MANITOWOC, WI (WFRV) – Some might talk of chasing a pot of gold over rainbows with the approach of St. Patrick’s Day.
But true Irish treasure can be found at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum which recently acquired the artifacts of the shipwreck Niagara.
“There was definitely this transatlantic immigration story happening in the badger state and the Irish played an important role in that,” says Chief Curator and Deputy Director Kevin Cullen. “So, now we have the artifacts that tell us about life aboard these ships, the immigrants that sailed on these ships from Ireland, from Holland, and from Germany.”
By the time the passengers aboard The Niagara got to Lake Michigan they had almost assuredly been on at least three ships or boats by then. A journey that covered thousands of miles and took months, only on that fateful day in 1856 to possibly see Wisconsin, but never made it to land. 60 people died.
“So here we have immigrants crossing the Atlantic Ocean,” said Cullen as he painted a picture of their journey. “They made it this far through the Great Lakes and are a mile offshore of Wisconsin and the ship ignites. A cinder sets it aflame.”
Cullen notably archived the most extensive list of artifacts from shipwrecks off Achill Island in his native Ireland. He’s now stateside doing the same for the shipwrecks off Wisconsin which recently became part of a network of national protected shipwreck marine sanctuaries.
The fresh water and bitter cold temperatures of Lake Michigan and its adjoining waterways made it a perfect time capsule for the people who dreamed of making a new life in Wisconsin but never got the chance.
Among the collection is a pair of pre-Civil War ice skates, a pristine water jug, and the melted bell of the ship.
“Imagine this ringing as immigrants are bailing off the ship as it’s sinking off Lake Michigan,” Cullen explains. “And here it is, in my hand.”
They are symbols of a people who were brave and determined but simply ran out of luck.
Cullen’s presentation this Saturday, March 19th begins at 1 p.m. at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc. They ask for a donation to keep these programs going and history preserved for generations to come.