On July 9, 1886, the steamship Milwaukee was crossing Lake Michigan on its way to the lakefront town of Muskegon, Mich., to pick up a load of lumber when disaster struck.

It was close to midnight. The water was calm, but smoke was blowing on the surface as a result of wildfires in nearby Wisconsin. The Milwaukee steered toward a similar lumber ship, the C. Hickox, which was headed for Chicago.

Suddenly a thick fog rolled in. The Hickox crashed into the side of the Milwaukee. Hours later, the Milwaukee plunged to the bottom of Lake Michigan.

It lay there undiscovered until last June, when a team of researchers from the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association discovered the shipwreck, using news clippings from the time, historical weather data and remote sensing equipment to clue them to its location. They then spent the summer filming the wreckage. The researchers announced the discovery on Saturday.

The Milwaukee is one of an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, Valerie van Heest, the association’s director, said in an interview. About 2,000 have been discovered.

A team led by Ms. van Heest and her husband, Jack van Heest, learned about the sinking of the Milwaukee by consulting a database of missing ships compiled by regional historians.


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