116-year-old wreck found: John V. Moran Shipwreck

Published: July 24, 2015

116-year-old wreck found: John V. Moran Shipwreck, A 214-foot steamship has been discovered off the coast of Muskegon more than a century after it sank in Lake Michigan.

Last month, a team with the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association located the John V. Moran during a sonar search.

Because the shipwreck sits under 365 feet of lake water, officials with the group decided to wait for the water to warm up before performing a dive.

With help from the Michigan State Police Underwater Recovery Unit, the team was able to reach the wreck on July 8, just over 116 years after the ship sank.

A co-director of the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association says the John V. Moran is one of the best-preserved wrecks in the Great Lakes.

‘Not a railing is missing,’ said Craig Rich, the group’s co-director who’s also a master diver and former Holland City Council member. The association is based in the Michigan city of Holland. ‘The mast is standing. The lights are standing. The anchors are in position. There’s even glass still in the windows.’

‘The only thing missing from this wreck is the smokestack.’

It is one of the deepest wrecks ever discovered in the lake, experts say. And it didn’t come easily.

‘We’ve covered a lot of territory in the shallower water, which is why we’re out searching so deep these days,’ Valerie van Heest, author, maritime historian and codirector of the MSRA told the Free Press. ‘Each year we define a goal and a ship we’d like to find.’

Van Heest said they were able to narrow down the search area for the John V. Moran to just a few square miles.

‘It was 3:30 in the morning on June 5 when several of our crew members were asleep,’ said van Heest. ‘All of the sudden, the boat operator saw something on side-scan, and woke everybody up in the dark of night.’

This month, the group dropped an ROV into the murky depths and the outline of the John V. Moran was seen for the first time in over a century.

The group has discovered 15 other historic shipwrecks.

According to the Detroit Free Press, some 1,200 of the 2,000 sunken vessels in Lake Michigan no longer exist because they hit shore and broke apart.

About 360 wrecks have been found in the deeper parts of the lake, with more yet to be discovered.

Around midnight on Thursday February 9, 1899, on an ice-caked Lake Michigan, the 214-foot John V. Moran bucked the ice flows on its run from Milwaukee to Muskegon to deliver a cargo of barreled flour and package goods.

The ship was only 11 years old and had been running between Milwaukee, Grand Haven, and Muskegon regularly for several years.

It had an iron-reinforced hull for winter transit, but the conditions were too much for the steamer.

Ice stove in a hole in the hull, and water began pouring in. Captain McLeod jettisoned much of the cargo to lighten the load and try to keep the ship afloat, but it began slipping beneath the ice. He and his 24-man crew faced a potentially deadly decision: stay on their steamer and await potential rescue, or take to the ice and try to reach the safety of the steamer three miles away. They chose the latter, blowing the distress whistle to alert the other ship.

Dragging a lifeboat across the ice, three crewmen set off walking toward the other steamer with only the beams from their lanterns to illuminate their path. Crew on the saw the lights and the ship plowed through the frozen lake to reach them. As the drew near the stricken ship, the remaining 22 men carefully crossed the ice to climb aboard.

Captain Thompson of the carferry Muskegon, running the same route the Lake Express does today, was the last to see the Moran. It was still afloat Sunday when he passed on his way to Milwaukee, but sank sometime thereafter. The ship was not seen again for 116 years.

116-year-old wreck found: John V. Moran Shipwreck

116-year-old wreck found: John V. Moran Shipwreck

116-year-old wreck found: John V. Moran Shipwreck

116-year-old wreck found: John V. Moran Shipwreck

116-year-old wreck found: John V. Moran Shipwreck


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