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Father daughter duo discover shipwreck more than 150 years old

Henley Wollak honored at school Monday for epic find
Posted at 5:37 PM, Apr 29, 2024

PESHTIGO (NBC 26) — A Peshtigo kindergarten student finds a piece of history with her dad. Meet Henley Wollak, the girl who discovered a shipwreck more than 150 years old with her dad, Tim, while out fishing.

  • The father and daughter happened upon the remnants of the George L. Newman just before Henley's fifth birthday
  • The boat sank after crashing into Green Island, east of Marinette, when smoke from the Great Peshtigo Fire blinded the crew
  • The George L. Newman is one of 13 shipwrecks discovered in Wisconsin last year, many by accident

(The following is a transcription of the full broadcast story.)

A piece of Wisconsin history discovered by a little girl and her father from right here in Peshtigo. I'm Pari Apostolakos and I met the father-daughter duo who found a shipwreck more than 150 years old.

Just before her fifth birthday, Henley Wollak's dad decided to take her fishing and swimming at one of their favorite spots: Green Island, east of Marinette in the middle of Green Bay.

"It's really fun and I like fishing a lot," Henley said.

But, the father-daughter duo got more than they bargained for.

"I noticed on my fish finder, my side imaging, I saw what looked like a shipwreck on the bottom," Tim Wollak said.

"I thought it was the Green Bay octopus," Henley said.

Thinking it was a shipwreck people knew about already, Tim posted photos of it on Facebook. Wisconsin historical society maritime specialist Jordan Ciesielczyk came across the post and told Tim he may have found something new.

"Shipwrecks give us a unique look into the past because each of them is basically like a time capsule," Ciesielczyk said.

Ciesielczyk says the boat likely hadn't been seen before because of changing sand levels. He says many of the discoveries of 13 new shipwrecks in Wisconsin last year happened by accident.

"I thought it was pretty cool and amazing," Henley said.

The historical society says the boat Henley and her dad found is the George L. Newman. It was heading south, transporting lumber from Little Suamico more than 150 years ago, when suddenly, "They were completely blinded by the smoke produced by the Great Peshtigo fire," Ciesielczyk said. "So, they were sailing blind, and that's how they ended up striking the reef at green island."

A lighthouse keeper helped get all the George L. Newman's crew members to safety.

At her school on Monday, Henley was honored in front of her classmates for her discovery.

"It's just unique to be able to share it with Henley," Tim said. "It's sparked her imagination."

Next week the Wisconsin Historical Society will send divers underwater to study and photograph the ship. In Peshtigo Pari Apostolakos NBC 26.