Gallery: ‘Minnesota’s Titanic’

RED WING, Minn. (WCCO) – This week is the anniversary of one of the most traumatic stories in Minnesota’s history.  And it’s one many people have never even heard about.

One historian calls it Minnesota’s version of the Titanic.

The Sea Wing left Red Wing, Minn. for a Sunday cruise to go watch music in Lake City. On the way back a summer storm hit and 98 people died, mostly women and children.

In the middle of a southeastern Minnesota town lies a story that’s hard to find.

Sure, there’s a small exhibit at the Goodhue Historical Society, tourists may stumble upon, and a plaque at Levee Park, other than that it’s hard to find remnants.

Retired St. Paul 6th grade teacher Fred Johnson wrote two book about it. His wife’s two great aunts died in the boat accident and his own great grandfather hauled bodies to shore.

“I have learned over a lifetime that virtually nobody in Minnesota knows the story of the Sea Wing,” Johnson said.

It’s a story about 215 people who took a cruise on a steamer in July of 1890 – they were all dressed up, on their way to Lake City, to listen to some music on a Sunday. The steamer’s owner used his boat for excursions on occasion and added a barge for extra passengers.

The boat took off from Red Wing, of the 98 people who died, 77 were from the town of 6,000.

And the way they died, mostly women and children, was gruesome.

“A gust of wind took it totally over and it’s bottoms up and everybody in the cabin was now upside down crowded together under the Mississippi River,” Johnson said. “It’s Minnesota’s version of the Titanic, I think you could call it that.”

The National Guard scrambled to find those left in the river.

“Some of the people who thought they were survivors, hanging on in the wreckage and thought they would be safe died when the hail storm that followed pelted them an killed them,” Brown said.

Headstones in downtown Red Wing still mark the day, there were 44 funerals in one day in the town of 6,000.

Fred Johnson says he is on a voyage of his own to tell a story that’s hard to hear yet important to know. “Not that it changed the course of history or great events but a large number of people died suddenly and then were forgotten,” Johnson said.

Fred Johnson says he believes the reason why the Sea Wing was forgotten was because so many of the victims were from the same small town and because it was a time when people didn’t like to talk about tragedy.

To tour remains of the boat or buy Johnson’s book, contact Goodhue County Historical Society at (651) 388-6024

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield