The remains of a steamship sat on the ocean floor off Key Largo for over a hundred years and despite being a well-known diving spot, the identity of the wreck remained a mystery.
Now, after three years of digging through dusty shipping records and newspapers, researchers have figured out the original name of what, for years, had only been known as “Mike’s Wreck.”
It is the Hannah M. Bell, a 315-foot steel-hulled that sank near Key Largo on April 4, 1911.
The hunt for the Hannah M. Bell’s identity began in 2009 when Matthew Lawrence was teaching divers from the National Association of Black Scuba Divers about underwater archaeology near the wreckage in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. But there was no history attached to “Mike’s Wreck,” which got its name from Mike Butler, who helped popularize the wreck as a diving spot in the 1980s.
“I couldn’t believe that, with such a large, well-preserved steel steamship, we weren’t able to connect the history to the wreck site,” Lawrence told ABCNews.com.
Lawrence, who works in Massachusetts for the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, returned home and spent the next three years researching shipwrecks near where the Hannah M. Bell went down about six miles off the shore of Key largo.
He was able to narrow the list of possible ships to a few, including the Hannah M. Bell.
In September 2012, Lawrence returned to the wreck, along with the National Association of Black Scuba Divers, to take measurements from “Mike’s Wreck” and have since positively identified the ship.
“It was a perfect match,” Lawrence said.
Researchers learned the Hannah M. Bell, sank with no fatalities while on its way to Vera Cruz, Mexico, with a load of coal. At Elbow Reef, a narrow strip of shallow reef which juts six miles out from the mainland, the English-built steamer went down near several other sunken vessels.
In fact, Lawrence says there are thousands of sunken vessels that we know of along America’s coast.
“Fishermen probably knew of this wreck and the ones nearby for generations,” Lawrence said. “The rarity is that we were able to ferret out this particular ship’s story from history.”