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Eyes In The Deep: Exploring the Shipwreck APPOMATTOX

July 15th-17th marked the 5th annual Eyes in the Deep program, where the public are given the opportunity to explore and document local Lake Michigan shipwrecks along Milwaukee’s lakefront. This season, Discovery World once again assembled a team of experts to showcase underwater technology in the exploration and documentation of the shipwreck Appomattox located at the end of Capitol Dr. off Atwater Beach.  Our research platform for this maritime expedition was the Milwaukee Boat Lines bi-level vessel the Voyageur captained by Jake Gianelli.

This year David Thompson of Nautilus Marine Group and Portunes International brought his Proteus ROV (remotely operated vehicle), which were the primary “eyes” on the shipwreck.  Built by Hydroacoustics, the Proteus 500 ROV is 28 inches long x 16 inches wide x 13 inches tall.  It weighs 70 lbs (31.8 kgs) and can dive 500 ft (152 m) using on board rechargeable batters that power two forward thrusters, one vertical thruster and one horizontal thruster.  With around 500 lines of resolution, the video camera can tilt 170 degrees and switch between color or black and white, making it ideal for exploring in low visibility water.

Sector Scan Sonar mosaic of Appomattox, at 30 meters radius per scan

A few weeks before this event, we had the opportunity to work with Dave and his colleague Brian Abbott of Nautilus Marine Group to map the Appomattox shipwreck using acoustic imaging called Sector Scanning Sonar.  Brian has worked internationally on archaeological sites, including mapping the Titanic, so having him here was a great treat.  This preliminary sonar survey was performed off the Adventure Charter Boat catamaran Mai Tai , owned and operated by Captain Rick Hake.  In one weekend we successfully mapped four shipwrecks off Milwaukee.

Original photograph in Historical Collection of the Great Lakes at Bowling Green University

Built in 1896 at the James Davidson shipyard in West Bay City, Michigan, the 319-foot long Appomattox was the largest wooden bulk steamer ever produced on the Great Lakes, and possibly the world.  With an oak hull supported by steel bracing and powered by a triple expansion steam engine, the Appomattox was a truly modern vessel by contemporary standards.  She had an uneventful life on the Great Lakes until the night of November 2nd 1905, when loaded with a cargo of coal, she was blinded by heavy smog and industrial smoke emanating from Milwaukee.  As a result, the Appomattox ran hard aground on a sandbar, just north of the Milwaukee Harbor entrance off the end of Capitol Drive.  Unable to be freed, she was pounded in the heavy surf, stripped of valuables and eventually abandoned.  Today the Appomattox rests in 15-20 feet of water with large sections of her hull still intact.

This site plan was completed by the Wisconsin Historical Society's Underwater Archaeology and Maritime Preservation Program

On Friday July 15th at 10am sharp, the Voyageur left Discovery Worlds’ dock with over 30 middle and high school students onboard, as part of Discovery Worlds’ summer camp program in Underwater Robotics and Underwater Archaeology.  Several adult passengers were also aboard, as we made the forty-five minute voyage to the Appomattox shipwreck.  En route, all were given a presentation about the shipwreck that was previously researched by the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Underwater Archaeology and Maritime Preservation program, as well as the Great Lakes Shipwreck Research Foundation.

Dave Thompson (left) teaches students about the ROV, while students (right) put the finishing touches on their ROVs prior to launch

Prior to arriving at the shipwreck, an auxiliary dive boat captained by Bob Jaeck left ahead of us in order to place a temporary mooring line for the Voyageur to tie off to.  This was done with the help of two divers, Brian Bockholt and Charles Hudson, who then assisted in guiding the ROV into the water.  To everyone’s amazement, within seconds the large shipwreck came into view on the monitors inside Voyageur.   The distinguishing feature of the wreck were the large keelsons, which formed the rigid internal skeleton of the ship.  These enormous oak timbers measure 1.5 feet across and over 30 feet in length.

