Exhibit plumbs mysteries of Lake Tahoe’s depths | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Exhibit plumbs mysteries of Lake Tahoe’s depths

Tom Lotshaw
With boats like "Shanghai," an 1890s steam launch that sank in the 1930s, and "Teaser," a 1924 runabout that sank just before a Concours d'Elegance boat show, the Ghost Ships exhibit tells stories of Lake Tahoe's depths.
Photos courtesy Tahoe Maritime Museum |

A Ghost Ships exhibit at the Tahoe Maritime Museum highlights some of the many underwater stories and secrets Lake Tahoe has harbored and offers some hints about may what yet be found in her famously clear, cold depths.

The exhibit runs through April 2015. One of its main pieces is the “Shanghai,” the first boat in the Tahoe Maritime Museum’s collection. The excursion steamer dates back to the 1890s. It was found sunk in Lake Tahoe by a remotely operated vehicle test crew that got blown off course in 2000. The vessel was once owned by Jake Obexer, an adventurer and early settler on Tahoe’s West Shore.

People are always interested learning about the “Shangai,” which is prominently displayed at the museum, so the idea of an exhibit exploring it and other stories hauled from Tahoe’s depths struck a chord, said Christine Shook, the museum’s exhibits and collections associate.

“We figured it was possible and a fun topic people are interested in, so we decided to do it,” Shook said.

Other displays in the exhibit include:

A wood canoe made by Native Americans, possibly the Washoe Tribe, that was recovered from Lake Tahoe. The long, thin canoe was a family’s lawn ornament for years, but before they moved out of the area they contacted the tribe and offered it to them. “It’s carved out of a tree trunk so you can see the center of the tree in the center of the boat,” Shook said.

A wooden boat named “Sunken Treasure” hauled out of Lake Tahoe in the mid-1990s along with 600 pounds of mud. People found the boat while diving to recover an outboard engine that fell off their own boat. “Sunken Treasure” was found with the key still in the ignition and no identification or serial numbers. It is the only known inboard boat built by the former Baycraft Marine company in Oakland. Believed to have been built in the 1940s, it dates back to the golden age of Tahoe’s wooden boat days. No owner could ever be found.

“The only clues they found were a pair of mocassins and a tool set with one wrench that has the name Ross etched into it,” Shook said. Wes Selvidge acquired “Sunken Treasure” for a $1,000 donation and a promise to bring her back to the annual Concours d’Elegance vintage boat show. He meticulously restored the boat by using as many of its original parts and materials as possible and closely replicated parts he could not reuse.

A fishing rowboat built by Ernie Pomin, a member of an early Tahoe family that built boats, ran stores and captained boats. Resorts rented Pomin’s rowboats out in the early 1900s and, when he died in 1970, friends and family took some of the boats he built out and sank them in his honor. This rowboat started its life on Tahoe, but later moved with a family to Bullard’s Bar Reservoir where it sank and was not recovered for 12 years. “They were going to use it for a planter but someone said you should give it to the maritime museum,” Shook said.

Other sunken boats on display include historic race vessels “Teaser” and “Skip-A-Long.” The Ghost Ships exhibit also has art displays. One was put together with help from Nevada County Arts and Placer Arts.

“We reached out to them to get local artists to create pieces that remind them of Lake Tahoe’s underwater world. We awarded best of show to Susan Watson at our opening and are doing a peoples’ choice through August 10,” Shook said.

Another display features the work of artist Ben Rogers and a third features Lake Tahoe sub-scapes done by Journey Around Happy. The sub-scapes are created with a combination of high resolution sonar data, above-water photography and oil painting.

The Ghost Ships exhibit has multimedia presentations. They include footage of “Sunken Treasure” being restored and underwater footage of the “S.S. Tahoe,” a famous passenger and cargo vessel that operated on the lake for decades before it was sunk in 300 to 400 feet of water near Glenbrook, where she was launched in 1896. The “S.S. Tahoe” continues to rest in the lake’s depths, the first underwater site in Nevada to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Feedback on the exhibit has been positive, Shook said. “It’s been really fun to put this together and I think people are surprised to learn about everything that’s below the lake, the history. Not even just the boats, but even things like the Native American grinding stones. Tahoe’s history is long and diverse and there’s a lot of evidence of that under the lake, and it needs to be preserved.”

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