Ross Richardson will show video footage of his dives on the big screen Saturday in Frankfort at the Garden Theater in celebration of the launch of his book: The Search for the Westmoreland: Lake Michigan’s Treasure Shipwreck. The event is free from 4:00pm to 7:00pm.
A new book published in Traverse City by Arbutus Press tells the tale of a fabled shipwreck at the bottom of Lake Michigan. Somewhere off the coast of Frankfort, lies, largely in-tact the 200-foot Westmoreland. Diver and Author Ross Richardson has not released an exact location. It’s been at the bottom of the lake since before the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
The ship was carrying valuable cargo, en route to Mackinac Island. There are even unsubstantiated tales of a safe on board that could hold a treasure in gold coins, today worth millions. But Ross Richardson insists the first time he looked down on the bow of the deep sea wreck, his heart beat remained steady.
The First Sighting
“I was so busy doing all the stuff you’ve got to do while you’re diving,” he says. “You’ve got to make sure your ears are equalized, add pressure to your dry suit. I had both hands on the camera.
“So I was quite busy. I really didn’t have time to look around until I got down and kind of floated off the deck a little bit.”
Richardson did grow more emotional as he caught sight of a crane-like structure that’s used to hold lifeboats. The davit made the wreck feel eerie.
“The story is one of those davits hooked a lifeboat as it went down and flipped it and killed 15 people right on the spot. So I realized that the last people that saw this were about 150 years ago. And they all died right here,” he says.
Identifying The Wreck
There was some collapsed decking, a broken mast about the size of a telephone pole and on the sea floor were artifacts, china, still in-tact. The tell-tale sign this is the Westmoreland was an important architectural element to the ship. The sides were constructed in much the same pattern as a suspension bridge, with 12 foot arches running its length for support.
Richardson continued the dive, going the full 200 feet to the stern.
“And out of the gloom appeared the auxiliary helm, a perfectly in-tact ship’s wheel about four feet in diameter, just beautiful, sitting on the back deck since 1854, not a spoke out of place. It was pretty amazing.
“So yeah, when I saw that I realized no other divers had been here,” he says.
Richardson says, this is a deep sea wreck, but it would have been possible to dive it in the 1960s or 1970s. But he says, if that had happened, the divers would likely have wanted that wheel.
No Treasure… Yet
Richardson estimates he’s made more than 40 dives down to the Westmoreland since he found it in July of 2010, but, in case you’re wondering, he’s found no safe loaded with treasure.
“Not from a lack of looking,” he says. “It’s a legend that it was carrying this gold. Maybe the legend is true. Maybe it’s false. In the book I explain a couple of different theories of what could have happened with some previous searches. Or it could be sitting down there.”