Mystery of Lake Erie’s oldest shipwreck is solved: Remains are identified as doomed long-lost cargo vessel which killed three when it sunk in a storm 200 years ago

  • Shipwreck hunters have confirmed they have found the vessel Lake Serpent
  • The ship sunk for unknown reasons but perished in the year 1829 
  • Divers went to the bottom of Lake Erie to further study the wreck
  • Experts now believe Lake Serpent is the oldest wreck in all of lake Erie
  • Three people are believed to have died after the ship went down 

A ship that sunk nearly 200 years ago in Lake Erie has finally been identified.

Cleveland-based shipwreck hunters have been studying the remains of the ship and believe it to be the doomed vessel known as the ‘Lake Serpent’. 

Expert analysis of the wreckage has proved that this is the oldest shipwreck in the entire lake. 

The Serpent sunk in 1829 and the three sailors on-board died in the disaster. 

Lake Erie later developed notoriety for its fearsome storms and became a graveyard for hundreds of ships.

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Cleveland-based shipwreck hunters have been studying the remains of a shipwreck at the bottom of Lake Erie and believe it to be the doomed vessel known as the ‘Lake Serpent’ (pictured) 

WHAT IS SONAR? 

Military equipment and animals that use sonar are makes use of an echo.

When an animal or machine makes a noise, it sends sound waves into the environment around it.

Those waves bounce off nearby objects, and some of them reflect back to the object that made the noise.

It’s those reflected sound waves that you hear when your voice echoes back to you from a canyon.

Whales and specialised machines can use reflected waves to locate distant objects and sense their shape and movement. 

Submarine sonars have been blamed for lethal mass stranding of deep diving toothed whales.

Sonar is thought to disrupt the animals’ diving behaviour so much that they suffer a condition rather like ‘the bends’ which human divers can contract if they surface too quickly.

The wreck was fist spotted in 2015 by Tom Kowalczk, a member of the Cleveland Underwater Explorers, when it appeared on his sonar screen.

Dives to the site and analysis of the remains was conducted over eight days this summer and allowed experts to conclusively identify the wreck as the Lake Serpent. 

Many shipwrecks have been found in the lake in recent years by a small, dedicated band of hunters.

To determine whether the latest discovery to be announced was indeed the Lake Serpent, divers had to get a closer look at the wreckage and remove a layer sediment that covered part of the ship.

‘Because it’s so small, that makes it very, very old,’ said Mr Kowalczk.

‘That puts it way back to an early time frame and really limits the possibilities.’

Members of the Cleveland Underwater Explorers and the museum reverted back to  historical records and newspaper clippings to find names of potential vessels.

Original investigations narrowed the list of possible ships to three, with Lake Serpent deemed the most likely. 

Newspaper reports from the time provided vital clues in confirming this hypothesis.

On October 8, 1829, the Cleveland Weekly Herald reported that the Lake Serpent had left four weeks earlier to get stone from Put-In-Bay on Lake Erie’s South Bass Island. 


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‘The newspaper was able to confirm that the Lake Serpent had loaded the stone at Put-In-Bay, but hadn’t been seen since,’ the Cleveland Underwater Explorers reveal on their website.

It was also reported at the time that the bodies of the Lake Serpent’s captain and his brother, Ezra and Robert Wright, washed ashore in Lorain County, Ohio in the first week of October 1829.

There is some debate among professionals in the field but the museum has released the findings which provide several signs to suggest that it is the missing cargo ship, they say.

The wreck of Lake Serpent (pictured) was fist spotted in 2015 by Tom Kowalczk, a member of the Cleveland Underwater Explorers, when it appeared on his sonar screen. It was covered in sediment and required several days work to clear and study 

A ship that sunk nearly 200 years ago, killing three on board, may have been found by shipwreck hunters, who studied the site and confirmed their theory 

Mr Kowalczk believes his finding is almost certainly the Lake Serpent. 

‘We haven’t found anything that says it’s something different,’ he said. 

The schooner was built in 1821 in Cleveland at a time when the city had less than 1,000 residents. Its job was to carry cargo – produce, flour, whiskey and limestone – to ports along the lakes.

It went down eight years later with a load of stone and a small crew near Kelleys Island off the Ohio shoreline.

The ship had an unusual carving of a serpent’s head in the bow – an uncommon feature for a boat of this kind in that era. 

The ship is at the bottom of Lake Erie, and is the oldest wreck ever uncovered there. The ship had an unusual carving of a serpent’s head in the bow – an uncommon feature for a boat of this kind in that era

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