Sea Wing Disaster (GPX)
Raw file: SeaWing.gpx (2.44 KB)
Location where The Sea Wing capsized on July 13, 1890, during a violent storm on Lake Pepin. The subsequent loss of 98 of its over 200 passengers stunned the state and horrified Red Wing, MN, the small river town that had been home to 77 of the victims.
The Sea Wing was a stern-wheel rafter, 135-feet long, 22-feet in height — her height was said to make her skittish in wind — weighing about 110 tons.
She was built in 1888 and operated out of Diamond Bluff, Wis., across the river and north of Red Wing.
Powered by a six-piston steam engine, Sea Wing shepherded lumber and other commodities down the Mississippi River.
The Sea Wing was captained and partly owned by Capt. David Wethern, 37-years-old, husband and father.
Wethern would be accused of “unskillfulness” and temporarily lose his pilot’s license as a result of the disaster, but his loss cut deeper.
His wife Nellie and 8-year-old son Perley accompanied him on the excursion to the National Guard camp at Lake City, and both drowned.
The Sea Wing and her attached covered barge "Jim Grant" left Diamond Bluff at 8:40 a.m., picking up passengers at stops while enroute to Lake City, MN. She reached at her destination at about 11:30 a.m. and passengers disembarked. Storms plagued the military review at the National Guard camp, but Sea Wing excursioners were enjoying themselves.
Some were reluctant to leave. Wethern agreed to remain until 7 p.m., though the Sea Wing may not have departed Lake City until about 8 p.m.
As Sea Wing plowed upriver, festivities continued. Bawdy songs sung by drunken men are said to have prompted some women to forsaken the barge for the Sea Wing.
Other accounts have Wethern ordering women and children into the steamboat cabin — later, back out — as the weather worsened.
The Sea Wing had made it less than halfway back to Red Wing when swallowed by storms.
Wethern turned the Sea Wing into the approaching squall and held course for several minutes.
Crewmen Ed Niles reportedly spotted a funnel cloud crossing the lake about 500 yards ahead of the Sea Wing, though one contemporary meteorologist suggested that it was a squall.
Disaster, or the accumulated effect of bad judgement, struck Sea Wing at perhaps 8:45 p.m.
Survivors remember the boat momentarily listing at about a 45 degree angle before Sea Wing, its cabin filled with passengers, keeled over.
Perhaps 25 passengers clung to the keel of the capsized boat, a task possibly made more difficult because survivors report the Sea Wing unrighted herself and capsized several times.
The barge drifted downstream and eventually nudged the Minnesota shore north of Lake City. Survivors began jumping off. Townspeople and others went back to the Sea Wing on a skiff and ferried about 18 survivors ashore.
The Sea Wing was towed near shore and National Guardsmen, hacking a hole in the hull, pulled free about 15 bodies from inside the wreck.
In the hours following the Sea Wing disaster, the extent of the tragedy slowly became known.
On Tuesday only one body was recovered.
But on Wednesday some 31 bodies floated to the surface of Lake Pepin.
The last body, the 98th, that of an 11-year-old Red Wing girl, was found on Thursday.