By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Sep 13, 2021 at 8:03 AM

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 this day Sept. 13, 1903, a gale took the Milwaukee built schooner MOONLIGHT.  

Wolf & Davidson launched the three-masted schooner on March 14, 1874.   Her owners were all well-known Milwaukeeans – David Vance, Gilbert E. Collins, Lemuel Ellsworth, W. E. Hibbard, E. C. Hibbard, Joseph S. Peck and A. W. Wilkinson.  Her captain is probably most well known in Milwaukee today – Denis Sullivan.

Moonlight in full sail with raffee.
Moonlight in full sail with raffee.

Her launch was quite the event – drawing over 400 spectators.   Newspapers across the Great Lakes gave her high praise as she was cutting edge in construction at the time.  She measured 205.9 feet in length, 33.6 feet in beam and 14.2 in depth and her carrying capacity was listed as 50,000 bushels of grain.

The MOONLIGHT’s first few months did not go smoothly.  In April, one of her jibs caught fire from a spark of the tug while being towed out of Milwaukee causing great damage.  In May, she lost both anchors and chains in her first passage through the Straits thanks to an ice jam.  She waited at Detroit for the DAVID VANCE to arrive so she could borrow from her.  The loss and delay cost an estimated $2,000. The anchors and chains were later recovered.

Moonlight painting by Huntington.

The MOONLIGHT was busy her first summer.  Some of her charters were wheat from Milwaukee to Buffalo at 3 1/4c and she would return with 1,300 tons of coal from Dakin’s yard in Buffalo at 30c per ton.

On Sept. 29, 1895, the MOONLIGHT stranded in a gale on Chocolay Reef about 3 ½ miles south of Marquette along with the schooner HENRY A. KENT.  The MOONLIGHT and the KENT were released in the spring of 1896, thanks to the JAY HURSLEY.  The MOONLIGHT was then sold to J. C. Gilchrest and chartered out for ocean trade in 1898.

The MOONLIGHT sailed on until the gale of Sept.13, 1903. She was being towed by the steamer VOLUNTEER and started taking on water as they approached the Apostle Island’s.  She filled rapidly and began to settle.  Luckily, her crew was able to jump to the VOLUNTEER.  She foundered 12 miles off Michigan Island, Lake Superior.

Moonlight two masted.
Moonlight two masted.

The wreck of the MOONLIGHT was discovered during the summer of 2004.  She lies in 240 feet of water seven miles east of Michigan Island.  Her hull is broken up but her name is recognizable on her side.

PHOTOS:  Great Lakes Marine Collection of the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society and Milwaukee Public Library

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 can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.