Minnesota Shipwreck Hunters, Ken Merryman and Jerry Eliason recently discovered the Pere Marquette 18 in Lake Michigan, after remaining undiscovered for 110 years. It lies in 500 feet of water, offshore from Sheboygan, Wisconsin and Port Washington, Wisconsin, covered in zebra mussels and sits stern-first into the bottom of the lake at a steep angle, the tip of the bow rising almost 100 feet.
Ken Merryman and Jerry Eliason have been hunting and exploring new shipwrecks for over 20 years, and are known for the discovery of the wreck of the coastal steamer J H Jones, Mansasoos and the Jane Miller in 2018.
Read The Scuba New Canada’s Article on Discovery of the Manasoos.
The SS Pere Marquette was the first steel train ferry in the world. It sailed on Lake Michigan and served ports in Ludington, Michigan and Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The steamship was 110 m (350 feet) long, and 17 m (56 feet) tall. It weighed 2,443 gross register tons and was driven it by two 12 foot (3.7 m) propellers. Two compound engines produced 2,500 horsepower (1,900 kW) of power. The ship had electricity that was operated at the pilot house from stem to stern. The interior deck had 4 tracks to accommodate 30 freight boxcars. Robert Logan was the naval architect who designed the steamship. Between 1895 and 1910, he had designed six car ferries for the Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad. He was born in Scotland, and began shipbuilding in 1888 in Canada.
Sept. 9, 1910: Pere Marquette 18 was transporting 60 passengers/crew and 30 railcars from Ludington, Michigan to Milwaukee. She began to take on water faster than its pumps could handle, and Captain Kilty promptly gave three orders, first to disengage the railway cars, second to send a distress signal and third to change direction. Other vessels raced alongside to aid after the distress signals, standing by as Captain Kilty and his crew kept on course for the shore of Wisconsin. The beleaguered ship was running low in the water and certainly, tension levels were running high. Then, to the unbelief of eyewitnesses — the stern of Pere Marquette 18 unexpectedly sank under the waves and the bow rose toward the sky. Just like that she was gone, leaving at least 29 dead and hundreds trying to escape the swirling rubble.
It has been said that the captain and crew harshly handled the ship; hard landings and hitting pilings, thus resulting in damage to the ship that wasn’t addressed. According to reports, it was rumoured that Captian Kilty actions were aimed more at saving the ship more than at saving lives on board the ship.
With the stern so deeply entrenched in the mud, it is uncertain if the wreck’s discovery will possibly address any sinking questions but the wreck’s depth (500 feet) is at the limits of the Great Lakes’ most experienced divers. As of this article, Ken Merryman and Jerry Eliason have no plans to return to dive the Pere Marquette 18.