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Wisconsin Historic Preservation and Archaeology Month | Wisconsin Historical Society

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Wisconsin Historic Preservation and Archaeology Month

Wisconsin Historic Preservation and Archaeology Month | Wisconsin Historical Society

May is Historic Preservation Month and Archaeology Month in Wisconsin we celebrate the preservation of historic places that help us understand our past. Each year, we release original posters and bookmarks featuring interesting historic places in Wisconsin.

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The Wisconsin Historical Society promotes community events that meet our criteria for promoting historic places during Historic Preservation and Archaeology Month. You may submit your event to our calendar through our online form.

2021 Historic Preservation and Archaeology Month Posters and Bookmarks

St. Matthew Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

EnlargeAn image of the 2021 Historic Preservation Month poster featuring an image of the St. Matthew Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

St. Matthew Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

St Matthew C.M.E. Church was at the heart of the Milwaukee Civil Rights Movement from 1964 to 1967. Under the leadership of its pastor, Rev. B.S. Gregg, the church served as headquarters for the Milwaukee United School Integration Committee (MUSIC). MUSIC held its regular meetings at the church, and on three occasions the church welcomed freedom schools. The freedom schools were opened during three school boycotts organized by MUSIC. The freedom schools introduced students to black history and culture and taught nonviolent direct-action protest techniques. When its protests failed to move the school board, MUSIC pursued a federal lawsuit, winning its case in 1976.

The building on 9th Street was commissioned by Milwaukee’s First German Reformed Church; the St. Matthew congregation purchased the church in early 1958. The church’s architects, Cornelius Leenhouts and Hugh Guthrie, practiced in Milwaukee from 1900 to 1935, designing residences, apartments, commercial buildings, club headquarters, and churches.

The church has an auditorium-type sanctuary with floral stained glass windows and a large window depicting the 12-year Jesus in the temple at Jerusalem. In keeping with trends among Protestant congregations in the early 20th century, the church building on North 9th Street included classrooms, club rooms, a dining hall and kitchen, and a gymnasium. The presence of classrooms and a gymnasium allowed the church to accommodate meetings of MUSIC and other community-oriented groups as well as the freedom schools.

Nearly unchanged from its 1960s appearance, St. Matthew C.M.E. Church is one of the strongest tangible links to the most important civil rights period in the city’s history. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2019.

16th Street Viaduct

EnlargeAn image of the 2021 Historic Preservation Month bookmark featuring a color image of the 16th Street Viaduct

16th Street Viaduct

This 4,000-foot-long, steel girder, motor and pedestrian viaduct is a testament to the struggle to overcome Milwaukee’s racial divisions. Consisting of 79 spans, it carries traffic over the Menomonee River Valley, a historic dividing line. In the 1960s, the vast majority of Milwaukee’s African American population lived north of the viaduct. To the south were 300,000 white residents, many of Eastern European ancestry. Through the mid-1960s, discriminatory practices by landlords, real estate agents, and financial institutions had kept the south side all-white.

On the nights of August 28 and 29, 1967, the Youth Council (YC) of the Milwaukee Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People led marches across the bridge. About 200 demonstrators and their advisor, Father James Groppi, were headed to Kosciuszko Park in the heart of the south side to hold a rally for equal access to housing. They were greeted by thousands of suspicious whites, some shouting racial slurs and others bombarding them with rocks and bottles.

When the city’s Common Council declined to enact an open housing ordinance, the YC kept up the protests for 200 consecutive days. A number of the later demonstrations crossed over the viaduct. The demonstrations forced city leaders to confront the issue of housing discrimination. On April 30, 1968, the Common Council passed a strong open housing ordinance.

Father Groppi and the YC were widely condemned in the 1960s. By 1988, though, attitudes had changed, and the Common Council renamed the viaduct the James A. Groppi Unity Bridge. Periodically updated to accommodate changing traffic demands, the viaduct serves as a reminder that human rights are rarely granted without a struggle.

Lakeland Shipwreck

EnlargeAn image of the 2021 Archaeology Month poster featuring a color underwater photo of the shipwreck Lakeland.

2021 Wisconsin Archaeology Month Poster

The Lakeland represents multiple eras of ship construction and use on the Great Lakes. She began as a bulk freighter in 1886, was converted to a passenger steamer in 1910; and finally was converted to a car carrier in 1920. In her first incarnation as the Cambria, she was only the second GIW freighter built with steel hull plates, and was the first vessel on the Great Lakes powered by a triple expansion steam engine. After her conversion to a car carrier in 1920, the Lakeland became associated with the early development of the Great Lakes region’s burgeoning automotive industry.

