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Lesson Plan: Sea Wing
For Teachers Only - Introduction:
What was the Sea Wing disaster?
What You Will Need for This Lesson:
Using this Lesson in Your Classroom:
What Your Students Will See In This Lesson Online:
1.1) From these two pictures, what can we learn about what was recovered from the wreck of the Sea Wing?
Possible Answer: It appears that they were able to recover some of the boat's furniture, including chairs and cushions, but most of the things are heavily damaged or destroyed.
1.2) Why do you think a newspaper would publish a pen drawing of the wreck instead of the photograph?
Possible Answer: Pen drawings came out clearer than photographs when they were printed in the newspaper.
1.3) If you look closely at the photograph, on the right side of the picture is a man whose image is very blurry. Why would that be?
Possible Answer: In the photography of the 1890s, a longer exposure time for the film meant that any movement would be recorded on the film. This man probably was walking around the wreckage at the time the photograph was taken.
1.4) The photograph and drawing show the Sea Wing tilted to the side in the water instead of being completely submerged. How might this fact help those trying to recover belongings or bodies from the wreckage?
Possible Answer: With the Sea Wing partially above water, another boat could be brought up along its side and used to stabilize the wreck while people worked to salvage what was left. When this photograph was taken, the Sea Wing had been moved closer to the shore to make recovery efforts easier. Many of the bodies had been retrieved the night before.
Click on the News 1 button to open the primary source.
This article about the wreck was published in the St. Paul Daily Globe.
2.1) The headlines in this article discuss the impact that the disaster had on local communities. What information can we gain from these about how area communities reacted?
Possible Answer: The headlines state that Red Wing businesses shut down during the mourning period and that other communities along the river were also mourning.
2.2) What does it mean when it says that Lake City was put "under martial law?"
Possible Answer: Martial law is a way of controlling a community by restricting the movements and actions of the people so they won't disrupt peace and order. Usually troops were brought in to patrol the area until the situation was under control.
2.3) From the headlines alone, whom do you think the paper is blaming for the tragedy?
Possible Answer: The paper seems to place the blame on the captain's "determination to brave the fury of a storm."
2.4) This article appears on the top of the front page of the St. Paul Daily Globe the day after the event. What does this tell us about the importance of the event to the Red Wing community?
Possible Answer: If the event had been less important, the article might have been placed on an inside page of the paper instead of on the front, or it might have been placed lower on the page. The way this article is placed means it would probably be the first article most people would see in the paper.
3.1) When the memorial services for the victims of the disaster were held, this pamphlet was produced to honor them. How do you think this account of the disaster is similar or different from the one most people would have read in the newspaper?
Possible Answer: The general facts are most likely the same, but since some time has passed, some more of the details might be known in the pamphlet that weren't known when the newspaper article was published.
3.2) What more can you learn about this storm before it arrived on Lake Pepin?
Possible Answer: This storm had created a tornado in St. Paul that had destroyed several houses and killed a number of people.
3.3) Why do you think that the crew on the boat would want to cut the barge loose, since the barges were often used to help stabilize boats like these?
Possible Answer: They might have been trying to save as many people as possible by getting them away from the sinking Sea Wing. There also might have been some concerns about the barge hindering the navigation of the Sea Wing and making it more difficult to control.
3.4) How did the survivors of this disaster manage to get to safety?
Possible Answer: Those who were on the barge were all saved. Others held on to life preservers or floating debris and attempted to make it to shore. Some were saved by people from Lake City who rowed to the accident scene in boats.
4.1) As a way of remembering those who died in the wreck, this listing was included in the pamphlet handed out at the memorial service. From what community were most of the dead?
Possible Answer: Most of the deceased were from Red Wing.
4.2) By studying this list, what might we learn about those who died in the wreck?
Possible Answer: If we look at the names of those who died, we could be able to guess that some of them were mothers or fathers with their children. In some cases, several people from the same family died in the wreck.
4.3) What does this listing not tell us about those who died?
Possible Answer: We cannot learn from this source alone for sure which of the dead were family members, and there is no way to tell how old any of them were or why they were going on the trip that day.
4.4) The black outline around the list separates it from the rest of the pages in the pamphlet. What else could it mean?
Possible Answer: During the 1800s, it was common to use stationery with a black border if you were in mourning for a loved one. This is an example of one way to memorialize and honor those who have died and recognize that the town and community is in mourning for all of those who perished.
5.1) This map shows us the route of the Sea Wing and where it was destroyed. Why do you think that if it capsized at letter B, it was not grounded until letter D?
Possible Answer: The river current and the winds of the storm could easily have pushed the steamer downstream before it got stuck in water that was more shallow.
5.2) Since Lake City was closest to the barge when it finally was grounded, what do you think the survivors on the barge did when it landed?
Possible Answer: Survivors of the wreck who were on the barge ran to Lake City for help.
5.3) Why do you think that almost all of the passengers on the barge lived, while many on the steamer did not?
Possible Answer: The barge may have been more stable than the steamer and was probably less likely to capsize because of its shallow depth and flat bottom.
5.4) Since the only living witnesses of the actual disaster seem to be the survivors on the steamer, how can we know if this map of the event is accurate?
Possible Answer: We are unable to tell for sure if the map is completely accurate, but since the groundings of the steamer and the barge are documented, we can guess that survivors were able to remember or guess the route of the Sea Wing after the storm hit.
6.1) This death certificate is a "form letter" kind of document with spaces left for the name and ages of those who died. Why might the coroner have created a certificate like this with much of the information already provided?
Possible Answer: In a situation where there are large numbers of deaths from the same cause, it would have been easier for the coroner to just print up a number of certificates and fill in the individual information by hand, instead of writing the entire certificate out for each person.
6.2) How was Mrs. Shiffer's body recovered?
Possible Answer: Another steamer, the Ethel Howard, was helping recover bodies in the lake and transported hers to the shore. (Her name on this certificate was actually spelled incorrectly by the coroner. This is actually Mrs. John Schoeffler.)
6.3) Why do you think the coroner wrote in the death certificate that he had not found any signs of violence on Mrs. Schiffer's (Schoeffler's) body?
Possible Answer: It was and still is important to establish whether or not a crime has been committed that caused someone's death. If it appeared that Mrs. Shiffer (Schoeffler's) had been killed by someone, the coroner would have to request an investigation to find the killer.
6.4) With almost 100 bodies to be recovered, what effect do you think this might have had on the coroner at the time?
Possible Answer: Obviously, this event put a great deal of stress on the coroner and the undertakers in the area. Some of the people who worked with the deceased were known to have had nervous breakdowns because of this disastrous event.
Thought Questions for online Exploration:
You can also use the sources provided on this site to encourage higher-order thinking about a number of historical themes and issues that relate to the Sea Wing disaster in Minnesota. Below are possible activities and discussion starters to extend student application of the content material provided in the sources. The information provided in the sources about the disaster does not provide a comprehensive picture of these issues, but it can serve as an introduction to a theme or as supplementary material to enhance your work with a theme that is already part of your curriculum.
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