Griffon: Mythical Beast; Elusive Wreck

Griffon heads to Lake Erie

Le Griffon was the first vessel to sail above Niagara Falls.

No one can say for sure whether or not the French took the time to actually carve the figure of a Griffon onto the first sailing vessel to traverse the upper Great Lakes. Shipwreck hunters fantasize about a figure head on the bow or a carving on the stern of the mythical beast, half eagle, half lion. Consider the fact that Le Griffon was built in the dead of winter (during a “mini ice age”, mind you) just above Niagara Falls. The French were in a hurry, they had limited supplies and tools to accomplish the task of building the ship, and the Native American – watching from a distance as the “giant canoe” took shape – did not want the ship to be constructed. All of these things – and the fact that Le Griffon was not a grandiose vessel by all accounts – suggest that it is unlikely that there would be a figure head on the ship. But who knows?

Dive boat hovers above the site of Le Griffon

The team prepares the back of the boat for divers to enter the water.

This wreck was never meant to be found. At least not on purpose. Only the smallest bit of what might be a wreck is sticking out of the bottomlands of Lake Michigan in an area so remote, so vast and open, that upon seeing what it is that Steve Libert found, you wonder how it was ever found at all. And it’s not that impressive at a glance.

At a glance…

But when you look closer at this piece of what looks like White Oak sticking out of the bottom of the lake, you have to wonder, all things considered, what in the hell is it and how did it get there? And what is it attached to?

Diving on Le Griffon

Diving on what might be the oldest shipwreck in the Great Lakes: Le Griffon

It’s enough of something to bring top archaeologists, geophysicists, commercial divers, PhDs of all kinds to this remote location in northern Lake Michigan. And the science is suggesting that this beam isn’t just standing by itself in the middle of essentially nowhere – it’s attached to something large, something buried, something very old.

If it is Le Griffon, it would be the start of solving the greatest mystery of the Great Lakes. The next steps would be to determine how it sunk. Are their bodies on board? What’s in the cargo hold? No one knows what’s sitting under the muck beneath this peculiar wooden object, 8 miles from mainland Michigan in a dark, cold, forbidding location at the bottom of Lake Michigan. But a team of the best scientists and explorers are hoping to find out in the next few weeks. It might just be a mythical beast…


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