Tahoe’s Ghost Ships

by Jenn Sheridan ·

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The “SS Tahoe” is one of the ships that was scuttled in Lake Tahoe.

Tahoe Maritime Museum  |  10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Fri.-Sun.
$5 adults
Free 12 and younger
Free military & members

Discover the treasures lost beneath the surface of Lake Tahoe at the Tahoe Maritime Museum during “Ghost Ships,” a new exhibit featuring boats that sank in Lake Tahoe. Using oral history, underwater footage and found artifacts, “Ghost Ships” pieces together the history of boating on Lake Tahoe.

The exhibit features a combination of salvaged vessels, video and historical documents to explore the stories of select boats and question the social and legal issues pertaining to salvaging vessels along with the impact of public interaction with underwater historic sites.

Starting with a nearly intact Washoe canoe, the exhibit showcases several salvaged and restored vessels including the “Shanghai.” A centerpiece in the Tahoe Maritime Museum’s collection, “Shanghai” was believed to have started as an excursion boat and was later used as a work boat.

The boat was raised from the bottom of Lake Tahoe in 2000 and donated to the museum the following year by Edna and Sarah Obexer. Though the cold waters of Lake Tahoe helped preserve the body, signs of a fire that caused her to sink are still evident.

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“Shangai” was raised from the bottom of Lake Tahoe in 2000 and is part of the collection at the museum.

“Sunken Treasure” is another highlight in the Museum. This 14-foot 1949 Baycraft Runabout was rescued from the depths of Lake Tahoe and restored to its original beauty.

Scuttling boats was a common practice on Lake Tahoe. Boats were purposefully sunk for safe keeping during the harsh winter months, or as a way to preserve them from being sold as scrap metal. One such boat, which is believed to have been scuttled for storage, is on display. The Pomin rowboat was used for fishing and still features an intact live bait well.

Explore Emerald Bay

Emerald Bay is home to many scuttled boats including barges and dories along with a treasure trove of artifacts from resorts that used the bay as a dump site. Emerald Bay was designated as California’s first Underwater State Park in 1994. Traditionally only accessible to those with SCUBA experience and equipment, exploration of many of the wrecks in Emerald Bay have been captured on video for the “Ghost Ships” exhibit. Interactive iPads allow viewers to explore sites through video footage, photographs and oral histories.

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Emerald Bay is filled with underwater artifacts, including this sunken dory.

In conjunction with the exhibit, the Tahoe Maritime Museum partnered with Placer Arts and NCArts to host a juried art exhibit, “Sunken Treasures,” featuring works with connotations of a sunken vessel. Artists chosen for the exhibit included Bunny California, Lisa Kurt, Eva Nichols, Ron Oden, Sara Smith and Susan Watson.

An additional exhibit showcases fine art subscapes by local hydrographer Brent Von Twistern. The works begin with high-resolution images of the lake floor paired with above-water images and embellished with oil paint by fine artist Chris Hill. The result is where science and art intersect. A detailed map of Tahoe’s lake floor combined with a colorful rendition of the shoreline and surrounding landscape work to extend the viewers awareness beyond the water line and bring attention to important cultural and scientific features lying just out of sight.

“Ghost Ships” and the corresponding art exhibits are on display at the Tahoe Maritime Museum until April 2015. For more information, visit tahoemaritimemuseum.org or call (530) 525-9253.