Traces of 19th century shipwreck that killed many Dutch emigrants found in Lake Michigan
A Dutch podcast maker and American shipwreck hunter discovered traces of the Phoenix steamship in Lake Michigan 175 years after the ship went up in flames, killing nearly 200 of the mainly Dutch emigrants on board.
Podcaster Joske Meerdink stumbled across the story of the Phoenix by accident, she told Omroep Gelderland. She noticed the monument for the disaster while walking through Winterswijk one evening and was shocked that she didn’t know about it. When she found that the residents of the Achterhoek town also didn’t know much about it, she decided to get the shipwreck the attention it deserved.
The Phoenix was carrying over 225 passengers when it went up in flames on 21 November 1847, within sight of its destination - Sheboygan in Wisconsin. About 45 people survived, but most died. Nearly 100 children were among the victims.
In July, Meerdink and filmmaker Diny van Hoften visited Sheboygan as part of their quest to tell the ship’s story. That’s when they made contact with shipwreck hunter Steve Radovan. “She was really insistent that, boy, it would sure be nice if we could find artifacts from the Phoenix,” Radovan said to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal. That got him thinking about a log he saw around the area where the ship was said to have sunk.
They reached out to a diving team to check the site. Tamara Thomsen, an archeologist at the Wisconsin Historical Society and a diving team member, discovered that the object was not a log but a smokestack. “It has to be the Phoenix because that would be the only smokestack out here in the area,” Radovan said to the American newspaper. “To me, it’s kind of neat. The smokestack of the Phoenix tells me exactly where this disaster happened now.”
The Phoenix disaster significantly impacted the size of the Dutch community in Sheboygan, local genealogist Mary Risseeuw said to the Journal Sentinal. “Immigration halted for probably 12 to 14 years after the Phoenix disaster,” she said. “People in Sheboygan County wrote letters back to the Netherlands warning them that it wasn’t safe for them to get on a ship and come.”
The first episode of Meerdink’s podcast, titled De Ramp met de Phoenix, was released on Monday. Van Hoften’s documentary, which has the same name, will broadcast on Omroep Gelderland on Tuesday.