In June 2020, PBS Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Maritime Archeology department set out on the blustery waters of Door County’s infamous Death’s Door. Headed toward Washington Island, their intended destination was not the island itself but below the surface of the water.
They were there to document two shipwrecks at the bottom of one of Lake Michigan’s most treacherous passageways — physical artifacts that serve as dramatic underwater museums and serve as important historical documents which reveal stories of Wisconsin’s geographic, economic, environmental and cultural history.
Shipwrecks! is a comprehensive project — including a 60-minute documentary, a multi-faceted state-of-the-art virtual reality experience taking viewers to the depths of the Great Lakes, and, coming in 2022, a fully-interactive educational game for K-12 students called The Legend of the Lost Emerald. Explorers of every age will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the complex and eerie history of the more than 700 shipwrecks resting off the shores of Wisconsin, the communities rooted in the maritime world, and the “wreck hunters” searching for shipwrecks today.
This documentary is a feat of production made amid a global pandemic, teaching us how shipwrecks are both monuments to Wisconsin’s maritime history, speaking to specific moments when ships went down, but also markers of how many of our state’s communities were forged. The project is rooted in a legacy of partnerships with the Wisconsin Historical Society, and the enthusiasm shared across the state for these fascinating, dramatic, and crucial sites for maritime education.
Caption and credit for below photo: The three-masted schooner, Moonlight, built in 1874 by Milwaukee’s Wolf and Davidson shipyard. Photo/Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library
From the PBS Wisconsin blog and our Airwaves program guide, read an extended Q&A with David Hestad, the producer of Shipwrecks! Hestad talks about how maritime infrastructure fundamentally shaped the economic history and culture of Great Lakes communities, how the practice of “shipwreck hunting” coincided with advances in diving technology, and the production challenges of filming on and under the water.
Learn about PBS Wisconsin Education’s innovative teacher fellowship integral to the design of The Legend of the Lost Emerald, the educational video game due for release in 2022. A community of educators, game designers, researchers and maritime archeologists have co-designed a game experience that investigates Great Lakes shipwrecks using the techniques and methods of real archeologists.
The Wisconsin Historical Society’s Maritime Preservation and Archaeology Program is dedicated to preserving Wisconsin’s historic shipwrecks and other underwater non-renewable cultural resources. From its inception in 1988, the cornerstones of the program have been: systematic field investigation and documentation, background research using historical methods, the use of cutting-edge technology, and proactive public outreach and education programs for all ages.
A comprehensive online resource produced by Wisconsin Sea Grant and the Wisconsin Historical Society, wisconsinshipwrecks.org invites you to explore Wisconsin’s Great Lakes shipwrecks through underwater video, historic photographs and archeological discoveries. The project views Wisconsin’s shipwrecks and maritime attractions as crucial tangible reminders of how important water has been in shaping the state’s history and culture. It unearths this “lost history” through research and education.
Art Director, Graphic Designer
3D Modeler, Texture Artist
Digital Production Support
Vicki Way Kipp
Marketing & Engagement
Norman Yuson Cuaño
Local History Manuscripts Collection/Milwaukee Public Library
Fund for Lake Michigan for 3D modeling and animation support
Immersive Experience Credits
Experience Design & Development
Norman Yuson Cuaño
Experience Design & Development (cont.)
Vicki Way Kipp
External Design Support
Dan Sandberg / Atom Switch
[2007-34-8901] Wisconsin Maritime Museum Collection
Special thanks to all of our playtesters who volunteered their time.