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Lesson Plan: Sea Wing

For Teachers Only - Introduction:
This lesson is designed to introduce your students to historical research with primary sources. They will be presented with a set of six primary sources relating to a milestone in Minnesota history. Students will be provided with source data, online activity questions to direct their study, and a worksheet designed to help them draw conclusions about the sources they have seen and about primary source research in general. The sections of this site are not intended to be complete histories of the people or events involved, but rather serve as examples of what students might find in their own research attempts.

What was the Sea Wing disaster?
The Sea Wing disaster was a tragic event for the city of Red Wing and other river towns in the area. When this excursion boat was wrecked during a storm on Lake Pepin, 98 people perished. Red Wing held memorial services for many of the victims. The sinking had a strong impact on the community, especially on those who were forced to work with the victims. The local coroner, for example, had a nervous breakdown. Issues contributing to the Sea Wing disaster involve the willingness of its captain to sail when stormy weather was looming, and the fact that few of the boat's passengers were wearing their life preservers when the ship sank.

What You Will Need for This Lesson:

  • Access to a computer lab with Internet capability for at least one 40 minute class period.
  • Photocopies of the worksheet and a printed key (download both in the Student Materials section of the site).
  • If you have not already done so, we encourage you to explore the site for yourself ahead of time to become familiar with the navigation and features available to you and your students.

Skills Objectives:
The student will be able to:

  1. access primary sources online for research and study
  2. identify and summarize the different kinds of sources in the exercise
  3. identify advantages and disadvantages to using particular primary sources
  4. explain and synthesize source information to evaluate its usefulness and reliability

Using this Lesson in Your Classroom:
When the students are in the computer lab, lead them through the following sequence (you may wish to use an overhead projector screen):

  1. Go to the Communities web site.
  2. Click on Communities on the left hand side of the screen.
  3. Click on Red Wing.
  4. Click on Sea Wing.
  5. Read the introductory material on Sea Wing and click Enter.
  6. This will bring you to a screen with a photograph of the wreckage and a drawing based on the photograph. This is the first primary source the students will encounter. Let them know that they can see a larger version of this photograph by clicking on the View button underneath the thumbnail image. Show students the Activity button and have them click on it to view questions and possible answers about each source.
  7. Once students have studied this photograph and drawing and read the appropriate questions about it in the Activity section, direct them to the other sources that are accessible through the blue menu bar running across the top of the page. Each of these buttons will take them to another source to explore.
  8. Remind students to use the Activity button on each source to help direct their research.
  9. When the students have completed studying each source and reading the questions for each item, they should be able to complete the worksheet they were given (see below).

What Your Students Will See In This Lesson Online:
Below is a listing of each source provided on the Sea Wing section of the web site and a transcript of the activity questions for each source. (The questions are found on the site by clicking on the Activity button.)

Photo 1
Click on the Photo 1 button to open the primary source.
This is a photograph and a pen drawing of the wreckage.

    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.

News 1

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.

Document 1
Click on the Document 1 button to open the primary source.
This description of the event was published in a memorial pamphlet.

    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.

Document 2
Click on the Document 2 button to open the primary source.
This list of those who died in the disaster is from the memorial pamphlet.

    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.

Map 1
Click on the Map 1 button to open the primary source.
A map of the wreck site.

    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.

Document 3
Click on the Document 3 button to open the primary source.
The death certificate of a woman who died in the wreck.

    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:
During the online lesson, your students should complete the accompanying worksheet for this section. (Download from the student materials the pdf file containing the worksheet and key.) The questions for this worksheet are provided below. Since questions relating to specific sources are used during the online activity, the following worksheet questions are designed to help students synthesize and apply the material they have learned from the online activity and to analyze the kinds of information and the credibility of various types of primary sources when taken as a whole.

  1. This section of the site shows a photograph and a drawing of the same scene. What would be the advantages of studying a photograph over a drawing? What might be the advantages of studying a drawing? Which source do you think you would be most likely to use in your research?

  2. Memorial editions of newspapers and magazines are often published after a disaster like this one. Why do you think these are produced? What recent world or community events have had memorial editions published about them? What can these editions tell us about who or what has impacted our lives in the last few years?

  3. In this section of the site, we have shown you both a newspaper article and a narrative from a memorial pamphlet describing the same event. Which of these would you consider the most useful to you as a historian? Why? What benefits does each kind of source have for the researcher?

  4. In the aftermath of a tragedy like the Sea Wing, many communities band together to comfort the family members of the victims or to prevent such events from happening again. What sources might we look for from Red Wing that would tell us how the community worked to recover from the tragedy? What sources might tell us how far news of the tragedy traveled?

Extending the Lesson: Historical themes in the Sea Wing disaster
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.

Possible Themes:
Disaster strikes a community
Transportation Dangers

Theme One:
Disaster strikes a community

The student will be able to:

  1. Describe and evaluate the impact of tragedy on a community and how a community can recover
Class Discussion:
Allow students time to discuss the following questions in small groups or as a class.

  • What recent tragedies have we seen evidence of in the news lately? What do you think those communities are going through? What kinds of things do you think would help them in this time? What kinds of things will they need 6 months from now?
Optional activities:
  • Most communities have disaster management plans or teams who are prepared and trained for tragic events. Invite a member of your community's team to come to your class and discuss the things that they do to prepare for such an event.

  • The International Red Cross and the National Guard are often the first responders to events of this nature today. Have students research the history and work of the Red Cross, the National Guard, or other relief organizations and report their findings to the class.

  • How can current technology help in aiding victims of disasters? What inventions or devices can help make an event such as the Sea Wing disaster less deadly if it happened today?

  • Communities often go through stages of recovery after such events. Ask students to research in groups what those stages might be and how other communities can help the injured community continue.

Theme Two:
Transportation Dangers

The student will be able to:

  1. explain and examine the benefits and dangers of transportation, past and present.
Class Discussion:
In small groups, have students discuss the following questions. You may wish to provide these questions on an overhead transparency or supply a handout for student reference.

  • Ask students to list on the board what forms of transportation they think are most safe and most dangerous. Why do they choose what they do?

  • What do the statistics say about each form of transportation?

  • What role does new technology have in keeping us safe when we are traveling?

  • In what ways is transportation safer than it was 100 years ago? In what ways might it be more dangerous?

Optional activities:

  • Have students evaluate what role the media might play in our perception about the dangers of a certain form of transportation.

  • Ask students to research current information about safety devices (car seats, seat belts, etc.) to see what their strengths and weaknesses are and report to the class.

  • Have students create a poster that shows the development of a form of transportation from its invention to its current form, emphasizing safety features as they were added.

  • Have students debate the pros and cons of one form of transportation of their choice. What are the benefits? The dangers? The financial costs? How might their life be different if that form of transportation was not available?

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