The Sea Wing Disaster, William Blaker (1845-1926), Ancestor No. 19

Sea Wing

The Sea Wing was a 109-ton steamer based in Diamond Bluff, Wisconsin (coincidentally, the hometown of my clan of Ralstons before they moved to NW Minnesota).

William H. Blaker was a second cousin of my great-grandmother Eva Davis Wright, born in Wisconsin in 1845, died in Minneapolis in 1926.

On morning of the 13th of July, 1890, the Sea Wing set out for a day’s excursion along the upper Mississippi River between Red Wing and Lake City, Minnesota, including a slate of events in Lake City. There were 200 passengers and crew onboard, including William Blaker, his wife Phebe, and children Sarah and Delbert.

Not uncommonly for Midwest summers, the weather had been humid and threatening all day, including reports of thunderstorms and even a tornado. An area weather observer’s wind gauge recorded 60-mph gusts before the wind knocked it out. The weather continued to ramp up into the evening, disrupting some of the events in Lake City.

The Sea Wing’s Captain Wethern agreed to remain in Lake City until perhaps as late as 8 p.m., at which time he must have believed the storms were over. Some passengers disagreed, and found other ways home.

The Sea Wing probably made it less than halfway back to Red Wing before a huge squall came out of the west. The Captain altered course and steered into the weather, but the top-heavy boat was no match for the storm.

98 people died, mostly women and children who had been removed from the barge lashed to the side of the boat, and put in an enclosed room topside. Some never made it out of that room. For the women who did, the weight and cumbersome nature of their 1890s clothing made swimming nearly impossible.

As it turned out, most everyone who stayed with the barge survived. Including one member of the orchestra, Mr. Schenach, who used his string bass as a float. When he died at age 96 in 1962, he was thought to be the last of the Sea Wing survivors.

A Mr. Kellogg, a photographer in Red Wing assembled a composite photograph of those killed in the disaster. The photos here of Phebe, Sarah and Delbert Blaker come from that composite.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 3.01.40 PMPhebe Dash Blaker   Sarah Blaker  Delbert Blaker

77 of the 98 people killed were from Red Wing. 5,000 people attended the mass memorial service there. Legend has it that, afterward, a local undertaker suffered a nervous breakdown from the stress of the week.

 

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