WWI German submarine has underwater Lake Michigan grave
May 19, 2013 (CHICAGO) (WLS) -- It is no secret that one of the major attractions at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry is a World War II German submarine. What you may not know is that Chicago also has a World War I German submarine but it happens to be resting in a place where very few people can see it.
We are turning the clock back to 1919 which was an incredible year in Chicago's history.
There were race riots that took lives and others died when a hydrogen blimp crashed in the loop. There was a transit strike, political scandal, the Black Sox lost the series and the City of Chicago became host to a German submarine that has disappeared, but never left.
It was something of a trophy from the Great War. The German mine-laying sub U-C 97 was brought to the states in the summer of 1919. It toured some of the Great Lakes making stops in Racine, Milwaukee and its final destination Chicago. Along the way people could see, board, touch, perhaps curse this modern machine of war.
"The U-Boat was on tour. It was kind of a post-war, 'we won' tour, and so people got to go on to it and see it, and then as a condition of the armistice, it had to be sunk," Pritzker Military Library CEO Ken Clarke said.
Indeed, the order was to sink the UC-97 in deep water. In June of 1921, the sub was towed 20 to 30 miles off of Highland Park. The USS Wilmette was brought within rang, and fired her four inch guns.
"My understanding is they fired about 15 shots and they hit her about the water line and she went down pretty quick. She nose down and down she went," well-known maritime searcher Taras Lyssenko said.
And out there she rests - on the bottom of Lake Michigan.
"You know where the submarine is. I can take you right to the submarine and put you in the hatch if you want to go," Lyssenko said.
How about the aft hatch? It's there In 300 feet of water. Sleeping with the fishes. Here's a hole from one of the Willmette's shells.
Cold, fresh water has kept the sub in pretty good shape as the years have passed. Lyssenko and colleagues spent four years searching for it, and found it back in the 1990s.
In the years since, he's recovered numerous World War II fighter planes from the Lake - now restored and displayed, but Lyssenko's continuing dream is to do the same with the sub. But raising, restoring, and finding a home for it would cost, he says, upwards of 50 million dollars.
"That's huge, but the value to this city and state and country is far, multiplier. It's an exponential multiplier of the value," Lyssenko said.
"If I was a betting person, it's going to take somebody with a very particular specific interest and desire to see this piece of history come alive again," Clarke said.
And here's one more piece of history. The ship that sunk the UC-97, The USS Wilmette, had different name and purpose a few years earlier. It was the Steamship Eastland that in 1915 turned onto its side while docked in the Chicago River. Over 800 lives were lost in one of the worst maritime disasters ever.
The Eastland, later the Wilmette, was cut up for scrap after World War II. The UC-97 sits at the bottom, this appetizing, unseen pearl of history.
Pearls are expensive, and raising this one, while doable, will most definitely require "digging deep" in many respects.
local, paul meincke
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