Shipwrecks of Door County

The Shipwrecks of Door County exhibit explores maritime life on the Great Lakes and the inherent dangers that throughout Great Lakes history have sent scores of ships to a watery grave. This exhibit engages your senses while educating and entertaining through the use of recovered shipwreck artifacts, rare historical photos and underwater shipwreck video footage as well as through interactive learning and immersive environments. It will heighten your appreciation for the distinctive history and underwater spaces of Door County. After a journey through the exhibit, you will leave with a better understanding of what the men and women on the Great Lakes endured and sacrificed as they helped forge our maritime history.

History of Diving
Visitors are first greeted by a timeline of the evolution of underwater diving — from its often dangerous, ancient roots to the newest technological advances of today. A range of suits will be on display and will include an original brass MARK V diving helmet.

Water Physics Experiments
Within this area are STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) physical demonstration experiences, for all ages. Discover how the Archimedes Principal works (volume and water displacement experiments).  Guests will also learn about the effect of light refraction in water and how it affects the efforts to search for sunken vessels.

The Freighter, Elba
Next, step into the actual wheelhouse of a 1907 freighter. Families can take their turn steering the Elba through the Sturgeon Bay Canal with the use of the interactive simulator. The pilothouse is the bridge from the 420-foot steam freighter. Seven video screens fill the windows of the Elba and simulate a real-time experience while visitors pilot their way through fog, clouds and bridges. The wheelhouse’s audio environment will include engine sounds and on-board radio traffic to give the impression that the “captain” is actually navigating a ship.

Put your hands on the large wooden wheel and sound Elba’s horn. Captain her as she delivers lumber, stone and other bulk cargo from ports throughout the Great Lakes. Guests are then brought into a harrowing journey through a storm trying to make safe harbor. Suddenly there are shoals hidden by the storm, the doomed vessel is taking on water and our crew members watch until they finally come to rest on the lake bottom. You’ve gone down in a shipwreck!

ROV and Wreck Hunting
Gain a full “underwater experience” when you use a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) simulator.  This interactive simulation and shipwreck hunt gives the guest a chance to pilot an underwater ROV to locate and explore a shipwreck. Learn more about the array of modern day technologies used by shipwreck hunters.

Cargo and Commerce
Visitors are greeted by an interactive artifact case with historical cargo often carried on Great Lakes ships. You will find examples of carried cargo such as quarried stone, taconite ore, grain and lumber.

Underwater Archaeology
Guests look through reveal panels to explore the tools and technology used in underwater archaeology to study the past through submerged remains. Visitors of all ages will interact with a touchscreen and be challenged to explore and identify shipwrecks based on the unique features of the underwater remains (mast, cargo, hull material, etc.).

Shipwreck Louisiana & Kids Discovery Area
Guests come face-to-face with the remains of a shipwreck as it appeared shortly after sinking 100 years ago. They can explore this vessel and touch all aspects of it. This stylized, kid-friendly reconstruction is modeled after the Louisiana, a historic shipwreck that still lies off the coast of Washington Island.

Text panels will recount the history of Louisiana and all of the resources that went into its construction, fostering an appreciation for not only the ship itself but the efforts of those who built it. Display cases reveal actual shipwreck artifacts built into the “wreck” at different levels. Children will be excited to make this discovery and share it with their guardians, instilling an appreciation and ownership for exploration in our youngest guests. 

Crawl in, discover and slide out of this child-friendly shipwreck replica. The space will come to life as children and adults experience underwater effects, imagery, sounds and more. On exiting the slide, find artifacts amongst the debris field scattered over a sandy lake floor.

Shipwreck Map of Door County
Continuing, visitors will come to a floor-to-ceiling interactive map of the Door Peninsula showcasing shipwreck locations.  From the map’s larger story of maritime trade, loss, and subsequent archeological discovery, guests will be able to choose from a selection of important shipwrecks to learn more about the underwater heritage of Door County. This map sheds light on where these wrecks are found through the use of technology. 

Conservation & Preservation
Visitors will learn about the private, state and federal efforts to conserve and preserve the shipwrecks of Door County. Historical exploration of previously disregarded shipwrecks will illustrate why legislation and conservation efforts are necessary. Artifact cases will display remains of the vessels being improperly handled today. Learn more about conservation techniques and stories, maritime law, the effect invasive species have on our waters and observe a simulated “glass-bottom boat” perspective over a shipwreck.

Video Theater / Artifact “Chapel”
This space will offer an opportunity to feel as if one were at the bottom of the lake searching for shipwreck artifacts. See first-hand physical artifacts and then see what it would look like as you were a diver underwater looking for lost treasures.


 This exhibit is made possible with help from a $39,550 Joint Effort Marketing (JEM) grant from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.