Haunted Tugboat Lurks in the Milwaukee Harbor

6 men lost their lives when the haunted tugboat Wisconsin sank in 1941. Since its restoration, strange phenomena have convinced some that those men never left it.

I recently learned about this from a friend who is a self-professed Great Lakes boat nerd. When he’s not filling me in on the latest weird news from Lake Michigan, he’s usually busy stalking freshwater freighters on radar and webcam while researching the complete history of every ship.

About a year ago he made an impromptu trip to snap some photos of the SS Alpena during its brief layover in the Milwaukee harbor. It was there that he encountered a pair of talkative security guards who confessed their unease about the small, otherwise unremarkable tugboat moored nearby.

October 23rd, 1941. A 552-foot steamer called the B.F. Jones had run aground. The tug, then named the America, was dispatched with a crew of 6 to help. Built in 1897, the boat was already 44 years old. I haven’t been able to dig up any details on the circumstances, but age may have had a hand in the events that followed.

Somewhere in the Detroit River, en route to the stalled steamer, tragedy struck. I haven’t found a record detailing what went wrong, but the America went down with all hands.

The tugboat was eventually raised, repaired, and returned to service. It was renamed the Midway in 1982, and then finally became the Wisconsin the following year.

Milwaukee’s Haunted Tugboat

Today, the 118-year-old Wisconsin is still in operation. It seems that anyone who spends some time with her, though, will begin to agree that the crewmen that went down with her in 1941 may have never left.

Rumor has it there are men who refuse to step foot on the boat. The engine has been known to cut out unexpectedly, and the guards my friend spoke to that day witness flickering lights and strange sounds on a regular basis.

Maybe some things are better left to the depths.


One Comment

  1. Duncan Virostko February 10, 2019 Reply

    An interesting tug indeed… some clarification on just what happened to the Wisconsin that day 1941, from another boatnerd. So, the Wisconsin, then named the America, went to assist an Lake freighter that had grounded. She, and one of her sisterships, were attempting to help the freighter off the bank of clay it had found itself on when the accident occurred. The first step in the salvage process was going to be America and her fleetmate towing the anchor of the freighter out deeper into the lake, and then setting it down. This would allow the freighter to help pull itself off the shoal. The America was attached to the anchor, and the other tug attached to her. The freighter was to play out the anchor chain as the two tugs worked together to move the heavy anchor. That was the plan… but something went horribly wrong! The anchor chain was somehow snagged and ceased to play out, jerking the America over hard on her side and flipping her upside down. Some seven men died that day, some of them in their bunks below.

    Also, later in her career, arsonists tried to sink her, twice in the 1970s. Apparently after they were thwarted at first they came back and tried to finish the job. She was taken to Cleveland and rebuilt after that.

    On the positive side, she’s the oldest tug working on the Great Lakes, being built in 1891 and has served the same company, Great Lakes Towing Company all her life. In fact, the tug is one of the few boats that the company didn’t build itself (they have a yard here in Cleveland and built all their own tugs from about 1909-1931, and then again recently started building a new class of modern tugs too) having been there since the early days of the company. She’s apparently also know for being a good seaboat in rough weather, so those ghosts must be keeping a good watch over her. I hope when the day finally comes that they give her gold watch she’ll become a museum ship.

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