HYDE PARK — The Silver Spray is now just barely visible 100 years after it sank off the coast of Hyde Park.
For the crowd gathered on the beach to remember the ferry on the anniversary of its sinking, the wreck could only be picked out as a spot where the waves formed whitecaps 100 yards out from the pebbly beach.
“Most of the wood hull is broken up, tumbled on the rocks,” said Dan Peterman, a Woodlawn-based artist who gathered with other freshwater maritime history fans for a meal of stew and then a swim out to the wreck.
The 109-foot-long ferry crashed in the shallow water of Morgan Shoal on July 15, 1914, on its way south to Hyde Park to pick up 200 University of Chicago students for a voyage to the steel mills in Gary, Ind.
An article from the Chicago Examiner at the time said the ferry listed on the tip of the shoal for three days with the cook still on board making stew as bystanders watched and built fires from pieces of the wooden hull as they floated to shore.
One hundred years later, only the boiler, propellers and yoke remain.
“It’s not the drama of a pirate ship down there,” Peterman said.
He said the wreck is only an excuse to explore the massive shoal.
Morgan Shoal is a mountain of limestone that rises from the floor of Lake Michigan, its tip just 5 feet from the surface off the Hyde Park shoreline.
“You would never think it’s Chicago out there,” said Greg Lane, who has swum to the shoal dozens of times. “Skin diving out there, you would think it was tropical.”
He said swimming over the shoal is like snorkeling through a reef, the unique terrain is teeming with fish and plants not seen anywhere else close to Chicago.
“It’s a monolithic thing with cracks and valleys,” Peterman said. “It’s not like the Great Barrier Reef, but it’s a striking thing.”
Both Peterman and Lane hope to see the shoal designated as the city’s first underwater park.
“Part of this is a preservation effort to think about what it is as a natural landscape,”
Peterman said. “The shoal is a natural resource and an underappreciated one,”
Of the 25 artists, farmers and others who stopped to eat stew and remember the Silver Spray, only three ventured out to the wreck on Friday evening.
But all joined in building a small fire on the rocky beach to recall the witnesses who burned the planks of the ship as they floated to shore and watched the ship's boiler bob in the waves and sink down onto the peak of Morgan Shoal.
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