Underwater photos show Michigan ship used by Al Capone as speakeasy during Prohibition

Keuka Shipwreck sunk nearly 100 years ago in Lake Charlevoix

Underwater photos show what remains of Keuka Shipwreck in Lake Charlevoix. (Chris Roxburgh, Chris Roxburgh)

Stunning photos showing a nearly century-old shipwreck in a Michigan lake give us a rare peek into the Prohibition Era.

Underwater photographer Chris Roxburgh, along with diver Lee Rosenberg, took a swim in Lake Charlevoix to explore the Keuka Shipwreck earlier this week, and the photos are something to see.

The 200-foot barge is still mostly intact. Roxburgh said the water was really cold for the deep dive -- about 34 degrees.

Underwater photos show what remains of Keuka Shipwreck in Lake Charlevoix. (Chris Roxburgh)
Underwater photos show what remains of Keuka Shipwreck in Lake Charlevoix. (Chris Roxburgh)

The Keuka was a tow barge that was used by Al Capone, one of the most infamous American gangsters in history, during the Prohibition Era. It was mostly used as a floating speakeasy.

“You can just kind of envision what may have been going on there, the dance scene, the bar, I heard there was even gambling on it as well,” Roxburgh told WPBN. “It’s cool to swim through it and around it and it’s still intact so, to have a ship that large this intact at 50-feet deep is rare as well.”

Related: How rum-running became one of Detroit’s biggest industries during Prohibition era

According to the Association for Great Lakes Maritime History, the ship was first launched in 1889, built in Mt. Clemens. It changed hands a few times over the next few decades, before the lumber barge was used to provide “night-time” tours of the lake, or “cruises,” that provided cover for the speakeasy. Here’s how the ship met its demise:

Because of its age, the barge had to be pumped out daily and the caretaker hired to take of the task was reportedly paid in whiskey. In late December 1930, a drunken passenger shot Ed Latham, the vessel’s manager, apparently by accident.

Upon learning of the shooting, however, Capt. Gallagher reportedly decided to shutter the operation indefinitely. On Aug. 14, 1932, the ship sank in about 50 feet of water near the western shore of Lake Charlevoix. Its masts were considered a hazard to navigation and dynamite was later used to remove them. The deck house now rests about 17 feet below the lake’s surface.

Association for Great Lakes Maritime History

Roxburgh added that pretty much anyone can snorkel across the shipwreck in the summer months because it’s considered a shallow shipwreck.

Underwater photos show what remains of Keuka Shipwreck in Lake Charlevoix. (Chris Roxburgh)
Underwater photos show what remains of Keuka Shipwreck in Lake Charlevoix. (Chris Roxburgh)
Underwater photos show what remains of Keuka Shipwreck in Lake Charlevoix. (Chris Roxburgh)
Underwater photos show what remains of Keuka Shipwreck in Lake Charlevoix. (Chris Roxburgh)
Underwater photos show what remains of Keuka Shipwreck in Lake Charlevoix. (Chris Roxburgh)

Related: Prohibition in Detroit: Inside the city’s most infamous speakeasy


About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital content and audience manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013. He enjoys suffering through Lions games on Sundays in the fall.