An archaeologist investigates floor keelsons near the bow of the Appomattox, which sank near Milwaukee in 1905. Photo by Wisconsin HIstorical Society, Maritime Preservation and Archaeology Program
An archaeologist investigates floor keelsons near the bow of the Appomattox, which sank near Milwaukee in 1905. Photo by Wisconsin HIstorical Society, Maritime Preservation and Archaeology Program

MILWAUKEE — On the bottom of Wisconsin’s Great Lakes lie the wrecks of more than 700 ships.

Each one tells a story about the state’s maritime history, the mariners that worked on them, the industries and communities they served, and the dangers of the unforgiving lakes.


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PBS Wisconsin’s newest documentary “Shipwrecks!” tells a story of exploration and takes viewers below the surface to an underwater museum of marvel.

Shipwrecks!” premieres 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30 on PBS Wisconsin, WPNE-TV in Green Bay.

Archival film, images, and interviews with maritime historians and Great Lakes divers and shipwreck hunters illustrate the pioneering efforts of Wisconsinites to develop new diving technologies to explore and understand shipwrecks.

Viewers learn about the early “finders’ keepers” mentality toward shipwrecks which encouraged treasure hunters to plunder and even destroy them and the eventual efforts to establish state and federal laws to preserve and protect wrecks.

Contemporary shipwreck hunters who continue to search the Great Lakes today are also profiled.

“Each shipwreck reveals a moment of time in a way that’s hard to find on dry land,” said “Shipwrecks!” producer David Hestad. “It’s a time capsule of the day it went down and tells a lot of stories.”

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By staff