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137-year-old shipwreck, doomed by sudden fog, found in Mich.

By Mitchell Willetts, The Charlotte Observer
Published: March 30, 2024, 5:32am

Sudden fog, bad luck and the vessel’s own captain doomed the steamship Milwaukee, experts say. Now, 137 years later, the lost wreckage has been found, and it’s “remarkably intact.”

First put to work in 1868, the Milwaukee undertook many different jobs over its 18-year life, but its final voyage came in 1886, after dropping off a routine shipment of lumber, the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association said in a March 23 statement.

Though the Milwaukee was lost long ago, the group recently announced it discovered the sunken wreckage in June 2023 n Lake Michigan near the town of Holland. Holland is southwest of Grand Rapids.

The find was possible thanks to modern technology and newspaper clippings.

The association “documented the wreck using a remote operated vehicle (ROV) assembled specifically for this project by the team’s engineer, Jack,” the statement said.

“But it was newspaper accounts of the sinking that provided the clues we needed to locate the shipwreck,” team member Valerie van Heest said. The info was used to create a search grid.

With the exception of smoke drifting overhead from distant wildfires, it was a clear Michigan night when the ship sank, the group said. Another vessel, the Hickox, was carrying a lumber shipment nearby, and both ships were on a course to collide with each other if not corrected. A lookout on the Milwaukee, Dennis Harrington, spotted the Hickox’s lights and warned his captain.

Both vessels should have slowed down and turned to avoid possible collision, but neither decided it was necessary because conditions were clear and visibility high, the association said. But soon, a thick fog suddenly rolled in, “rendering them both blind.”

The captain of the Hickox turned and tried to signal a warning with his ship’s steam whistle, but when he pulled on the whistle’s chain, it broke.

Meanwhile, the captain of the Milwaukee “froze,” not knowing where the Hickox could be hidden in the fog. By the time he could see the Hickox, it was too late.

The Hickox appeared out of the fog and slammed into the side of the Milwaukee, the group said. The impact launched the Milwaukee’s lookout, Harrington, into the water and almost capsized the entire vessel.

Harrington “disappeared into the fog” and died, according to the association.

The Hickox returned to the now-sinking Milwaukee and rescued the ship’s crew, with help from another nearby ship responding to their pleas for help. They were unable to stop the Milwaukee from sinking, but all crew members besides Harrington were saved.

Researchers were impressed with the wreckage, which they say is “remarkably intact.”