A missing historical marker, known statewide as marker 297, will soon return to the Superior waterfront. Erected in 1990, the sign highlights the city’s wartime shipbuilding during World War II. Between 1942 and 1945, the builders in Superior produced 81 ships, whose tonnage and total value exceeded that of all other Wisconsin shipyards. They also had a global impact.
“Ships built in Superior hauled portions of an artificial harbor to the Normandy beaches, towed damaged warships to port and took part in anti-submarine warfare in the Atlantic,” the marker states.
Marker 297 was taken down about 10 years after its installation to clear a path for the Superior-Douglas County Chamber of Commerce building to move, and for the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center to be built. It never returned, and has been “lost” more than half its lifetime.
According to Jon Winter, business manager for the Douglas County Historical Society, marker 297 was misplaced in storage at the city garage. Parks, Recreation and Forestry director Linda Cadotte confirmed that the missing sign was located during a cleanup at the garage storage area.
This local story will return to the Harbor View Park area soon. State Historical Markers Program coordinator Fitzie Heimdahl let the city know May 21 that marker 297 has been cleared for reinstallation by the Wisconsin Historical Society.
There are currently more than 590 official historic markers dotted throughout the state, including 12 in Douglas County. The first were installed in 1951.
“These markers tell the stories of the events, the individuals, buildings or sites that are significant on the local, state or national level,” Heimdahl said. “And they all contribute to the state’s rich historical heritage.”
The push to install a historical marker is driven at the local level. Individuals or groups can apply for one. The process takes a few months, and the group that applies is responsible for the cost of the sign, between $660 and $5,900.
“Really, the markers come from the community,” Heimdahl said. “They submit their stories and their places that they feel are important and worthy of sharing in terms of Wisconsin’s history.”
He said the state receives up to a dozen applications annually, and the program has a dedicated following.
“We have folks that plan specific trips around markers,” Heimdahl said. “They often let me know if there’s a marker missing or if there’s a marker in need of repair or if they have general observations about their trip.”
Some people have turned it into a game, part scavenger hunt, part bingo. They check off each marker they visit, with the intent to see all 590.
It’s not unheard of to lose a marker, Heimdahl said. Usually it's because they are taken down for road construction and not returned.
“A lot of times, if there is a marker that's missing, we rely on our local communities and partners, in this case the city of Superior and the Douglas County Historical Society, to find them,” Heimdahl said. "This was a local effort that discovered it and is reinstalling the marker itself."
Some markers may be taken down due to incorrect or insensitive information, as well.
The most recent markers to be erected in Douglas County were marker 297 in 1990 and a sign on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus in 1993. In addition to eight sites in Superior, there are four historical markers in rural Douglas County, including one for Maj. “Dick” Bong in Poplar (1957) and one in Lake Nebagamon marking the state’s first tuberculosis treatment site, Evergreen Park Cottage Sanitorium (1966). There's room for more.
"I certainly encourage folks to apply if there's a story or history or person that hasn't been told through the markers program," Heimdahl said.
Visit the Wisconsin State Historical Society’s marker program page at wisconsinhistory.org for more information, applications and an interactive map of marker sites.