By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Nov 02, 2021 at 12:03 PM

Fans of Milwaukee – and Great Lakes – history who haven't signed up for the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society's mailing list are missing out.

The group – headquartered at Milwaukee Public Library, which I featured in this story a few years back – is very active in terms of collecting and archiving documents and photos and objects and also hosts numerous events each year.

The newsletter is an easy way to find a cool old photo in your inbox every week (sometimes more). And, because these folks are history buffs like the rest of us, there's always a story behind the photo and the WMHS folks share that story.

Here is today's story – written by Suzette Lopez – from the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society:

On Nov. 2, 1905, the wooden steamer APPOMATTOX and her schooner barge SANTIAGO stranded in a combination of dense fog and industrial smoke near the foot of Mineral Road, or as we all know it today, East Capitol Drive in Shorewood.

They were both loaded with soft coal.   The SANTIAGO was able to be released but the APPOMATTOX had hit the rocky bottom off Atwater Beach hard, causing considerable damage to her bottom.

Several attempts were made to save the APPOMATTOX but even the use of four steam pumps were unable to lower the water in her hold. Her boilers were recovered and according to Herman Runge they stood on Wolf & Davidson’s dock until about 1922.  

Other salvage attempts were in the works when a fierce storm with heavy seas hit on Nov. 27 and broke the steamer into three pieces.  Pieces of her machinery and her cargo of coal were strewn along the bottom and shore.  The same storm caused considerable damage to the lighthouse at the end of the government breakwater and the breakwater itself.

Runge also stated her engine was visible over the water for many years and soft coal washed up on shore after every storm.   Her remains sit in about 25 feet of water.

In June 2006, the Shorewood Village Board approved having a Wisconsin Historical Society Maritime Trails marker at Atwater Park to commemorate the disaster with a marker including photographs and history.

The APPOMATTOX was built in 1896 at West Bay City, Michigan, by James Davidson for his fleet.  She measured 332 feet in length, 42 feet in beam and 23 feet 4 inches in depth. At the time, she was the longest wooden steamer ever built on the lakes for the coarse freight trade. 

Originally she had three pole masts all forward of her stack and carried a Chase towing machine with 1300 feet of cable.  The 324 foot SANTIAGO was her usual tow and working together they could carry nearly 8,000 tons of iron ore.

PHOTO CREDIT:  Great Lakes Marine Collection of the Milwaukee Public Library and Wisconsin Marine Historical Society.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.