Divers flock to the giant marble crucifix that rests on the bottom of Little Traverse Bay in the northern Lower Peninsula.
Every once in a while, landlubbers can catch a glimpse, too.
That will happen again Saturday, when the public is invited out on the frozen bay to view the crucifix through a hole cut in the five-foot-thick ice. The sculpture is about 22 feet down.
Seeing the world’s only known freshwater-underwater crucifix is a powerful experience for many visitors, said Dennis Jessick, a diver who has researched its history and helps organize the wintertime viewings.
“You can see when they look down in there, (and) when you talk to them and they don’t answer you — it’s a special time for these people,” he said. “It’s an emotional thing for a lot of people.”
Gerald Schipinski, 15, died in an accident on his family’s farm in 1956. To honor his memory, his family ordered a marble crucifix that isnow on the bottom of Little Traverse Bay.PHOTO PROVIDED BY DENNIS JESSICK
How did a crucifix end up in Lake Michigan?
The story begins with the death of a teenage boy. Gerald Schipinski, 15, was killed in 1956 in an accident on his family’s farm near Bad Axe. His parents commissioned the crucifix in his honor, but it was damaged during shipping from Italy and they rejected it, according to the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau. It was put up for sale and purchased by a member of a Wyandotte-based dive club.
The club had the crucifix repaired and placed in the bay in 1962 to honor a diver who drowned in Torch Lake. It grew to become a memorial to all those who have died by water, including victims of shipwrecks.
Over time, sediment began to swallow the crucifix. Another club, the now-defunct Michigan Skin Divers Council, raised it, cleaned it, built a new base for it, and moved it closer inland to shallower water in 1985.
What does it look like?
The first ice viewing in the new spot was in 1986. In 2015, a record-setting crowd of 2,021 people came out to see it. Poor ice or weather conditions forced the event to be cancelled for the next few years.
The crucifix is 11 feet long and weighs 1,850 pounds. It rests on its back atop a limestone rock bed. Jessick said there are a handful of plaques at the site memorializing people who have died.
Some of Schipinski’s surviving relatives have visited the site, Jessick said. One memorable year, a wedding party drove a Lincoln Continental onto the ice and stopped to take a peek.
The sculpture is fairly low-maintenance. Divers periodically scrape algae and zebra mussels off the white marble.
How can I see it?
The viewing is from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. The path to the crucifix starts near the clock tower in Petoskey’s Bayfront Park, by the marina. From there it’s a 1,200-foot walk on the ice. A tent will mark the hole.
The free event is weather dependent and could be cancelled if conditions are bad. “Look for the tent – no tent, no event,” the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau noted on its Facebook page.