TWO RIVERS, Wis. (WFRV) – The end of October marks the anniversary of an important piece of Wisconsin’s history.
Over one hundred years ago, 48 people lost their lives in one of Wisconsin’s deadliest shipwrecks.
On October 28, 1887, the Vernon was leaving Frankfort, Michigan headed towards Lake Michigan when a northeast gale swamped the steamer. The ship, built in Chicago, was made in 1886. The Vernon’s design made it susceptible to sinking. Its sharp, narrow hull and very deep draft caused it to become unstable.
The ship, overloaded with cargo, sank Saturday, October 29, between 3 and 4 a.m. near Rawley Point in Manitowoc County. There was only one survivor, Axel Stone.
Abigail Diaz, the Director of Education and Programs at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, says the ship was no match for the strong winds that night.
“The ship became totally overwhelmed. Waves came over the edges. The engine lights went out and it was really left helpless to the storm.”
Diaz uses artifacts from the Vernon shipwreck to help illustrate what it was like living on the ship.
“We have wooden pictures and plates and silverware…and it’s a tangible thing that we can point to show this moment in time.”
The ship lies in 210 feet of water, but because of Wisconsin’s cold freshwater, it is well preserved.
Every year, the Wisconsin Maritime Museum does something special to commemorate this tragic event in the state’s history.
“This year because a lot of things are virtual, we’ve been doing some Facebook posts and social media posts.”
What makes the Vernon shipwreck so significant is how deep it sank, the number of casualties, and the monument in Two Rivers honoring those who lost their lives.
Pioneer Rest Calvary Cemetery houses the monument that remembers eight victims. Diaz says there is no explanation for why the monument remembers 8 of the 48 victims. The community raised money to build the monument and pay for funeral expenses.
“It’s emotional to see and it’s also a really good reminder of what’s important to this community. I immediately felt that this is a place that values its maritime heritage that takes care of each other,” says Diaz.
For more information on the Vernon shipwreck, visit Wisconsin Shipwreck’s website.
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