Thursday, October 14, 2004


Treasure hunter, state battle over 17th century ship


Chicago Sun-Times
By Andrew Herrmann, Staff Reporter

A 17th century vessel under Lake Michigan, considered by some the Holy Grail of Great Lakes shipwrecks, may have been found, but its ownership is mired in a storm of a court battle.

Field Museum archeologists are analyzing the find, but were tight-lipped Monday.

"We do have a research interest in this ship,'' confirmed Field spokesman Greg Borzo. The museum has been consulting with Steven Libert, who discovered what may be Le Griffon at the entrance of Wisconsin's Green Bay, and with Michigan state officials, who are reportedly trying to gain control of the ship.

Borzo declined to elaborate on the Field's activities, saying only, "perhaps in a few weeks we'll know more.''

The name of the 45-ton ship, built for explorer Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, in Canada, reflects its two wooden griffins -- mythical monsters with lion's bodies and eagle's heads. It was on the return leg of its maiden voyage loaded with furs bound for the Niagara River when it sank in September 1679.

"Not so much as a splinter ever washed up on a Lake Michigan beach to give a clue to her fate,'' says William Ratigan in his book Great Lakes Shipwrecks and Survivals.

Considered the first real sailing vessel to ply these waters, the ship "sailed through a crack in the lake,'' disappearing, says Ratigan.

Libert has been cagey about the find. When he filed paperwork this summer, he avoided naming the ship or the exact location. But shipwreck experts say by the sketchy details in his claim, he must believe it's Le Griffon.

Whose wreck is it?

Recently, the state of Michigan moved to block Libert's claim in federal court, arguing that state law and the federal Abandoned Shipwreck Act give it ownership of sunken boats of historical significance.

A spokesman for the Michigan attorney general's office couldn't be reached Monday because of the Columbus Day holiday.

But assistant attorney general James R. Pigguish argues in Michigan's claim that "A 45-ton, 40- to 60-foot long, wooden, hand-built sailing vessel with a beam of 10 to 22 feet, and a crew of five, lost and abandoned near Poverty Island prior to the 20th century, would be a significant archeological find,'' the Traverse City Record-Eagle reported over the weekend.

Pigguish also described photographs of the wreck showing something that appears to be coming out of the lake's bottom "looking much like a needle.'' Libert reportedly has had some slivers of the wreck carbon dated. That procedure dates the wood between 1640 and 1780.

Libert, 50, is a well-known treasure hunter who has spent decades scouring Lake Michigan for gold and has clashed with Michigan over finds before. His attorney, Richard Robel, told the Traverse City paper that Libert is "committed to preserving the site'' and wants to work with Michigan officials.

Ralph Frese, vice president of the Chicago Maritime Society, said Le Griffon might have sunk in a storm, or ran aground, or been attacked by Indians.

Over the years, many divers have discovered wrecks in Lake Michigan, declared them to be The Griffin, but were proven wrong, Frese said.

"Everybody is looking for The Griffin,'' Frese said.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?