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Lost Souls of Sheboygan’s Coast

phoenix

As a paranormal investigator based in Wisconsin, I have long noted a particularly high number of claims coming from the city of Sheboygan. On the surface, this city, located on the western shore of Lake Michigan about 50 miles north of Milwaukee, presents no obvious reasons why this should be. The quintessential American Midwestern city, it lacks the dark history of more famous haunted towns throughout the nation. It was not a haven for gangsters or outlaws. There are no Civil War battlefields or dilapidated, abandoned sanitariums dotting the landscape.

There is, however, an energy here that’s been seared into its fabric, like a fingerprint left in Sheboygan’s wet paint, still remaining long after it has dried.

Sheboygan was settled mainly by European immigrants throughout the mid 1800’s. On the night of November 21st, 1847, 280 Dutch immigrants were about to land on the shores of Sheboygan to begin their new lives. Weeks earlier, they boarded the Phoenix, in Buffalo, NY, to head to their new home in this place called Wisconsin. Not long after, their nightmare began.

Lake Erie was not kind to the Phoenix. The vessel was repeatedly pounded by rolling surges of waves and winds. After a bitter struggle, she finally made it through the straits to Lake Huron. Huron nearly tore the vessel apart.

The rush of the seemingly never-ending whitecaps pummeled the sides of the Phoenix, staggering through a storm the likes of which none on board had ever seen. Parts of the ship actually were ripped off, carried away to an icy grave. Passengers were terrified. Many were injured. But the ship continued on. She veered off course to respite off a tiny island where she licked her wounds before making way into the calmer waters of Lake Michigan.The calm didn’t last.

Again, she was mauled by the swells of the Great Lakes. Again, the bruised steamer pushed through, finally pulling into harbor at Manitowoc, WI, like a boxer staggering to his corner. Now just 30 miles downshore from their final destination, relief set in as the passengers realized the longest, most frightening ordeal of their lives was soon coming to an end. A layover was ordered until the winds died down.

Shortly after 1 AM, on November 21st, the Phoenix left Manitowoc for the short tour down to Sheboygan. Finally, the night sky was clear and the waters calm. Finally, the immigrants thought, we will soon be landing in our new home.

After about an hour of smooth sailing, an engine room attendant found the boilers to be overheating and had actually set fire to one of the overhead wooden beams. In almost no time at all, the small fire grew stronger and was soon raging out of control. The crew and passengers tried to fight the fire. Chaos ensued. After a short while, the ship lost steam pressure, the water pumps died, and the Phoenix simply began to drift. There was now only one thing left to do… abandon ship.

As in too many other disasters just like this, the Phoenix did not have nearly enough boats on board to account for its people.

Accounts by survivors tell of their terror at what they witnessed. People on fire diving into the frigid waters, the sound of screams of agony and death, and the frantic, panicked free-for-all as everyone fought for their own survival. Many who were clinging to wreckage, and clinging to life, watched as the two small lifeboats slowly drifted towards shore, and out of view.

The crews of two small ships docked at Sheboygan harbor that night noticed a glow on the horizon and heard the faint sounds of screams in the air. Hurriedly they made their way to the scene. When they got there, they were horrified.

The Phoenix was burned to water level. Bodies and wreckage were strewn about the lake. Of her 350 passengers and crew, only 43 survived.

The carnage was towed into Sheboygan harbor where it eventually sank to the bottom. Local buildings were used as makeshift morgues. Bodies washed up on shore for weeks. Many were buried in unmarked graves on the beach.

The skeleton of the Phoenix still lies where it sank in 1847. We are unsure of its exact location today though it’s believed it is under where a portion of the harbor has since been filled in

After much research and ongoing investigations, it is the opinion of the Midwestern Paranormal Investigative Network that many of Sheboygan’s hauntings stem from this disaster, including one of the city’s most popular hauntings – The Sheboygan Yacht Club.

It seems Sheboygan is being haunted by wandering souls in a strange land. Immigrants from a far away place still searching, in death, for the American Dream they were deprived of in life.

Scott Wittman is a professional Historical Landscape photographer, writer, researcher, and traveler. More of his work can be seen at www.scottwittmanvisual.com.

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