WRECK OF THE S. S. "WISCONSIN"
A short distance off the coast of Kenosha, Wisconsin, on the floor of Lake Michigan, lies the wreck of the S. S. WISCONSIN, a combination passenger and package freighter.
The vessel plunged to the bottom on the night of October 29, 1929, the victim of a violent storm that swept the lake clean of shipping.
The location of the hulk remained a mystery, until the spring of 1934, when fishermen began to wonder what obstruction they kept snagging their nets on, and hired a diver to investigate. The report was, it was the hulk of the sunken WISCONSIN.
For the next year and a half, two rival salvage expeditions claimed ownership, rights, and what have you on the wreck. A sort of small scale war raged over it, in which dynamite, machine guns, black jacks, etc. were brought into it. One of the divers who was involved in this (now dead), was a very good friend of mine, and gave me first hand information on this. I also have his files now, which contain a wealth of information, on the WISCONSIN.
In the late summer of 1935, a federal court handed down a decision on the wreck, which is too complicated to go into detail here, but it was unsatisfactory to both sides, so work was abandoned by all concerned. I also have a copy of the old court records of this case in our files. An interesting sidelight on the WISCONSIN, is that one of the divers that recovered material from her, brought to the surface a one pound package of Good Luck Jelke Oleo, that was still in perfect condition and edible! It had lain on the bottom from October, 1929, to August, 1935, almost six years! I have a framed photo of the ceremony, showing the diver
After the court case the wreck lay undisturbed for many years. Then a few years ago, scuba divers began hunting her, and it did not take them long to locate the hulk. Her location is well known now. In fact last year, a couple of scuba divers from Chicago Recovered her safe. (Incidentally one of the divers has also located the vanished car ferry
MILWAUKEE located off Stevens Point. Any reader who would like further information on this wreck location, I will be very glad to give it to them.)
The divers who have visited the WISCONSIN in recent years, have only taken items for souvenirs. I have some here myself that were given me. Most of her cargo is gone or has rusted away. At the time of her sinking, she carried in her tween decks, package freight, which included prescription whiskey, castings, two brand new compasses packed in crates, plus tons of other small items.
In her holds were 1,700 barrels of brass plumbing fixtures, steel shafting, thousands of gallon cans of red lead, white lead and varnish. There were also boxes of metal Christmas toys, boxes of brass rivets for horse harnesses, welding rods, etc.
Also in her holds, were several Packard automobiles, a Reo truck, and the radio operator who is still alive, and was on her the night she went down, has also told me, "there was an Auburn-Cord touring car aboard". All of the cars that have been found are in pretty good shape, and not long ago, a collector of old cars phoned us, and offered $4,000 each for the cars, as is! All he wants, is to have them put on the dock at Kenosha, and he will buy them!
The grand staircase on the WISCONSIN, if recovered intact, can be sold to a certain restaurant chain. They offered $5,000 for it. Also a buyer for the old compound engine on her is available. Plus there are many collectors of marine relics, that are itching to buy items from this wreck. I have a list as long as your arm!
The superstructure of this wreck, lies one mile south of the hull. It was torn off by the rush of air and water when she went dowh. The hull itself is lying on an almost even keel, with about ninety feet of water to her deck, and another forty feet to her holds. She was a side loader, and access to her holds by divers, is not much of a problem now. The divers that were first on her back in 1935 blasted the doors off.
Though divers have been going down to her for the past few years, it remained for a young lad from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to realize the potential value of this wreck. His name was Ken Ries, an expert at both scuba and hard hat diving. He dived the wreck several times, and decided he wanted to own it, as her hull is made of charcoal wrought iron, and worth quite a bit on the scrap market. After a year of painstaking research, he finally ran down the owner of the WISCONSIN and obtained the salvage rights to it, all clear and secure.
His plan of operation, is to remove anything that is saleable, then pattern dynamite the hull and raise it in pieces. He plans to start this year, and to assure success, he has teamed up with two veteran divers, who have a total of over ninety years experience between them! The operation should be a success.
The WISCONSIN had various names during her long and checkered career. However, she was launched as the WISCONSIN, and then came the various name changes as she was bought and sold by different owners, and strange as it may be, when she sailed on her final trip, she was sailing under her original name, and also by her original owners! She was built at Wyandotte, Michigan, in 1881, official number 80861, steam screw. Gross tons 1,921,
net tons 1,567, length 209.0', beam 40.0', depth 20'9", crew 38, indicated horse power 650. Name of owner: Goodrich Transit Company, Delaware. Home port: Duluth, Minnesota. Lives lost when she sank, 16.
As to name changes, in 1899 she became the NAOMI, in 1904 the E. G. CROSBY. During World War I (1918) her name was changed to the GENERAL ROBERT M. O'REILLY, and she served during that war as a hospital ship, was released from active service in 1920, and returned to the Great Lakes as the PILGRIM. In 1922 she was re-purchased by her original owners and given back her original name of WISCONSIN.
Skin Diver Magazine
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WISCONSIN * Built Aug. 9, 1881 Passenger/Freight Propeller -- Iron
U. S. No. 80861 1181 gt - 1020 nt 203.0 x 35.0 x 11.0
* Renamed, (b)NAOMI - us - 1898
(c) E.G. CROSBY - US - 1910
(d) GENERAL ROBERT M. O'REILLY -
(e) E.G. CROSBY - US - 1919
(f) PILGRIM - US - 1920
(B) WISCONSIN - US - 1922
Foundered off Kenosha, Wis., Lake Michigan, October 29, 1929; 9 lives lost.
Detroit/Wyandotte Master Shipbuilding List
Institute for Great Lakes research