Photograph by Tamara Thomsen (Wisconsin Historical Society)

Once we were safely on the wreck, the controls were turned over to anyone who wanted to pilot the ROV and explore the site.  We were even able to talk to the divers with the aid of an acoustic earpiece that picked up our voices from a hydrophone that was lowered into the water.  We spent over half an hour exploring the wreck, while the underwater robotics students got a chance to test out their hand-build ROVs.  Despite some buoyancy issues, the students’ ROVs performed very well. One was even fitted with a video camera that allowed us to see the shipwreck from its perspective.

Photograph by Tamara Thomsen (Wisconsin Historical Society)

The final expedition to the Appomattox occurred Sunday morning, July 17th, once again aboard Voyageur.  This time the auxiliary dive boat Mai Tai, captained by Adventure Charter boat captain Rick Hake arrived at the wreck site ahead of Voyageur in order to place the temporary mooring line for the larger Voyageur to tie off to.  Once on station, I put on my dive gear and swam over to Mai Tai, where Kimm Stabelfeldt (president of Great Lakes Shipwreck Research Foundation) and Captain Rick were also ready to SCUBA dive with the ROV and help take measurements.  Wearing a full face mask with a wireless microphone, I was then able to talk to the passengers aboard Voyageur and describe what the ROV and my handheld camera were seeing.  Meanwhile, Kimm Stabelfeldt began drawing a section of the shipwrecks port side as I assisted with measuring.  Of particular note on this dive were the six inch-wide iron reinforcing cross straps, placed inside the hull of the Appomattox when it was built, to give it extra strength.  Once again, anyone who wanted to drive the ROV was allowed to do so, which made for a very memorable experience.

Overall, this year’s Eyes in the Deep went off without a hitch, which for any underwater expedition is a feat.  The big unknown factor is always the weather.  Even though it was quite hot, the important thing was that the lake was calm, making it very comfortable to hover over the shipwreck for over an hour.  Based on the favorable feedback from the participants, it is clear that this expedition was a smashing success and one that serves as a template for future shipwreck explorations.  Stay tuned for that and more hands-on archaeology opportunities offered through Discovery World’s Distant Mirror Archaeology Program.

Chronicling Milwaukee’s Historic Breweries

Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing Westside Tour

Saturday, April 30th 2011 marked the third Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing tour, developed through Discovery World’s Distant Mirror archaeology program.  While the two previous tours have explored Milwaukee’s storied brewing sites in the heart of the city and on the near Southside, this urban archaeology expedition focused on the historic brewery sites located throughout Milwaukee’s near Westside.  This included several forgotten historic brewery sites, the behemoth Frederick Miller Brewery, the graves of two notable beer barons, as well as the former mansions of the Miller, Schlitz, Gettelman and Pabst families.

Each of the nearly fifty participants received a screen printed tote bag (printed in Discovery World’s print lab), which was filled with a custom bottle of “Westseitenbier Hefe Weizen”, brewed exclusively by yours truly for this tour in our new Thirst Lab, along with a detailed booklet outlining the chronologies for each of the sixteen sites on the tour. With Julie at the helm of a full coach bus, Leonard Jurgensen as Milwaukee Brewery Historian and I, as archaeological tour guide, the loaded Badger Bus rolled out from Discovery World just after 10am.

Weaving our way through a throng of pedestrians, walking in support of the March of Dimes, we quickly reached the former site of the Lake Brewery, which was established in 1841 by three pioneers from Wales.  This ale brewery built at the end of Clybourn Ave. (formerly Huron St.) lasted until 1880, at which point it was razed for an expanding railroad depot.  Today it is home to a Milwaukee County Transit bus garage.  Rolling west along Clybourn St. and then to St. Paul Ave., the second stop was a former Schlitz “tide house” on 19th St.  This three story cream city brick building was built in the late 1880s and still has a handsome Schlitz globe sign on the buildings upper cornice.  Today it is home to Sobelman’s pub and grill.

Stop three was the site of the former Banner Brewing Company (2302 W. Clybourn St.).  This short-lived post-prohibition brewery opened in 1933, where they brewed primarily weiss beer at an annual capacity of 8,000 barrels.  However, in 1936 the brewery ceased brewing operations for financial reasons and the brewery closed.  Today the building which was built in 1919 still stands, yet most of the façade is covered with metal siding.  Inside there is evidence of the original brew kettle ventilation pipe, as well as an original freight elevator.

