Shipwreck In Lake Michigan Finally Revealed

[Madhukarjoshi1, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons]

On July 9, 1886, the steamship Milwaukee ran into the C. Hickox on Lake Michigan. Although most of the sailors survived, the ship sank to the bottom of the Great Lake. 

According to a statement from the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association, the wreckage of the Milwaukee has been identified more than 130 years after its sinking. In June of last year, researchers located the vessel approximately 40 miles off the coast of Holland, Michigan, resting beneath 360 feet of water.

The association recently delivered the good news on Facebook. 

Explorers from the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association (MSRA) have discovered the remains of the remarkably intact steamship Milwaukee, lost after it was rammed in 1886 forty miles from Holland in 360 feet of water. In an unprecedented event, they announced their discovery at 9:30 PM to a live audience of 300+ people at the Knickerbocker Theater in Holland, Michigan, at their annual film festival.             

“This marks the 19th shipwreck our team has found off the shores of West Michigan” says Valerie van Heest,” who with her husband Jack van Heest coordinated the search effort.” MSRA shares their historic discoveries with the public through books, articles, lectures, and museum exhibits. 

MSRA discovered the Milwaukee in June 2023 using side-scan sonar. MSRA board of directors, the van Heests, Craig Rich, and Neel Zoss spent the balance of the summer working to film the wreck and confirm its identity. They documented the wreck using a remote operated vehicle (ROV) assembled specifically for this project by the team’s engineer, Jack. 

Before its loss, the Milwaukee had a varied career that spanned 18 years. The Northern Transportation Company of Ohio, among the earliest steamship operators on the Great Lakes, commissioned the ship in 1868 to join its growing fleet of passenger steamers to carry passengers and goods westward from the terminus of the Northern Railroad line at Ogdensburg, New York, to Chicago with many stops in between. At 135 feet long with three decks (two for freight and one for passengers) the Milwaukee was sized to fit the dimensions of Welland Canal locks between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. For more than a decade the Milwaukee ran on four of the five Great Lakes carrying settlers and settlement supplies westward.”

To find the ship, the researchers needed to become historians, scouring newspaper reports of the disaster to find clues of The Milwaukee’s final resting place. 

The clippings shared a harrowing description of the ships final hours, writes The New York Times. “Dennis Harrington, the lookout on the Milwaukee, was the first to spot the lights from the Hickox, and notified the Milwaukee’s captain right away. Standard operating procedures would have called for both ships to slow down, steer to starboard and blow their steam whistles. But the captains of both ships, thinking the visibility was fine, did not do any of those things.

Then the thick fog arrived, and by the time it dissipated, it was too late for either ship to turn. The Hickox thrust into the Milwaukee, sending Harrington overboard. He would be the accident’s lone casualty.

Pandemonium erupted aboard the Milwaukee, according to the shipwreck research association, as the captain went below deck to see that the ship was taking on water. He blew a distress signal to alert the Hickox, and the crew stretched a canvas sail over the damaged side of the ship to slow the rush of lake water.

In the course of their research, the team discovered that at least one other ship, a steamer called The City of New York, came to try to save the Milwaukee. It teamed up with the Hickox, sandwiching the Milwaukee between them. The crews of both ships used ropes in a vain attempt to try to keep the Milwaukee afloat.”

Smithsonian reported that “the captains of both ships temporarily lost their licenses because they had failed to take precautions that could have prevented the collision.

The Milwaukee is one of dozens of shipwrecks discovered in the Great Lakes in recent years. Last year alone, researchers found over a dozen vessels in Lake Michigan—more than three times the number typically found in a year, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Caitlin Looby.

Tamara Thomsen, a maritime archeologist with the Wisconsin Historical Society, tells the publication that the recent uptick is likely due to fluctuating water levels and greater public awareness of how to report discoveries.”

[Read More: Gigantic Moose Found In BASEMENT]


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