” or flipped completely
over, and sank almost 30 feet to the bottom of Lake Michigan.
Rand swam to shore and commandeered a small john boat to go back and look
for surviving crew members in hopes of finding his first mate. Three of the
crew were trapped at the bottom of the boat. Donahue’s body washed up on
shore a few days later almost two miles from the wreck.
The Marshall was rediscovered in 1979 and a few years later in 1982 an
illegal attempt was made to raise it for scrap, but the salvagers were
caught by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Marshall’s remnants sank back to the
bottom where they still are today.
Bumgardner said over 1 million people visit the Dunes each year to swim and
relax, unaware that a few hundred yards away lies one of Indiana’s largest
“Few folks realize the death and tragedy that lies just off shore,”