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One Of The Worst Disasters In US History Happened Right Here In Wisconsin

The Lady Elgin was a side wheel steamship that operated in the Great Lakes. It had gone through many iterations and repairs and in 1860 mostly ran short routes in and around Lake Michigan.

The boat was named after the wife of Canada’s Governor General at the time it was built, Lord Elgin.

On September 6, 1860, the Lady Elgin left Milwaukee with approximately 400 passengers to head to Chicago.

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Though legend recounts that the group was going to hear Democrat Stephen Douglas speak, research shows he was speaking in Pennsylvania that day. The group was actually a mostly-Irish group of abolitionists that opposed secession, something others in Wisconsin were considering at the time. They were fundraising to rearm their militia. Regardless of the reason, the ship was full of most of the Irish leadership from Milwaukee, many who lived in the Third Ward.
The Lady Elgin is shown in the bottom of this picture map of Chicago, as its later life was spent ferrying in and out of the port.

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The Lady Elgin left Chicago late on the night of September 7th to carry the group back to Milwaukee.
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Conditions were not great, with a storm brewing that brought gale-force winds that created churning water and high waves. Visibility was low. Somewhere near the state line, the Lady Elgin collided with a lumber schooner, the Augusta.

The schooner continued on to Chicago, but the Lady Elgin suffered too much damage. Just 18 people made it in to lifeboats and a few more survived using pieces of the wreckage. The ship’s register did not survive, so there’s no way to know exactly how many people were on board, but estimates say more than 300 people perished and fewer than 100 survived.
A lack of a lantern on the Augusta is blamed for the crash and four years later, rules were adopted that required running lights on sail, as well as steam-powered ships.

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There are many stories and legends surrounding the Lady Elgin sinking that can be debunked, but one that may never be fully understood is how the loss of the lives of so many influential and powerful Irish Milwaukeeans affected the future of the city.

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The story is that this loss shifted the balance of power to the Germans in Milwaukee, forever altering the fate of the city. Cavalry Cemetery contains a monument and graves for many of those who were lost in the tragedy. This sign sits in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. An Irish cultural group in Milwaukee has been trying to raise funds to build a memorial statue.
The 1860 election soon took the attention of most of the nation and many moved on to forget the crash. In 1861, Henry C. Work wrote the song “Lost on the Lady Elgin” to honor the crash. Legend says people in central Canada continued to sing the song as a memorial for many years.
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The shipwreck of the Lady Elgin has been the subject of legal battles to decide ownership and whether it is a national historic landmark.

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Source : onlyinyourstate.com

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