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Fire on the Atlanta

It seemed like a normal trip for the steamship Atlanta on the morning of March 18, 1906. The 65 passengers rode in comfort as the crew watched the steam pressure gauge and thought about how they would make sure the fine dishes, cookware, metalware, leather, furniture, and human cargo would travel safely from Sheboygan to Milwaukee.

But the smooth journey was not meant to be. Around noon, crewmen found a fire in the hold, where the cargo was stored. The well-trained crew tried their best to fight the fire, but even with the new sprinkler system they couldn’t stop the blaze. The crew knew then that they had to get the passengers transferred to the lifeboats.

Just by chance, the fishing tug Tessler saw the troubled Atlanta and came to help. The fishermen and steamship crew worked together to get all the passengers transferred safely to the Tessler. One of the fishermen, Charles Klein, bravely saved the cook of the Atlanta who was trapped in the pantry by widening a porthole near the pantry and pulling the cook to safety!

The Atlanta’s passengers were transferred onto the Georgia, another steamship that was nearby, and were taken safely back to Sheboygan. The Tessler towed the burning Atlanta closer to shore and left it to burn down to the waterline with all its cargo and equipment still on board. The value of the ship and cargo was $200,000. What was left sank 17 feet to the bottom of Lake Michigan. Some of the cookware and other cargo is still seen when divers explore the wreck today.

Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Maritime Museum


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Story read by Olivia Cuddeford

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