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Watch a dive team explore a newly discovered Peshtigo shipwreck

Posted at 9:44 PM, May 16, 2024

PESHTIGO (NBC 26) — A newly discovered shipwreck is much bigger than it was thought to be. Pari Apostolakos reports in Peshtigo, where a father-daughter duo first found the historical site on a fishing trip.

  • The George L. Newman was first found by five-year-old Henley Wollak and her dad, Tim while fishing near Green Island in the bay of Green Bay
  • The ship sank while sailing with lumber from Little Suamico the night of the Great Peshtigo Fire
  • The wreck was surveyed for the first time by maritime archaeologists and volunteers on May 6
  • Watch the video to get an underwater look at the wreck

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

A newly discovered shipwreck is much bigger than it was thought to be. I'm Pari Apostolakos reporting in Peshtigo, where a father-daughter duo first found the historical site on a fishing trip.

Just before Henley Wollak's fifth birthday, her dad took her fishing at Green Island in the bay of Green Bay.

There, they discovered something.

"I noticed on my fish finder, my side imaging, I saw what looked like a shipwreck on the bottom," Tim Wollak, Henley's dad, said in April.

"I thought it was the Green Bay octopus," Henley said during an interview at her school last month.

But, it turned out to be a previously undiscovered shipwreck more than 150 years old.

Last week, for the first time, two maritime archaeologists and a team of volunteer divers dove to the lake floor to survey the shipwreck and they found more than they thought they would.

"We had anticipated that there was one piece," Wisconsin Historical Society Maritime Archaeologist Tamara Thomsen said. "There's actually six major pieces that are associated with the site."

Thomsen says the shipwreck site is about 150 yards wide and 200 long.

Now, the historical society will work with a graphic artist and an animator to draw the shipwreck to scale and create an animated version that people can view online.

"We hope they connect with their history," Thomsen said.

In 1871 George L. Newman sank while bringing lumber from Little Suamico. Crew members were blinded by smoke from the Great Peshtigo Fire. They hit the reef at Green Island. A lighthouse keeper helped the entire crew get to safety.

"It is in very shallow water, and it was salvaged," Thomsen said. "So when the men were stranded on the ship they removed as much as they could and took it onto the island."

Thomsen says the shipwreck can teach us a lot about how boats were made 150 years ago when the craft was passed down to apprentices and there were no blueprints.

The shipwreck is protected under state law. But, the Historical Society is also working on getting it on the National Register of Historic Places for a federal level of protection against looting and damage.

Now, anyone is free to go out to Green Island and check out the shipwreck.

Thomsen says the process to get the George L. Newman on the National Register of Historic Places will take about a year. In Peshtigo, Pari Apostolakos NBC 26.