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Shipwreck hunter explores 'Graveyard of the Great Lakes'

Thousands of ships have been lost beneath the Great Lakes. One man has discovered more than 100 of them in a 35-year quest.
By Will Creighton   |   Updated March 16, 2016 at 9:05 AM

A 74-year-old shipwreck hunter has devoted 35 years to find answers and closure to the tragic stories of thousands of ships and lives lost to the Great Lakes.

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Diver David Trotter's quest is detailed in a new documentary airing on Detroit Public TV, Graveyard of the Great Lakes: A Shipwreck Hunter's Quest to Discover the Past (embedded below), which examines three of the more than 100 shipwrecks he's found.

Sailors have been plying the Great Lakes since the 1600s. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum estimates roughly 6,000 vessels lost and more than 30,000 sailors lost beneath the waves of the largest freshwater lakes on the planet.

Graveyard of the Great Lakes; A Shipwreck Hunter's Quest to Discover the Past from Eric Seals on Vimeo.

Here are some of the wrecks Trotter has discovered, including details from the lone survivor of one of them:

SS Daniel J. Morrell

The SS Daniel J. Morrell was making her "last run of the season," when she sank in rough seas in Lake Huron on Nov. 29, 1966. Dennis Hale, the Morrell's lone survivor, was found 40-hours later, in a lifeboat, wearing his boxer shorts and a pea coat. The ship's other 28 crewmen were killed.

Eric Seals, director of Graveyard of the Great Lakes, recorded the story of Dennis Hale, the sole shipwreck survivor of the Daniel J. Morrell.

File Photo courtesy the Library of Congress
Keystone State

The Keystone State sank in Lake Huron on Nov. 9, 1861, and its 33 crewmen were killed. Below is a view of the cover of the ship's capstan, a sort of winch used for sail rigging or a ship's anchor.

David Trotter talks about the discovery of the Keystone State, rumored to have been carrying Civil War gold when it sank in Lake Huron.

Screenshot from Graveyard of the Great Lakes: A Shipwreck Hunter's Quest to Discover the Past
New York

The steamer New York foundered during a violent storm on Lake Huron in October 1910. Her entire 14-man crew was rescued by the SS Mataafa, which spotted the distressed ship while on a towing run. The rescue nearly created another sinking as the Mataafa almost capsized.

File Photo courtesy David Trotter
James B. Colgate

The James B. Colgate, a whaleback steamer built in West Superior, Wis., in 1892, sank in Lake Erie on Oct. 20, 1916. The ship's captain was the sole survivor. It was his first voyage in that role, and the remaining 25-man crew went down with the ship.

File Photo courtesy OhioLINK
SS Hydrus

The SS Hydrus, originally launched in 1903 as the R.E. Schuck, sank on Nov. 11, 1913, on Lake Huron during the Great Storm of 1913. All 24 members of the crew were lost. Five were found frozen in a lifeboat after it had washed ashore. David Trotter and his team discovered the wreckage 102 years later on July 11, 2015.

File Photo courtesy University of Detroit Mercy (UDM)
SS Isaac M. Scott

The SS Isaac M. Scott was one of 12 ships that sank during the Great Storm of 1913. All 28 crew were killed when the ship foundered in Lake Huron. The body of Capt. A. McArthur washed ashore nearly a month later, on Dec. 11, 1913, still wearing his life preserver.

File Photo courtesy OhioLINK
SS G.P. Griffith

The SS G.P. Griffith, a passenger steamer, was en route from Buffalo, N.Y., to Toledo, Ohio, carrying 326 passengers when it caught fire and sank in the waters of Lake Erie. It's believed that an estimated 241 to 289 people died in the inferno. Only one woman, the wife of the ship's barber, survived the incident.

Image courtesy Wikipedia
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