Lake Erie shipwreck hunters and marine archaeologists say this is the wreckage of a sailing ship that went down nearly two centuries ago. (AP)

Lake Erie shipwreck hunters and marine archaeologists say this is the wreckage of a sailing ship that went down nearly two centuries ago. (AP)

This side-scan sonar image shows the lines of a ship thought to be the Lake Serpent. (Indiegogo, T. Kowalczk)

This side-scan sonar image shows the lines of a ship thought to be the Lake Serpent. (Indiegogo, T. Kowalczk)

The Lake Serpent was a schooner similar in size and rigging to this one. (Historcal Collection, Bowling Green State University)

The Lake Serpent was a schooner similar in size and rigging to this one. (Historcal Collection, Bowling Green State University)

The carved snake bow of the Lake Serpent (AP)

The carved snake bow of the Lake Serpent (AP)

Waves pound a lighthouse on the shores of Lake Erie near Cleveland. (AP)

Waves pound a lighthouse on the shores of Lake Erie near Cleveland. (AP)

Found: Lake Serpent! Maybe.

Posted: December 31, 2018

Shipwreck hunters dive 50 feet into Lake Erie in Ohio. They spy something buried deep under algae and sand . . . a schooner!

Could their find be the Lake Serpent? That ship sank nearly two centuries ago. The Lake Serpent had a serpent’s head carved into its front. The boat was built in 1821 in Cleveland, Ohio. At that time, the now-big city was tiny. Fewer than 1,000 people lived there. The Lake Serpent’s job was to carry cargo—fruits and vegetables, flour, whiskey, and limestone—to ports along the lakes. The boat set sail with a load of stone in 1829. It never returned. The body of one crew member was spotted in the lake days after the sinking.

In 2015, Tom Kowalczk spotted Lake Erie wreckage on a sonar screen. If it is the Lake Serpent, Mr. Kowalczk has discovered the oldest wreckage ever found in Lake Erie. Some signs point to a match. Divers say the wreck is the right size. They also uncover large stones like the ones the Serpent carried, and a carving at the ship’s bow (front). Most ships from that time did not have such carvings.

On Lake Erie, violent storms can whip up in a hurry. The old lake is a graveyard for hundreds of vessels! Many have been found in recent years. But the Lake Serpent is especially hard to identify. It was built before ship builders began putting numbers or name plates onto ships. And much of the found wreck has been torn apart by years under water.

The match isn’t for sure. Some parts of the wreckage are still covered in several feet of mud and sediment. Divers plan to explore the wreck again next year.