Chesterton Tribune



Shipwreck site dedicated as Indiana's first underwater nature preserve

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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 buoy.

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 factors.

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 ticketed.

“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 Law Enforcement.

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 said.

“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. Marshall tragedy:

“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 more!”

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 color guard.

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 said.

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 maritime disasters.

“Few folks realize the death and tragedy that lies just off shore,” Bumgardner said.



Posted 10/1/2013





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