Father-Daughter Duo Accidentally Uncover 1871 Shipwreck While Fishing on Lake Michigan

Father-Daughter Duo Accidentally Uncover 1871 Shipwreck While Fishing on Lake Michigan

In an unexpected twist during a fishing trip on Lake Michigan, Tim Wollak and his six-year-old daughter, Henley, inadvertently stumbled upon what is believed to be a shipwreck dating back to 1871.

The discovery, initially mistaken for an octopus, has captured the attention of the Wisconsin Historical Society, shedding light on a potential historical artifact hidden beneath the lake’s surface.

The Unlikely Discovery:

While fishing near Green Island in Green Bay last August, the duo’s sonar detected an unusual object, sparking Henley’s curiosity, who thought it might be an octopus.

Tim Wollak shared images on Facebook, leading to the involvement of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Subsequent confirmation from an underwater remote vehicle revealed the remains of a three-masted wooden sailing ship submerged in eight to ten feet of water.

The unexpected nature of the discovery adds a layer of intrigue to the narrative, showcasing the power of happenstance in uncovering historical relics.

Identification and Historical Context:

Archaeologists identified the ship as potentially the 122-foot-long George L. Newman, which sank during the catastrophic Peshtigo Fire in 1871, claiming the lives of up to 1,500 people.

The vessel grounded on Green Island’s southeast point during the fire, leading to the crew’s rescue by the lighthouse keeper.

The historical context enhances the significance of the find, linking the shipwreck to a tragic event in U.S. history, making it a compelling archaeological discovery.

Significance of the Shipwreck:

Tamara Thomsen, a maritime archaeologist for the Wisconsin Historical Society, emphasized the historical significance of the ship, dating back to 1855.

Plans are underway to conduct a survey next spring, potentially paving the way for the site’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

Highlighting the age and rarity of the shipwreck, along with plans for further investigation, underscores its importance and potential contributions to maritime history.

Reflections on the Discovery:

Tim Wollak expressed his surprise at not having noticed the shipwreck earlier, considering its location frequented by people.

Reflecting on the find, he shared thoughts on the uniqueness of the discovery, particularly for his daughter Henley, and expressed plans for more fishing expeditions in the hope of uncovering additional shipwrecks.

Wollak’s reflections provide a personal touch to the narrative, emphasizing the awe and curiosity surrounding the unexpected discovery.

Historical Context – Peshtigo Fire:

Briefly delving into the Peshtigo Fire, the deadliest forest fire in U.S. history, adds context to the shipwreck’s connection to a tragic event that unfolded in 1871, contributing to the overall historical backdrop.

Providing context on the Peshtigo Fire enriches the narrative, connecting the shipwreck to a broader historical timeline.


The discovery of this 19th-century shipwreck on Lake Michigan comes on the heels of other recent finds, highlighting the rich maritime history within the Great Lakes.

As plans unfold for further exploration and potential recognition, the unexpected uncovering of historical artifacts continues to captivate historians and enthusiasts alike.