Moving on, stop four brought us to the very intriguing brewery site of Franz Falk’s New Bavaria Brewery.  Located near 29th St. and Pierce St. along the south bluff of the Menomonee River valley, the property was first purchased by Franz Falk and Fredrick Goes in 1855.  While brewing may have taken place there prior to 1860, there is definitive evidence that major brewing operations began there in 1870.  In its heyday this brewery was one of the largest in Milwaukee, until two devastating fires destroyed the brew house and malt house in 1889 and 1892.  Today the brew house is no longer standing, however the original 1870 stables and three story stock house (ice house) still stand, making them perhaps the oldest surviving original brewing related buildings in Wisconsin.  They are both vacant buildings and in disrepair, however new property owners are looking to rehabilitate the structures.  Prior to the tour, this archaeologist employed ground penetrating radar over the location of the former brew house (now a gravel lot).  The preliminary results indicate the presence of a large foundation wall, among other evidence of structural remains.

By 11:15am we were in route to the Miller Valley for a tour of the sprawling Frederick Miller brewery.    The origin of this iconic North American brewery began in 1849, when Charles Best and Gustav Fine opened the Plank Road Brewery along what was then called the Madison, Watertown & Milwaukee Plank Road.  By 1855 Charles Best & Co. foreclosed on the brewery after the Germania Bank which held the loan to the brewery went bankrupt. Meanwhile, Frederick Miller purchased the Plank Road Brewery on June 11th 1856 for $2,370.  Over the following 150+ years, this brewery would grow to the immense size that it is today, covering several acres and brewing over a million barrels of beer per year.  Following a guided tour through several buildings on the property, including the original lagering caves, we made our way to the Miller Inn for a delicious catered lunch and beer sampling.

After lunch, the bus once again rolled on, this time to the little-known family home of Frederick Miller (3711 W. Miller Ln.), which was built in 1884 on a hill overlooking the brewery.  An octagonal turret on the southeast corner of this wood framed Queen Anne style home stands out as a noteworthy feature.  Today it is a private residence.

The next stop was a visit to Calvary Cemetery (2203 W. Bluemound Rd.) to pay our respects to the final resting place of Frederick Miller (1824-1888) and his family, as well as the grave of Phillip Jung (1845-1911), a notable beer baron who operated the Phillip Jung Brewing Company at 5th and Cherry St., between 1895-1920.  A toast to these 19th century brewers was a fitting way to salute their contribution to Milwaukee’s brewing heritage.

Moving farther west, we came to the former locations of the Castalia Brewery (1893-1898) and the Wisconsin Brewing Company (1996-1998).  Despite being separated by a century, both of these short-lived breweries were built in close proximity along the Menomonee River in the village of Wauwatosa (then called Center City).  Only the foundations of these former breweries remain in the floodplain of the Menomonee River.

 The next five stops took us to the mansions built for several notable Milwaukee brewing families, four of which are located on West Highland Blvd.  The Fredrick Pabst Jr. mansion, built in the Greek revival-style in 1896, still stands at 3112 W. Highland Blvd. Directly to the east (3030 Highland Blvd) is the original mansion of his brother Gustav Pabst, which was also built in 1896.  Across Highland Blvd is the former mansion of the Adam Gettelman family (2929 Highland Blvd), built in 1895.  Nine blocks to the east at 2004 W. Highland Blvd. stands the former home of Victor Schlitz (son of beer baron Joseph Schlitz), which was built in the Tudor-style in 1890. Finally, located at 2000 W. Wisconsin Ave. is the stately mansion of Captain Frederick Pabst, which was completed in 1892 and inspired by 17th Century English and Flemish Renaissance architecture.  We were all treated to a very entertaining guided tour of the mansion, which set the stage for our final stop at Captain Pabst’s office complex and guild hall (southwest corner of 9th and Juneau Ave).

As the bus pulled up to the 1880 castle-like complex at 4:15pm, the group enjoyed a refreshing pint in the elegant Blue Ribbon Hall (completed in 1940) as owner Jim Haertel gave an amusing historical overview of the property.  This led to a behind-the-scenes tour though the dilapidated corridors of the once mighty Pabst Brewery including the former office of Captain Pabst.   This led us to the original entrance to the complex and onto the awaiting bus, bringing to an end an enlightening and entertaining day of experiencing first hand several of Milwaukee’s historic brewery-related sites.

