SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — A boat that first set sail on the Great Salt Lake in 1902 recently was discovered as the lake shrinks to historic lows.
The Great Salt Lake’s size has shrunk by about half in terms of surface water area. Now, those low water levels are revealing some of the lake’s hidden history. Most recently, a sunken ship that had been lost for decades surfaced near the shore at the Great Salt Lake State Park just yards from the visitor’s center.
“It’s very exciting to see a piece of history that people can come out and see, but it’s also sad that the lake is this low,” Park Manager Dave Shearer told ABC4. “We’ve got trouble out here. Problems.”
Shearer has been with the park for more than two decades and has never seen the water levels as low as they are currently. Nonetheless, he was excited to learn about the history of the ship when it was discovered.
As the ship surfaced, Shearer explained that its hull was still intact. Its unique shape meant it would be possible to look through records and find out where it came from. Eventually, they learned that the ship was the W.E. Marsh No. 4.
“It’s leaning on its side and you’re seeing its starboard side of the hull and you can see the whole hull,” Shearer stated.
“This was one of the first boats that came out here in 1902 to build the trestle, so it was fairing people back and forth to the work site,” Shearer explained as he looked out over the observation deck at the wreckage below. “It was also used to haul or push barges around.”
He explained that the 40-foot boat made its way from San Fransico to Utah and was part of the Southern Pacific Railroad’s fleet. It was used during the construction of the Lucin Cutoff railroad trestle.
The railroad used the boat for decades. Shearer explained that in 1935, a small plane carrying executives for an oil company crashed into the lake killing all three onboard. Soon after, the oil company reached out to the Southern Pacific and commissioned the boat to dredge the lake for the plane. In 1936, the boat successfully completed that mission. Southern Pacific then gifted it to the Sea Scouts “to teach young kids the art of boating, and also for community boat races, and other programs,” according to Shearer.
Around 1950, the boat disappears from history books with no record of how it sunk or if anyone was onboard.
Not far from the W.E. Marsh sits the remains of another wrecked ship. There are other wrecks that have surfaced in recent years, however, not all are as intact as the newly surfaced W.E. Marsh and their identity and history remain a mystery.
As the lake continues to shrink, more history is likely to be revealed. “There’s a rich history out here,” Shearer said. “There are a lot of wrecks out here on the Great Salt Lake that have started to surface and it’s really interesting to go out there and see them.”
On January 1, the public is invited to the park to take a guided hike in which they will learn more about the lake’s history and get a close-up look of the surfaced ship. They will get an in-depth history of the W.E. Marsh.
More information on the tour can be found by clicking here.