By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jan 21, 2021 at 12:05 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. To join the list, send an email to wmhs59@gmail.com.

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. Today's story was written by Suzette Lopez.

Here is today's story from the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society:

On this day, Monday, Jan. 21, 1895, the CHICORA sailed out of Milwaukee at 5:45 a.m. for St. Joseph, Michigan, and was never seen again.

What started as just another day, docked at Shea’s Dock in Milwaukee, being loaded with merchandise, flour, paper, etc., changed drastically thanks to a 45 mph gale later that afternoon. 

She should have reached St. Joseph about six and a half hours later.

Chicora shipwreckX

A red light, thought to be from the CHICORA, was seen from the pier at Benton Harbor, but it disappeared.  The northwest blizzard and gale had filled the harbors of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor with ice drifts to the point they were not accessible.

The CHICORA may have reached Benton Harbor but found it blocked by ice.   Her crew of 25 and one passenger disappeared with her.

Identifiable wreckage began appearing between St. Joseph and Saugatuck leaving no doubt she was gone.  A chair known to belong to the engineer, pieces of the mahogany cabin, parts from around the engine room, a silver bracket from the clerk’s room and then, the fire extinguisher with the name CHICORA.

The only survivor of the CHICORA appeared at the door of Solomon Cutter at Pottowatomie Park, eight miles south of Benton Harbor.  

It was a snuff colored Skye terrier who was known to be aboard the CHICORA.  The dog had evidently just come out of the water which lead people to believe the wreck was within a half mile of the east shore, as it was thought the dog could not swim more than a quarter mile.

The search for the CHICORA followed every lead, every piece of wreckage, but the wreck was elusive.  Finally, the search then was abandoned on July 3, 1895.

The search continues today but the wreck is still elusive.

The CHICORA was built in 1892 at Detroit by the Detroit Ship Building Co. for Graham & Morton Transportation Co.

Measuring 210 feet in length and 35 feet in beam, she was built of wood to enable her to deal with Lake Michigan’s heavy ice.  Her mahogany passenger cabin was the entire length of the ship.  She had 56 staterooms, a spacious social hall, a large smoking room and sleeping room for 200 passengers.

In the summer, she ran between Chicago, Benton Harbor and St. Joseph. In the winter, she ran between Milwaukee and St. Joseph.   She was used for both passengers and freight.

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