Family Fishing Trip Turns Up Unknown Wreck on Lake Michigan

Courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Published Dec 14, 2023 11:27 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Wollak family of Peshtigo, Wisconsin came back with something big from a fishing trip this summer: the location of a lost sail freighter, 10 feet under the waters of Lake Michigan. 

This summer, Tim Wollak and his daughter Henley were out fishing in Green Bay when they spotted what looked like a wreck on their boat's echo sounder. It wasn't familiar, so Wollak posted images online. The news eventually reached the Wisconsin Historical Society and the state's Department of Natural Resources, and the agencies sent out staff to survey the site with a small ROV. While its identity hasn't been formally confirmed, all of the data lines up with a lost barkentine, the George L. Newman. 

Courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Built in 1855 in Ohio, the Newman was a 120-foot, three-masted sailing cargo vessel. She was lost to a tragic fire on October 8, 1871 - but not a fire on board. Newman's crew were attempting to transit out of Green Bay during the Great Peshtigo Fire, the deadliest wildfire in American history, and the crew had almost no visibility due to the heavy smoke drifting over the water. They ran aground on Green Island, in the middle of Green Bay, and their ship was unrecoverable. They salvaged some of its cargo of timber and were taken in by the lighthouse keeper. 

According to the historical society, the wreck was forgotten and eventually covered by sand. Now that it has been found again, thanks to the Wollak family, it will be surveyed in detail for possible listing on the National Historic Register. 

“I don’t know how we top it,” Tim Wollak told local WLUK. “I guess we’ll just have to fish more and see if we can find more shipwrecks.”