Little do people suspect that there’s a shipwreck just off of Chicago’s coastline, let alone one that’s easily accesible by swimmers. But there is—the remnants of the Silver Spray, a steamship that ran aground on Morgan Shoal in 1914. No one was hurt, though, according to this account, the crew refused to abandon ship without having their dinner! (The story reminds me a little of the wreck of the Mariposa Belle in Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (full text available at Project Gutenberg), which was published two years before the Silver Spray‘s sinking. Interestingly, Leacock did his PhD at the University of Chicago.)
I took a mask and snorkel out to the shipwreck a few weeks ago. All that’s left of the Silver Spray is her boiler, a boxy metal structure in about ten feet of water that lies a few hundred metres off of the 49th Street beach. Morgan Shoal, a limestone formation that has apparently claimed many ships, is littered with other smaller bits of wreckage. It’s also swarming with round gobies and zebra/quagga mussels, two of the many invasive species that now dominated the Great Lakes. The occasional bass also hangs around the shoal. Here are a couple of photos I took while there.
I highly recommend visiting the wreck while the weather is still nice, as Lake Michigan* has finally warmed to a tolerable temperature and the wreck may not last (there are rumours of shoreline development plans that would cover or remove it). If you don’t get this opportunity, here are two neat videos that give a good idea of what’s to be seen. Note that this year, the water level is much higher than in these videos; the top of the boiler was just below the surface while I was there. Greg Lane, an advocate for preservation of the wreck, apparently offers tours some Sundays during the summer, but he was not there when I went. There’s also a lot more information on the Silver Spray in this article, which I’m linking to again because it’s really worth the read.
*Interestingly, I have become incapable of typing “Michigan”. I type “Michicago” first literally every time.