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Lake Superior shipwreck lost and found 130 years later

The 172-foot schooner-barge, having been unseen since 1891, was discovered for the first time this past summer — along with eight other shipwrecks.

MINNEAPOLIS — Lake Superior is a lake of many secrets, but one of them was unearthed by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society.

"This story got traction back in the 1890s and it's getting traction today," Executive Director Bruce Lynn said.

Lynn said the story of the 172-foot schooner-barge called "Atlanta" is coming full circle.

"I've been pouring through newspapers from the early 1890s to find more information out about the shipwrecks, and there were two survivors. They were able to tell the whole story," Lynn said.

Newspaper articles document that at the time of the wreck, the Atlanta was carrying coal and seven crew members.

It was being towed by another ship when the tow line parted in severe weather, eventually causing it to sink.

The two crew members who made it out survived by meeting up with what was the equivalent of the Coast Guard back then — but just barely.

"They had been out there about nine, 10 hours," Lynn said, "The weather is bad enough to sink your ship; you're on an open boat for nine or 10 hours; they were within sight of that life-saving station, and their lifeboat overturned a few times just before they got to the station."

And the ship, having been unseen since 1891, was discovered for the first time this past summer — along with eight other shipwrecks.

"We released three last summer," Lynn said. "We wanted to do a little more research on the Atlanta. I'll be completely honest with you: We knew we had the Atlanta the whole time. You probably saw that footage — you can see that name board up by the bow, very clearly — there was no question which shipwreck we were looking at, but we wanted to do a little more research and get our facts in order."

The luxury of time was on their side as conditions 600 feet below the surface of Superior have been ideal.

"It's clean, fresh water, not salt water like you have in the Atlantic or Pacific or whatever," Lynn said. "So it's not going to degrade that shipwreck — it is in remarkable condition. There's another factor that plays into it as well: That ship is carrying coal, it wasn't carrying iron ore like so many of the ships on Superior were doing. If it were carrying iron ore, I think there's a pretty good chance that ship would be beat up more."

"These are human stories, very dramatic stories," Lynn continued. "Just by keeping those memories alive, that's an important thing to do."

You can read more about the Atlanta shipwreck here.

You can also visit the shipwreck museum in Whitefish Point, MI when it opens on May 1st.

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