Stay tuned for a future tour of Milwaukee’s historic and contemporary brewery sites located on the Northside.  This tour is being planned for September 24th 2011.  Call (414) 765-8625 or email reservations@discoveryworld.org to reserve your seat. Finally, you can listen to an interview about this tour recorded on 89.7FM, Milwaukee Public Radio, which aired April 25th 2011.

http://www.wuwm.com/programs/lake_effect/le_sgmt.php?segmentid=7335

Making the History of a Milwaukee Neighborhood Come Alive Like Never Before

Art meets Archaeology in Bay View Wisconsin

In a world of increasing visual media, today’s high school students are having to  become more adept than ever at navigating through this age of hyper-information, while often being exposed to conventional modes of academic learning in the classroom.  These challenges have recently been addressed in a Milwaukee neighborhood by bringing the classroom into the community through a unique public art installation.  This impressive outdoor exhibit installation called the <a href="http://discoveryworld/bayview“>Bay View Observatory is the result of a collaborative effort between Discovery World and Bay View High School students.  The Observatory is the culmination of a semester-long program called “The Art and Archaeology of Me”, where students were exposed to elements of Archaeology, Digital Arts, History, Geography, Genetics and Social Studies, in order to produce a one-of-a-kind public art intervention.

Located on the lawn of the Beulah Brinton house, which is home to the Bay View Historical Society, the Bay View Observatory is a public art installation and educational experience that celebrates the rich history of the Bay View neighborhood.   Over three Saturdays in August, Bay Viewers were invited to the Observatory to participate in the preservation of history through audio interviews, artifact documentation and portrait photography.  These stations were staffed by five Bay View interns who orchestrated this data collection for future generations to learn about the unique history of this Milwaukee neighborhood.

The Observatory is based on the idea of a compass. Four 12-foot tall vertical banners represent both the cardinal points and the visual history of the community.  Meanwhile, thirty individual markers point to historically or archaeologically significant sites in and around the Bay View neighborhood. In the center of the Observatory is a Community Table where a map of the neighborhood indicates where each marker is pointing to.  The Community Table also functions as a platform from which visitors can share their Bay View stories, artifacts, historic photographs and documents.

Three 15-foot tall Personal Archaeology banner columns greet visitors to the Observatory.  These personal banners represent the unique individuality and creativity of several Bay View High School students that participated in the Art and Archaeology of Me program.  Several other banners are currently on display at Bay View High School, as well as on Discovery Worlds’ grounds at the corner of Lincoln Memorial Dr. and Michigan St.

This Observatory is well worth a visit and is a successful model of the kind of innovative educational opportunities high school students can get behind. For more information, log onto the Observatory website www.discoveryworld.org/bayview to learn about the many personalities that make this historic Milwaukee neighborhood unique.  The Observatory is slated for de-installation by Labor Day weekend of this year, so come and see for yourself if you happen to be in Bay View, Wisconsin in the next few weeks.

Diving Deep to Discover the L.R. DOTY

The Discovery of the L.R. DOTY

Last week a group of divers descended over 300 feet into the 40F cold waters of southwestern Lake Michigan becoming the first people to visit the quagga mussel-encrusted grave of the shipwreck L.R. Doty.  Led by renowned Great Lakes maritime historian, Brendon Baillod, a team of technical divers made history when their video footage of the behemoth wreck came to light after 112 years. Until last week, it was the largest wooden ship that had been unaccounted for in Lake Michigan.

