Could Confederate gold stolen after the civil war be buried in the depths of Lake Michigan? Two Muskegon treasure hunters strongly believe it is.
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This year's quest to find the gold has begun for Kevin Dykstra and Frederick J. Monroe. They believe they may have already found a significant piece to the puzzle, which would put them a step closer to proving their theory.
Kevin Dykstra
Muskegon treasure hunters find undiscovered shipwreck in Lake Michigan.
Dykstra and Monroe made worldwide news in December 2014 when they went public with their claim of finding the holy grail of all Great Lakes shipwrecks — Le Griffon. They say they actually found that shipwreck in 2011, but chose not to go public until December 2014 because they wanted to research and consult with maritime experts first.
The duo admitted they weren't searching for lost vessels at the time of making their Griffon claim. Instead, they say they were looking for gold.
Thanks to a deathbed confession that's nearly a century old, and four years of intense research done by Dykstra, both explorers believe they're on the brink.
The breakthrough they were looking for may have happened by accident in April when they dove on their discovery for the first time.
"Sometimes it's not about what you're looking for, it's what you find while you're looking," said Dykstra, who has been treasure hunting alongside Monroe for the past several years.
The pair began scanning Lake Michigan off the coast of Frankfort as soon as the ice melted, looking for a boxcar they claim holds more than $2 million in gold bullion.
"Forty years of waiting," said Monroe, referring to how long it's been since he first heard about the possibility of gold treasure in the lake. "I'm sure this season we'll find it."
“Sometimes it's not about what you're looking for, it's what you find while you're looking.”
Kevin Dykstra, treasure hunter
Dykstra and Monroe believe the lost Confederate gold is somewhere at the bottom of Lake Michigan, thanks to a two-part story that has transcended generations and was last relayed to Monroe in 1972.
"I was sitting down and talking to a friend of mine, and all of the sudden he says, 'Fred, you're just the person I want to see with your diving experience,'" said Monroe. "'My grandfather told me a story that he heard from a lighthouse keeper, who originally heard it during a deathbed confession, that there's two million dollars of gold bullion inside a boxcar that fell off a ferry into Lake Michigan.
'"
After four years of research, Dykstra and Monroe discovered in January that George Alexander Abbott delivered the deathbed confession in Muskegon, Mich., in 1921.
Abbott was vice president of Hackley National Bank, under former Muskegon lumber baron Charles H. Hackley.
"We believe wholeheartedly that the Confederate gold story is true, and we believe that the boxcar is out there," said Dykstra.
It is fact that in the late 1800s boxcars were shoved off ferries into Lake Michigan to lighten the load during bad weather.
The deathbed confession was only half of the story, according to Monroe. His friend offered up a second tale in 1972.
"He told me about a boat that has a cabin in it, which has a safe in it, and inside the safe, there was jewelry, gold and silver," Monroe said.
Even though this mystery ship was part of the story Monroe heard, the two explorers say they weren't looking for it. But it may be what they found in April.
"We were searching for the boxcar when we decided to make one final pass and head out towards deeper water," said Dykstra.
Suddenly, a large image appeared on their sonar. It looked like a ship sitting upright on the lake bottom.
"Kevin got suited up," said Monroe.
The water temperature was a frigid 37 degrees, but Kevin Dykstra and his brother, Albert, threw on their dive gear and began their 120-foot dive to the bottom.
As Kevin Dykstra worked his way down the dive rope, he says a perfectly preserved vessel came into view.
He says it didn't take long to determine that it was a tugboat, roughly 70 feet long.
"I was actually hovering over the bow of the ship, and when I looked down, I could see the windlass very clear," said Dykstra, recalling his initial investigation of the shipwreck. "Just back from the winch, I came across the mast, which was sticking straight up."
Kevin Dykstra
Muskegon treasure hunters find undiscovered shipwreck in Lake Michigan.
Just beyond the mast was a hatch cover on the deck of the vessel that somehow didn't pop off due to pressurization while it sank.
"To the left of the hatch cover was a very pronounced anchor," Dykstra said, smiling. that meant he was likely exploring a previously undiscovered wreck.
"I moved back towards the back of the ship when I came across the pilot house, which was still perfectly intact," said Dykstra. "The steering wheel was still in place."
As Dykstra peeked into the pilot house, he says he could see the mechanical parts of the ship, including the engine, but then something even more interesting caught his eye.
"Just to the left of the rear door was a safe," he said.
"To find a boat with a cabin intact, with a safe, while we're looking for the boxcar, the odds just seem too far that it must be related," said Dykstra.
Monroe says he, too, was excited, because all of the sudden, he believed the story he was told in 1972 was starting to be confirmed.
"It just makes everything come together," said Monroe.
But the four-decades-long wait will continue unless the state of Michigan decides it wants to get involved.
"We've got to find out what's in the safe," added Monroe.
"Once I realized there was a safe, I called the state archaeologist and let him know," said Dykstra.
The state can decided if it wants to send somebody out to the wreck site to excavate the safe, it can issue Dykstra and Monroe a permit to retrieve the safe themselves, or it can decide that nothing is to be done, meaning the safe, and its contents would remain a mystery.
"If that safe is opened, and there's gold, silver and jewels inside, to us, it really puts the boxcars a lot closer," Dykstra said.
Dykstra and Monroe say that given the size, type and location of the sunken vessel, they feel they know the identity of the wreck, though they say they want to do more research to be 100% sure.
Dykstra says if the ship is the one they believe it to be, it was owned by a prominent jeweler.
Michigan's state archaeologist, Dean Anderson offered no comment about whether the state plans to investigate the wreck or excavate the safe.
So, for now, the contents of that safe will remain a mystery.
Source for article as way as images USA Today