Thursday, April 20, 2006


Charlevoix could be Griffin research site


Record Eagle
By Craig McCool
April 18, 2006

The building of “Le Griffon” in 1679 near
Niagara as pictured in a book written by
a priest, Father Louis Hennepin.

Oldest sailing vessel on Lakes was lost in 1679

CHARLEVOIX — He was the first European to sail a ship on the northern Great Lakes, and also the first to lose one.

The Griffin, a primary ship of the French explorer La Salle, is thought to have disappeared in a storm in northern Lake Michigan in the fall of 1679.

A Great Lakes treasure hunter who thinks he's found it wants to stage his archeological operation in Charlevoix.

City leaders have been asked to provide dock space this summer so crews, including scientists from the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History, can do research. It could be an important discovery, said Scott J. Demel, the Field Museum's adjunct curator in anthropology.

"If this is the Griffin, it's certainly significant," said Demel. "It's what we consider the oldest sailing vessel on Lake Michigan and one of the oldest in the Great Lakes."

La Salle — his full name was Rene-Robert Cavalier, Sier de La Salle — was commissioned by France to establish trade routes along the Mississippi River. One of his support boats was the Griffin, or "Griffon" in French. It set sail from present-day northeast Wisconsin on Sept. 18 1679, and was never seen again.

Steve Libert, an avid diver, treasure hunter and president of the Great Lakes Exploration Group, discovered a wreck in 2001 he suspects could be the vessel. But research has been on hold for more than a year while Libert and the state battle in federal court over ownership rights.

The dispute is far from settled but the two sides have recently agreed to continue with research — though not salvage — operations.

"We've agreed to have the investigation go forward to determine definitely whether the shipwreck is the Griffin," said Rick Robol, Libert's attorney.

Charlevoix, where Libert owns a summer home, could play a role. Libert is planning a fund raiser there this summer, hosting an event with his team and visiting French scientists to attract publicity and to "help promote sponsorships and endorsements for the expedition," according to his request to the city.

He has asked to use one boat slip for about a week in July.

Charlevoix resident and former mayor Josh Barnes was asked by the city to meet with Libert and gather information. Barnes wrote a recommendation letter to city leaders noting the research could "bring world-wide publicity" to the town.

"They'd be crazy not to" provide the requested dock space, Barnes said Monday.

Demel said scientists would conduct sonar and other surface tests at the wreck site. It's in the mouth of Green Bay, about 70 miles west of Charlevoix.

"It's an exciting project. It may turn out to be nothing. It might turn out to be a much more recent wreck, but there's only one way to find out," Demel said.

Libert could not be reached Monday. His wife Kathie said her husband wants the wreck preserved.

"He would love to see it go into the Chicago Field Museum, because it's centered on the lake. That would be his number one wish," she said.


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