A Civil War-era shipwreck mystery was partly solved when shipwreck hunter David Trotter announced Monday that he found wreckage of the Keystone State at the bottom of Lake Huron in less than 200 feet of water.
Thirty-three crew members died when the ship disappeared on Nov. 9, 1861, during the early stages of the Civil War. It was not until the ship's wheelhouse washed up on shore that anyone knew it had sunk.
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A team from Undersea Research Associates discovered the wreck site in July using side-scan sonar and made several dozen dives to figure out the ship's cargo, which some theorized contained gold but was purposely mislabeled on the manifest.
"She wasn't where she was supposed to be," Trotter told the Grand Rapids Press of the Keystone State shipwreck
. "I probably thought I’d never find her."
The 288-foot-long Keystone State was the second largest ship on the Great Lakes during its day, christened in 1849.
The Keystone State left Detroit on Nov. 8 on its way to Milwaukee. According to its manifest, reported the Grand Rapids Press, it was carrying "iron implements," or farm machinery. It has been long rumored that the ship actually carried military supplies to be used in the Civil War.
The Keystone State was built in Buffalo, N.Y., and had twin stacks, a walking beam engine, and giant paddle wheels on either side that were nearly 40 feet in diameter.
"The interiors were made to look like the finest hotels," maritime historian Robert McGreevy told the Detroit Free Press
. "They were quite beautiful inside. They had leaded glass windows and carved arches and mahogany trim."
The newspaper said, though, that business for the Keystone dramatically slowed with the downturn in the economy in 1857 along with the expansion of the railroad system.
"But when the Civil War started in 1861, all these ships that were laid up, all of a sudden they were worth a fortune again," McGreevy told the Free Press. "(The Keystone State) was pulled out of storage in 1861, refurbished and sent to Detroit to pick up a cargo that was already waiting for her."
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