In a recent interview with Meg Jones of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Brendon Baillod stated that the Doty “vanished with no real explanation. She was a pretty new ship. We wanted to solve that mystery – why she disappeared in a Lake Michigan storm that she should have been able to handle.” Technical divers breathing a special blend of mixed gas (helium and oxygen) with and with equipment necessary to dive so deep recorded high definition video and photographs of the wreck site, which may provide clues as to how and why the Doty sank in a storm so fierce it damaged part of the Milwaukee break wall and destroyed the boardwalk in Chicago. One of these divers, Jitka Hanakova who captained the dive expedition, descended to the shipwreck which appeared at around 200 feet below the surface. “It just suddenly shows up like a ghost ship and the more murky it is, the spookier it is…it’s very exciting to be on a new wreck that nobody has ever seen – it’s like a diver’s holy grail.” http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/97008779.html

History of the LR Doty


Launched in May of 1893 at West Bay City, Michigan by F.W. Wheeler & Co. for the Cuyahoga Transit Company of Cleveland, Ohio, the L.R. Doty was named after Mr. Lucius Ramsey Doty, the general manager of the Cuyahoga Transit Company. She was and enrolled at the Cleveland, Ohio customs house on June 5, 1893 where she was awarded official number 141272

The Doty was built of white oak with a hull length of 291 ft., a beam of 41 ft. and a depth of 19.8 ft., with a capacity of 2056.34 gross tons. The Doty was built with steel arches embedded in her hull, providing additional stability for a wooden vessel of her size. She had nine deck hatches and was built with a tall fore-mast, on which she could set sail, but also had a large triple expansion coal fired engine for primary steam power. Fortunately, she was one of seven nearly identical sister ships built at this time, which included the: William F. Sauber, C.F. Bielman, Tampa, Iosco and Uganda. http://www.baillod.com/shipwreck/doty

Loaded with 107,000 bushels of corn, the L.R. Doty was pulling the four-masted schooner, the Olive Jeanette when the tow line broke in a gale as the ships passed Milwaukee heading north. As waves reached 30 feet, the Doty‘s captain, Christopher Smith, swung his large ship around to search for large schooner.  Ironically the schooner survived the storm, but the L.R. Doty was never seen again.

Condition of Shipwreck


As the divers illuminated the stern of the enormous wooden vessel, it failed to yield the ships definitive identity due to the entire surface being covered in a thick carpet of invasive mussels introduced to the Great Lakes within the past 20 years, suspected to have proliferated via ballast water offloaded from ocean going ships.

Despite not being able to make out the official name,  the vessels dimensions, unique characteristics, onboard cargo and geographical location (ca. 20miles off of south Milwaukee), pinpoint her as being the grave of none other than the L.R. Doty.  Both deckhouses were gone, likely due to her violent and tragic end in 1898. As the Doty began to sink, the incoming water displacing the air in the cabins would have caused them to blow off as witnessed on many other shipwrecks before and after this nautical tragedy. Moreover, her two masts and smokestack were tipped over, while a wheelbarrow used to move cargo still lays on the deck of the ship, holding nothing now but water and encrusted mussels.

Like all shipwrecks in Wisconsin waters, this wreck belongs to the state and is protected under federal legislation.  This means that no artifacts can be removed from the wreck site without permission of the DNR and State Historical Society.

In Memorandum


The 19 victims of this deadly storm were as follows: Christopher Smith (Captain, from Port Huron, MI), Henry Sharp (First Mate of Detroit), W.J. Bossie (Second Mate of Detroit), Thomas Abernathie (Engineer of Port Huron), C.W. Odette (Second Engineer), George Wadkin, (Oiler), L. Goss (Steward of Bay City, MI), W.J. Scott (Cook), Charles Bornie (Watchman), Peter G. Peterson (Wheelsman), Albert Nelson (Assistant Wheelsman), Joseph Fitzsimmons (Fireman), J. Howe (Deckhand), F. Parmuth (Deckhand), C. Curtis (Deckhand), William Ebert (Deckhand), Pat Ryan ( Deckhand), including the ships two cats Dewy and Watson.

Public Program

All are welcome to participate in an upcoming public presentation on this shipwreck discovery at DISCOVERY WORLD on Sunday July 11th at 4pm.  This public forum will bring the expedition team members together to talk about their personal accounts of the discovery, while viewing a sample of the high definition video footage recorded during the first dive to the shipwreck.  In addition to this exciting public presentation on ships history and loss, guests of honor attending will include several living descendants of the LR Doty, including family members of Captain Christopher Smith.

This event is free and open to the public.

Also, stay tuned for more programs on this and other shipwrecks at Discovery World. http://discoveryworld.org