Milwaukee maritime

The lady and the light

For 33 years, starting in 1874, the operation of the North Point Lighthouse in Lake Park was in the capable hands of an extraordinary woman. Photo by John Swanson

If you visit the old lighthouse in Lake Park you will hear the surprising story of Georgia A. Stebbins, keeper of the North Point light for 33 years starting in 1874.

To put that in perspective notes the lighthouse website, it would be another 46 years before women were allowed to vote. Yet here was Georgia, duly appointed by the federal government and in sole charge of a vitally important maritime safety facility.

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The top 5 posts of 2015

Gordonbathhouse_1914-1

The Gordon Park bathing pavilion was the most popular blog post for the second year running. Photo by Jos. Brown.

Thank you for a great year in 2015! This blog was viewed 29,000 times in the past year. In 2015, 43 new posts were added to the site (for a total of 90) and 378 pictures uploaded, about a picture per day.

These are the top five posts of 2015. Have you read them all?

  1. Amid the ruins of Gordon Park’s riverside bathing pavilion
  2. Secrets of Shorewood’s Hubbard Park
  3. Just a neighborhood movie theater
  4. Drinking Pabst in Whitefish Bay
  5. Sunk, burned, and haunted, this tugboat keeps on working

Much more is on the way in 2016 —stay tuned!Carl_sig

Rescue on Lake Michigan

Ingar Olsen

In 1893, Surfman Ingar Olsen of the U.S. Life-Saving Service in Milwaukee performed one of the most daring rescues in Lake Michigan history.

Ingar Olsen, a 22-year-old surfman with the Milwaukee station of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, was never able to explain his actions on April 20, 1893. With near-hurricane winds whipping a bitterly cold Lake Michigan into towering, violently churning waves, Olsen’s crew struggled through the storm in an open rowboat to reach a lone man, unconscious, near death, and clinging to wreckage 3,000 feet off Bradford Beach.

Olsen said, “As we finally maneuvered into position, I unconsciously dropped my oar, picked my way between the other men in the boat … and made a dive. No command had been given and weeks later, when I was asked to explain how I happened to do what I did at the time, I was unable to give any explanation … it was just as though an unseen hand was guiding my actions.”

Against incredible odds, Olsen was about to make one of the most dramatic rescues in Lake Michigan history.
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Sunk, burned, and haunted, this tugboat keeps on working

Port of Milwaukee tugboat Wisconsin

A long history, a tragedy, and persistent stories of paranormal happenings center on this hardworking tugboat, a fixture of the Port of Milwaukee for many years. At the age of 118, it’s also the oldest workboat on the Great Lakes. Carl Swanson photo

In 1897, the Union Dry Dock Co. in Buffalo built a tugboat. In the years following, the tugboat sank (twice) and was raised, burned (twice) and was rebuilt. Today, after 118 strenuous years, the same tug is still at work in Milwaukee, deftly assisting far larger ships in and out of the port. When it comes to tough workboats, the Wisconsin is in a class all its own.

The Wisconsin, some say, is also haunted.

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The spectacular defiance of Captain Bodenlos

Expert ship handling, icy contempt for petty bureaucrats, and a flair for the dramatic made steamship Captain E.J. Bodenlos a local hero in 1934.

Expert ship handling, icy contempt for petty bureaucrats, and a flair for the dramatic made Captain E.J. Bodenlos a local hero in 1934.

In summer 1934, tugboat crews in Milwaukee went on strike. But what started as a minor labor dispute became front page news with a steamship captain’s spectacular act of civil disobedience.

Before it was over, the dapper captain (he favored panama hats and kid gloves) had threatened to throw a police officer in the river and, two nights in a row evaded a cordon of authorities in order to take in a movie. For a grand finale, he treated a cheering crowd of thousands to a magnificent display of boat handling. (more…)