Much of the Lakeland’s enduring fame stems from the circumstances of her sinking, the novel investigation of the wreck, and the lengthy court case that followed. The 1924 “Lakeland disaster” as some newspapers dubbed it, was one of the earliest Great Lakes losses to actually be photographed in the process of going down.

The vessel had been suffering from persistent but manageable leaks and when rough seas threatened during a return trip, the captain decided to bring her into the Sturgeon Bay Canal to wait out the storm. The Lakeland had left Chicago on 2 December 1924 when she encountered heavy seas on Lake Michigan north of Chicago and the steel plates buckled, causing a leak. The minor leak worsened after the ship’s departure from the Sturgeon Bay canal. At 10:00 AM, a lookout at the Sturgeon Bay Coast Guard station observed the Lakeland in apparent distress, and at 11:30 AM, the Lakeland abruptly went down. The entire crew of the Lakeland escaped, but she took her cargo of automobiles to the bottom of the lake. Observers reported that her stern went under first, and the hull probably “telescoped” or broke in two. The Lakeland currently lies at the bottom of Lake Michigan underneath 205 feet of water. Although broken in half, the site retains excellent archaeological integrity, and sites such as the Lakeland present a rare opportunity to study and learn about historic steel-hull ship construction, and how these vessels were used in the bulk cargo, passenger, and package freight trades.

EnlargeImage of the 2021 Wisconsin Archaeology Month Bookmark with a historic photo of diver Max Nohl in a hospital pressure chamber.


More information on Wisconsin's historic shipwrecks may be found by visiting Wisconsin's Great Lakes Shipwrecks website.

Innovative Wisconsin Diver Max Nohl

The 2021 Archaeology month bookmark features a historic photo of diver Max Nohl testing his experimental diving suit in a hospital pressure chamber. 

In the early 1930s, while attending engineering school at MIT, Milwaukee diver Max Gene Nohl developed a revolutionary, lightweight diving suit that would allow divers more freedom of movement along with the ability to dive deeper for longer times. In April of 1937, Nohl contacted Dr. Edgar End, a professor and clinical physician at Marquette University, to explore the practicality of using helium/oxygen breathing mixtures for deep diving. End had experience in hyperbaric medicine studying Caisson’s disease, pressure related illness in Milwaukee’s tunnel workers, so End could provide the needed physiological study to make sure divers could work deep under pressure in Nohl’s suit.

The use of helium/oxygen diving gas mixtures would eliminate the effect of nitrogen narcosis as well as reduced decompression time. Its use was first theorized in 1919 by Elihu Thompson and experimented with in 1923-24 through a United States Bureau of Mines and United States Navy joint project. First practical application of the gas mixture was used in the 1925 investigation of the scuttling of the SS Lakeland in Lake Michigan off Sturgeon Bay. The testing however was considered a failure, and the mixtures use was subsequently dropped by the Navy as most of the Lakeland divers experienced symptoms of decompression sickness (known as the bends).

Using the Milwaukee County Emergency Hospital’s hyperbaric chamber, End conducted three experiments testing different gas mixtures on Nohl and famed diver, author, lecturer Captain John Craig. The divers were held in one compartment of the chamber where they used a rebreather apparatus comprised of a mouthpiece, spirometer and soda lime canister (to remove carbon dioxide from exhaled breaths). Nohl and Craig would breathe a premixed gas through the rebreather as pressure was increased inside the chamber. End made observations on the divers through a small porthole window and controlled the breathing gas and chamber pressure from a separate compartment where he breathed air. The outcome of these experiments demonstrated the near absence of narcotic effect and low solubility in body tissues while breathing helium/oxygen under pressure rather than air. The results were published in the American Journal of Physiology (120:712,1937).

A major barrier to helium/oxygen use was the diving equipment. Nohl’s suit was well-suited to incorporation of this new gas mixture. End and Nohl then tested the suit and helmet along with the helium/oxygen mixture in both the hyperbaric chamber and in test dives at deeper depths in Lake Michigan. One of their test dives took place off the USCGC Antietam and it became the first dive to be broadcast from underwater nationwide, actually worldwide if you include short wave radio. On December 1, 1937 they were ready for the record dive attempt using Nohl’s diving suit and End’s helium/oxygen mixture and decompression calculations. Because Nohl extended the depth of the dive deeper than the planned 360 feet to the bottom at 420 feet, End needed to feverishly recalculate the decompression stops on the fly, while seasick, using his slide rule from the deck of the Coast Guard cutter. Total decompression time was 118 minutes which was much shorter than normal because the helium-oxygen mixture was flushed out with 100% oxygen during the shallower stops. Once on the surface, End found Nohl to be in excellent condition and the pair became famous on a worldwide scale as a result of the deepest dive ever made by man.

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