MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Lake Michigan is home to nearly 1,500 known shipwrecks, and a majority of the underwater graveyards are in depths of 100 feet or less, making them more accessible to everyday divers.
However, the lake’s most intact shipwreck, the John V. Moran, rests nearly 400 feet deep and just 12 miles off Muskegon’s shoreline.
“I wanted to lay a hand on the railing and experience basically a sunken time capsule from 1899 in person,” said explorer Dusty Klifman, who recently completed his three-year quest.
Because of the extreme depths of the wreck, only a handful of expert divers have physically laid eyes on the Moran.
Klifman said he and his team sank into the darkness of Lake Michigan for more than five minutes before the Moran came into sight.
Valerie van Heest, director of the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association, said the nonprofit organization discovered the Moran in 2015.
“I had a historic photo of the ship. and the camera came down and I thought that I was looking at the historic photo,” she said. “It was identical to the way it looked the day that it sank.”
The Moran was a wooden steamship built in 1888. It primarily ran cargo between Wisconsin and Michigan. According to the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association, the Moran met its end during the big winter storm of 1899 after only 11 years of service.
“The crew was bucking ice,” van Heest said. “The lake was starting to freeze over and they were pounding their way, trying to break their way through ice.”
The ship’s hull eventually gave way, and after four days of slowly sinking, the Moran disappeared.
“After four days, the power of mother nature was just too much for this ship,” van Heest said.
The crew, however, braved the ice and was rescued.
Experts credit the ship’s slow demise as one of the key reasons the Moran is still so intact.
Klifman said he still can’t believe he was able to swim the halls of this forgotten ship. He documented his exploration, which showed that the ship’s mast and pilot house are still intact more than a century later.
“We’re talking glass in the windows, the railings are intact,” Klifman said. “You can walk into the rooms and turn a chair upright and sit in it.”