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Cross Plains kids travel in time to learn about shipwrecks

Using a vinyl poster, Anne Moser helps kids measure parts of the Silver Lake and learn about its construction. (Photo: Bonnie Willison, Wisconsin Sea Grant)

On an otherwise ordinary Thursday afternoon in Cross Plains, a group of children traveled in time and place with the help of Anne Moser, senior special librarian of the Wisconsin Water Library. (The Water Library, like Wisconsin Sea Grant, is housed within the Aquatic Sciences Center on the UW-Madison campus.)

After spinning three times, the kids flashed back to 1900 and became the crew of the ill-fated scow schooner Silver Lake, which sank in dense fog on Lake Michigan after colliding with a much larger car ferry. Today, the Silver Lake sits in about 200 feet of water, seven miles northeast of Sheboygan.

After another triple-twirl, the kids were transported to 2010 to become maritime archaeologists, just now discovering the surprisingly intact wreckage of the Silver Lake. Fanned out around a large vinyl poster of the wreck, they measured dimensions and learned about the structure of a ship of this type, which once transported lumber along the Great Lakes.

This imaginative time travel was part of a shipwreck presentation geared to children at the Rosemary Garfoot Public Library in Cross Plains. Accompanied by parents or grandparents, the kids learned that shipwrecks are time capsules that offer us a unique and valuable window into the past.

Moser travels frequently throughout Wisconsin, presenting on shipwrecks and other Great Lakes topics to both kids and adults at libraries and book festivals. It’s part of the Water Library’s robust educational and outreach mission.

Attendees learned about scow schooners and the role they once played in Great Lakes trade. (Photo: Bonnie Willison, Wisconsin Sea Grant)

All told, there are over 700 shipwrecks in Wisconsin waters. The locations of about 190 of those are known, and about half of those 190 have been surveyed and documented to date.

Maritime archaeologists at the Wisconsin Historical Society—with whom Sea Grant works closely—as well as private divers continue their hunt for more shipwrecks, with an eye to documenting and preserving them.

To learn more about Wisconsin shipwrecks, visit wisconsinshipwrecks.org. And to invite Anne Moser to come speak to your library or organization, contact her at askwater@aqua.wisc.edu.