The fact that the Westmoreland was one of the earliest propellers on the Lakes and that she was almost brand new (one year old) when she sank makes for a great shipwreck story. But when stories of her fabled cargo started circulating around the wharfs and bars of Milwaukee and Frankfort she became a legend.
Stories of gold in the strong box and brandy and whiskey in her hold seem to emanate for the Westmoreland’s first mate, Paul Pelkey. Captain Pelkey was far from a crackpot and considered a very capable seaman and navigator. Captain Pelkey returned in 1872 and 1874 to get at the cargo of the Westmoreland. That’s a lot of time and effort to put into something, unless you knew something was there…
The other day, the Sleeping Bear Dunes blog tipped us off to a story from earlier in the summer that we missed. I talked with Ross for a bit this morning. He told me that it was his intention to leave artifacts at the wreck, because it’s the law and also to give people the experience of diving an “underwater museum.” He also let me use these photos he took – see more on his Facebook!
The Traverse City Record-Eagle article Diver says he found Westmoreland shipwreck explained that diver Ross Richardson of Lake Ann combed the waters near the Sleeping Bear Dunes for years seeking the Westmoreland — a vessel that foundered near South Manitou Island in a Lake Michigan winter storm on Dec. 7, 1854.
Richardson, however, kept his discovery a secret until he could set aside time to dive down and see the ship up close. His brother joined him three days later, and they filmed underwater video of the Westmoreland, which rose 30 feet above the sand in some spots. Richardson then posted the video on his website, www.michiganmysteries.com.
“I was shocked,” Richardson said of his discovery. “It’s an area of underwater archaeology that’s kept it pretty hidden. It’s a good piece of history.”
Several expeditions failed in the search of the 200-foot Westmoreland, though some newspaper reports from the late 19th century indicate the vessel was located. Historians believe it was sunk by a wicked winter storm. Stories passed down over generations about treasure aboard the ship, but Richardson refutes those claims.
“There’s no proof or records of it down there,” he said.
Anyway, here’s the video (no sound) and you can read more about the Westmoreland and other Michigan mysteries on his web site.