By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published May 03, 2022 at 10:26 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 May 3, 1936, three adventurous men sailed out of Milwaukee to salvage a cargo of anywhere from 220-350 barrels of whiskey and wine that went down on the WESTMORELAND in 1854 off the Manitou Islands.  

The WESTMORELAND was also rumored to have had anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000 in gold on board but little mention of that was covered in the newspaper accounts.  The reports of whiskey may have had more enthusiasm since prohibition had just ended a couple years earlier.

Jack Browne, Harry Gilken and William Schoknecht packed several months of provisions on the former lighthouse tender PATRICIA and sailed at dawn.  The PATRICIA had been equipped with a seven-ton hoisting boom, an air compressor and an underwater torch apparatus.

The crew of the PATRICIA included (left to right in the photo above): Carl Moore, 503 W. Michigan St., cook; Gilken, 130 E. Reservoir Ave., pilot; Browne, 1112 E. Fox Ln., organizer and diver; Schoknecht, radio operator; Capt. Ervin Bork, owner and diver; George W. Browne, business agent, and Pal, mascot, which also dived in a specially built suit.

Browne, a 19-year-old recent graduate of Whitefish Bay High School and an amateur diver with some experience, was the organizer. He had spoken with wholesale liquor dealers who indicated the liquor could go for $50 to $150 per gallon.  

Some experts thought the whiskey would be fine.  Evidently a lake captain had rescued a cargo of liquor which had been on the bottom since 1812. In that rescue, new hoops were added to the casks before being brought up to the surface. 

The whiskey was noted to be syrupy and highly palatable. 

Other experts said the rolling from storms in the area most likely had caused leakage and there would be nothing but lake water in the barrels.

The adventure had begun even if the exact location of the WESTMORELAND was unknown.   She had sought the shelter of South Manitou during a blizzard, how hard could it be to find.

By the start of July, an empty 2,000 pound safe from the ROBERT L. FROST was the only treasure for two months of searching. Within a few days, excitement was felt when Browne found an 1851 copper coin in a crack of a 16 inch timber.  

He put the coin in his glove and surfaced.  At this wreck site parts of the ship were strewn over the bottom of the bay and buried in the sand. His partners thought it to be the WESTMORELAND but Browne did not think it so. 

Browne reported the water was so cold at that depth that searchers could only remain a few minutes and little could be seen “because of fog on the diving helmet view plates.”

A summer adventure was had.

The WESTMORELAND was discovered in July 2010, by Ross Richardson at the bottom of Platte Bay, near Traverse City.  It did not contain any gold nor whiskey.

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 OnMilwaukee.com 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.